3 questions for Louis Goulet

Three questions for Louis Goulet

Louis Goulet, co-founder and Creative Director of Noyoco, is heading into the fall season with serenity. Let’s zoom in on the secrets of his optimism and energy …

What are your thoughts about the Spring-Summer 2020 season which was disturbed by COVID-19?

The season was obviously very unusual, especially for Noyoco. Along with the lockdown, the closure of our stores, and our ensuing re-evaluation of retail and business, Noyoco was catapulted into an unexpected adventure tied to mask production. On 16 March, one hour before President Macron announced the lockdown, I had a call from a friend who manages an EHPAD nursing home. She urgently needed masks and asked me to help her. We knew nothing about the subject.

At first we used a pattern published on internet by the Grenoble University Hospital which had advised their nursing staff to make their own fabric masks. We opened up the project to the public with a crowdfunding campaign to supply masks to the Groupe S.0.S. non-profit social organisation. It was a great success. Then we joined forces with the Comité Stratégique de Filière (CSF) Savoir Faire Ensemble Group which coordinates French manufacturers to produce the essential products to fight COVID-19. Working with the French Government Defence Procurement and Technology Agency we were able to conduct safe, efficient tests on our fabric masks which included a layer of polypropylene. Results showed that our masks filtered 98% of the microparticles smaller than 1 micron, which is very good performance.

 

Once the manufacturing issues were identified, we had to get to work on the industrial and logistics challenges – meaning manufacturing and transporting an enormous quantity of masks. In the beginning we worked with our European suppliers, asking them to stop producing our collection to only concentrate on these new products. But when the quantities increased, we had to find other partners with greater manufacturing capacities. Getting the masks to France with borders closed was not always easy. We sometimes had to ask for help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Quai d’Orsay or knock on the door of the Romanian Embassy to resolve situations we were not prepared to handle.

We supplied a total of 10 million masks, making us one of the biggest manufacturers in France. The experience, of course, changed many things within Noyoco. When teams face this kind of challenge, when they must very quickly successfully manage huge quantities and not just the usual small runs, they can only be very proud! This strengthened our confidence in the future and in the business’s cohesion. It proved to us that the positioning of Noyoco, whose initial vocation was to be a multi-disciplinary studio with a strong clothing brand, was viable.

Our interest in moving into related areas to transform the fashion industry from the inside was confirmed. (We had already developed a tool for brands to calculate environmental impact, and we’re working on projects with upcycled fabrics and bio-plastic packaging.) Additionally, we now know we can change gears and be more ambitious in different domains.

How are you approaching the fall season?

With optimism. We’ve opened up our store again – we have two but work is being done in one – on 15 May.

And the results through the end of the sales period were on target. Our figures are better than last year, and with one less point of sales. We can’t really explain this surge: did consumers want to treat themselves, or did we enjoy greater visibility thanks to our masks? We don’t know the answer. But this retail performance has energised us. Especially since, contrary to other brands, we didn’t invest in a shift towards digital technology. Our set-up didn’t let us ship packages easily during the lockdown and, as we were 100% focused on producing masks, we didn’t have the time to rethink how our e-shop functioned. Our choices proved to be the right ones.

Manufacturing masks gave us a fresh financial boost. Before the lockdown, we were always on the edge. A collection that didn’t work well could have very serious repercussions on our projects and even the brand’s existence. Noyoco is primarily the typical story of a small brand where everyone does everything, since we never raised funds. Without that backup, we could disappear from one day to the next. Now we can be more serene when we make future plans. We have the time to ask ourselves the questions we had neglected. We’re going to be able to pay more attention to marketing, to our collection plans, and to the new designs we want to promote. For Spring-Summer 2021 and Fall-Winter 2021-2022, our collections will be much more developed in terms of details and the creative process compared to what we do now! We’re lucky to be able to share this new energy in our Lab, a coworking space that’s a business incubator for small, eco-responsible labels like Loom, Oth, Routine, and AVN, to name just a few.

You were part of the Talents program third group; did that help you navigate these transitions?

Unlike the other brands in the third group, we haven’t yet completed the program! In fact, the Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin, seeing how involved we were in manufacturing masks, had the good sense to suggest we postpone some of our Talents projects until the fall season. However, I can already say that this support program is terrific and comprehensive, with teams that know how to dig deep and uncover what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a program that demands a lot of time but it gives back enormously and helps brands build and consolidate their business for the long term. It helped us increase our savoir-faire. For example, working with expert knit designer Camille Andrieux got us talking about yarn diameter and tension … the Noyoco team had no specialists in this area. Camille advised us, in particular, to develop jersey sweatshirts and T-shirts, whereas we had a history of concentrating on pants, coats, and wovens in general. This new direction means we can fill some empty slots. Concretely speaking, this technical approach boosted our imaginations and our creativity.

In addition, Talents is a network, a family we can count on, starting with Priscilla Jokhoo. That’s important when you’re building a business, since you sometimes feel alone. I think this connection will be felt at the Talents pop-up store at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann (22 September to 12 October) where Noyoco will, of course, be present.