Fashion / Fashion Feature

We speak with Mathieu Grodner on Simone Pérèle’s journey into a globally sustainable business

simone perele simone cares

With more than 70 years of heritage and positive action synonymous with the brand, Simone Pérèle has launched its Simone Cares initiative; seeking ethical craftspeople to showcase the brand’s unique artisanal techniques. The French lingerie brand is listening to its consumers and continuing to support environmental and social responsibility, taking their expertise beyond crafting undergarments and swimwear. 

President of Simone Pérèle – and grandson of its founder – Mathieu Grodner entered the family business from a background in investment banking with a sustainable lens, ushering the brand into a new era as they celebrate milestones. 

“We'll be celebrating our 75th anniversary next year – 2023 – we have a long history back of craftsmanship and savoir faire.” 

One integral part of the Simone Cares initiative is ensuring transparency and traceability are front of mind for the brand, especially being able to share where fabrics come from and how they are manufactured.

“It’s a very technical industry, so I think, very few suspect the level of complexity that we put in a product, the level of the value and the level of demand that we have in terms of excellence and quality,” explains Grodner. “That's really the focus of the Simone Cares program on the product. It's not going to take six months because it's very ambitious, it's going to take probably two to three years minimum to reach that level of transparency and traceability.” 

Grodner believes that conscious consumer attitudes are changing and simply having a product that fulfils their needs isn’t enough. People want to know the brand from which they purchase is reliable and work in a sustainable, conscious model of practice. Across Simone Pérèle’s decorated brand history, generational changes continue to inform their future. “The act of consuming means something different today and it is more responsible consumption [and] approach; the only brands that will be considered will be the ones that are trying to make a difference.” 

We spoke with Grodner about the Simone Cares initiative and how the brand has developed over the last 74 years. 

How has Simone Pérèle developed to combine its heritage with contemporary and eco-friendly resources?

Today, the expectations are different [to when the brand started]. Equal responsibility and social responsibility… these are the major expectations for today's society, today's women. The brand has been working on social responsibility for a long period of time without actually marketing it, or claiming it – it's kind of part of our DNA as well, in the sense that, for example, inclusivity has always been been part of the way we elaborate our collections. We serve all women.

What's more recent is the environmental responsibility. For brands like us, this is only part of the discussion for the last several years and it really became concrete since 2020/2021. We now develop many different ranges that uses recycled fibres – we’ve started with our swimwear collection launching in 2023. Then, 50 per cent of the ranges will be made out of recycled fibres [with] the objective that 50 per cent is also applied to lingerie by 2024. Then eventually, at some point in time 100 per cent. That's part of the development, but it's a very structural thing because we rely on our fabric suppliers and those same fabric suppliers – with whom we have very close partnerships – need time to adapt their process themselves.

I haven't mentioned the social responsibility part, which is also very important to us. Listening to our history, it's in our DNA, we’ve more recently taken part in the very specific initiatives to support women in certain parts of the world, specifically, the last example for us was Madagascar, where we own the factory and produce some of our items. We partnered with the Association Care, which is an international NGO to support a program that grants access to water and hygiene products for women. It's an important partnership, plus we wish to continue over a longer period of time. It's just the first example of something that we want to carry on more more globally.

After joining the family business after having a career as an investment banker, why was making the brand more sustainable a focus for you. 

I think it’s a generational thing. For our generation, and even more for our children's generation, this is not a matter of, “should we do something?” or,  “is it important?” It's obvious. I joined the business almost 15 years ago and at the time, this was not a topic in the discussion, it progressively became a priority to finally become concrete over the last couple of years. I think it was very natural. 

For me, being part of the family [I had] to think about what's important for the decades to come. That's what the previous generations of the family looking after this business had to do before me.

My grandmother transformed what lingerie is, and was, for women when when she started the brand after the war. Lingerie didn't exist in the way we define it, it was corsetry [and] it was very constraining for women.

Simone Pérèle was part of the movement that really transformed this into an accessory that can be both fashionable and comfortable. She helped this movement of liberation of the women's bodies. I don't know if we can be up to that level of revolution, for our generation, but that's what we want to try to do.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Simone Cares initiative: What sparked this idea, and how do you hope to see it develop in the coming years?

The ambition is that it really covers all areas of our businesses. The product is is a major one, obviously, but we have to go much further. It means being, over time, totally transparent on the on the product, manufacturing process, sourcing process, basically everything. You will see brands coming onto the market nowadays that, for example, QR codes on the labels that you can scan, and if you if you scan the QR code, this will show you directly on your phone a description of the [production] process, and this is really the kind of transparency that customers expect nowadays. It requires quite some work because transparency means being able to meet expectations, but we are happy to share the way we elaborate our collections, because this is a very unique process; we are very respectful of the fabrics, but also the people that take care of that process. 

Also, traceability. Being able to share where it [the fabric] comes from, how it was manufactured. As I said before, it's a very technical industry, so I think, very few suspect the level of complexity that that we put in a product, the level of the value and the level of demand that we have in terms of excellence and quality. That's really the focus of the Simone Cares program on the product. It's not going to take six months because it's very ambitious, it's going to take probably two to three years minimum to reach that level of transparency and traceability.

You work with Thread Together and it's very clear that Simone Pérèle cares about the environment and has a social responsibility. How integral is it to give back to the community, especially as a global brand?

It's always also been part of the brand DNA. We've been training young workers in this very technical industry for 75 years and it's becoming a very rare skill to find whether it's in Europe or elsewhere around the globe. It's part of our responsibility as a brand to train the future craftsmen and women, that we create the collections for the decades to come. We haven't yet opened a School of corsetry, but that could become something interesting  few years down the road [laughs]. 

Other ways are specific initiatives, as you already mentioned, Thread Together. We did something very similar in France. We donated to an association [which helps] homeless women, or women in very difficult social situation. We donated products, several 1000 units last year and we will continue working with working with them every year. I mentioned care as well, in Madagascar. Now, what we're trying to do is that all these initiatives come together under common program, because this has to serve your specific long term objectives in the end. Those are just a few examples.

How can consumers play a role in driving a more sustainable future?

What's changing is really that is also generational is the level of expectations that [consumers] have. For the generations of our parents, you were looking for a good product, good product management, quality, fit and style, [and] it’s really a challenge to combine that. For the new generation, it's not just about that. It has to make sense. The act of consuming means something different today and it is more responsible consumption [and] approach; the only brands that will be considered will be the ones that are trying to make a difference.

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