‘Made in France’ fluster over Paris Olympics toy production (video)

PARIS, 14 Jan 2023:

The ‘Made in France’ credentials of the official mascot toy for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games – or lack thereof – has come under public scrutiny, prompting the government to ask local manufacturers to help partially relocate production from China despite higher costs.

The original plan when the mascot was first unveiled by the organising committee in November was to make just 10% of the roughly three million stuffed toys in France.

Facing pressure from the public and the government, and considering the mascot is a national symbol, that target has now been doubled.

It falls in line with years of pledges by the government and by president Emmanuel Macron to recover factory production that has been outsourced to countries where the cost of labour is cheaper.

Alain Joly, CEO of Doudou et Compagnie – one of the companies awarded a contract to manufacture the toys along with Gipsy, another French firm – said it was an honour to be involved in the initiative.

“Under the pressure on social media, and from the Élysée (presidential palace), we asked ourselves, are we ready to produce more? And with pleasure we said ‘yes,’ the Olympic Games are a once in a lifetime thing.”

From the company’s brand new factory in the Brittany countryside, Joly detailed some of the challenges that project entailed.

“There are two big hurdles, the lack of raw material (fabric and loose parts) and the lack of qualified personnel, who know how to sew.”

The veteran businessman knows what he is talking about. With more than 40 years in the toy sector, he has witnessed first-hand how high labour and production costs led most European companies to relocate.

In the case of his company, Joly chose to move to China, where he employs some 300 workers.

The cost of producing one Phryge mascot, which takes its name and design inspiration from the liberty caps worn by the French revolutionaries of the late 18th century, is €0.60 a minute in France – roughly nine times more expensive than in China.

Those outgoings are reflected in the retail price of the mascot toys, with those made in France selling for €40 each compared to the €30 tag on their Chinese-made counterparts, which still have a greater profit margin.

Even with the initiative, the French-manufactured toys are not 100% made in France, given that the fabric and assembly parts come from China.

Toy imports to the EU were worth some €7.1 billion in 2021, with China providing some 83% of those products, according to Eurostat, the bloc’s statistical office.

European exports in the industry were valued at some €2.4 billion but France is not among the top three nations, positions – held instead by the Czech Republic, accounting for 34% of the market, Germany (21%) and Belgium (7%).

“For this type of stuffed toy industry, we need to get a hold of machines to finish off the seams and for the filling, although the human factor will always be important given they are handmade,” said Joly.

To hit the targets set out by the Élysée Palace, Doudou et Compagnie is due to double its production workforce from 23 to 50 and plans to produce 500 mascot toys per day until mid-2024, when the Olympic Games open in the capital.