3 artisans reinventing French jeans

What if jeans, the iconic piece of international fashion, were actually more French than you thought? Far from the American cowboys, it was a Cévennes master tailor who would have made the world’s very first pair of jeans. A few centuries later, French savoir-faire is still at the top of the denim trade.

From his workshop, tailor Célestin Tuffery saw workers from all over France arriving to build the railway near his home. He was looking for ways to provide them with hardwearing trousers, suitable for construction work. He had the idea of using a well-known fabric from the south of France that had made the fortunes of merchants in the city of Nîmes: a ‘Nîmes’ material, woven from wool and silk, solid and easy to repair, which had been used until then for socks or sheets.

1892, at the heart of the Cévennes: the first jeans were born. On the other side of the Atlantic, they began to weave a similar sturdy material, but made of cotton: this was the birth of modern denim, popularised the world over by Levi Strauss.

Today jeans are everywhere, worn by workers as well as by heads of state. A symbol of globalisation, they are mainly produced in Asia and Europe, with cotton from Asia or Africa – but they pose serious environmental problems due both to the cultivation of cotton (a very thirsty plant) and the journeys it makes (one and a half times around the world before reaching your wardrobe). But in France, where ‘de Nîmes’ was born almost three centuries ago, French savoir-faire has been revived thanks to three eco-conscious artisans who work with innovative materials and have relocated their production to workshops that can be visited. We go behind the scenes of these companies that are reinventing jeans ‘made in France’.

The famous pair: Chez 1083, Drôme

In Romans-sur-Isère, between the Alps and Occitanie, they’ve been making shoes for a long time. In the 1930s, the city even established itself internationally under the leadership of Charles Jourdan, who for decades would style the greatest Hollywood actresses, from Ava Gardner to Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. Today, in Romans-sur-Isère, almost no shoes are made. Globalisation has seen to that – but in their place, jeans have been made since 2013, when local brand 1083 was launched. Why 1083? Because 1083 kilometres is the greatest distance between two French cities: Menton (near Nice) and Porspoder, a village north of Brest. It’s a far cry from the 65,000 kilometres travelled on average by a pair of jeans before it ends up on shop shelves.

1083 makes very fashionable jeans, as well as trainers and organic cotton T-shirts. While the cottons used grow mainly in Tanzania and Mali, the jeans are dyed, woven, and made exclusively in France. 1083 even has its own laser washing machine: a first in France, which saves 95% water and 75% energy compared to traditional methods. The next innovation in 1083 will be jeans made with Seaqual© thread, made from plastic bottles and recycled marine debris. The jeans can be recycled at the end of their life, ground and transformed back into thread. On entering the workshops of 1083, you can learn the whole manufacturing process, from the receipt of the raw materials to a demonstration of the washing machine. Naturally, tours end at the shop for the buying stage!

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The historic pair: Chez Atelier Tuffery, Cévennes

Here we are at the heart of the Cévennes National Park, at the entrance to the Gorges du Tarn in the small town of Florac. The famous GR70 passes through here, nicknamed ‘Stevenson’s Trail’ and traversed on horseback or by donkey. The aforementioned master tailor, Célestin Tuffery, lived in Florac, and in 1892 had the idea to make the first denim trousers for railway workers. The very first jean manufacturer in France, Tuffery passed on his expertise to his children and grandchildren, who have made the family workshop last generation after generation. Several centuries after Tuffery, it’s now his great-grandson, Julien, who has taken the reins of the family business.

Firmly anchored in the 21st century and now at the forefront of trendy French fashion brands, Atelier Tuffery always uses high-quality materials and aims for responsible clothing: leather labels, copper rivets, and jeans are designed, cut, sewn, assembled and washed in France. Though it mainly uses cotton, Atelier Tuffery is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by using sustainable fibres: this is how Célestin created the first jeans, woven with French wool from Lacaune de Causse Méjean and Mérinos d’Arles sheep. While cotton grows on the other side of the world and requires a lot of water, hemp grows vigorously in the dry Cévennes: as early as the 19th century, Célestin Tuffery pioneered the use of hemp to make jeans. For two years, his great-grandson worked to revive a local industry previously forgotten in Occitanie, and now sells hemp jeans once more. The cycle is complete!

All summer, from June to September, Atelier Tuffery offers two free guided tours per day: the brand new shop adjoins the fully glazed manufacturing workshops. Visit for a total immersion in the world of jeans made in France.

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For the self-made man: Chez Dao, Nancy

If you pass through Alsace and Lorraine, there’s little chance that you’ll miss the city of Nancy and its wonderful Place Stanislas. Just a stone’s throw from here is Davy Dao’s studio, producing jeans under the Dao brand. He’s a young, 32-year-old boss who’s followed an unusual career path. Born fifth in a family of eight children, Dao used to wear hand-me-down trousers from his older brothers until he was 14. Thanks to a few odd jobs, he was then able to buy his very first own pair of jeans. They were a bit large, but it didn’t matter: Dao used his mum’s sewing machine to take them in at the waist and add some customisations. And so his passion was born!

At 24, while working as a seller in a jeans store, Dao decided to explore Vietnam, his parents’ country of origin. There, he discovered the background of the jeans industry. He was hired on a production line, from which most of the big-brand jeans he sold in Nancy came. His neighbour worker was 12 years old and worked a 40-hour week to feed her family. It was a shock for Dao. Back in Nancy, he made up his mind to launch his own, entirely responsible brand.

A few years later, he’d set up in a 90m² workshop in the city centre. Seven people work alongside him. Conscious of the durability of its garments, Dao has just launched its first linen jeans, a very local production since France is the world’s leading producer of linen. If you visit the shop to browse, don’t hesitate to ask to visit the workshop too. If he’s there, Dao will take you behind the scenes of the jeans himself.

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