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Olivier Bonnin: the stuff of passion

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Former Esmod Lyon student Olivier Bonnin travels the length and breadth of France several times a year, bringing back from his travels, which can sometimes feel more like assault courses, not only wonderful memories but also, first and foremost, precious encounters with weavers who, at their often rather humble factories, produce fabrics of outstanding quality to delight his clients at o92 Studio.

“The O is for Oliver, and the 92 for the year I was born. It was also the name of the end-of-year collection I presented in 2014, which was inspired by construction beams, before eventually becoming the name of the clothing brand I created when I left school. The name has just always followed me, in various guises, and today it represents my textile sourcing studio specialising in French textiles”, the 29-year-old entrepreneur explains with conviction and ease.

Olivier’s journey has been characterised by his keen sense of curiosity, his appetite for adventure and his taste for analysis - all innate characteristics that earned him the nickname Mr. Question among his former classmates: “this reputation stems from the fact that I quickly took on a series of assignments when I left school. I think they appreciated my drive, the fact that I’m working in England one day and Germany the next. People naturally turned to me for solutions. To those who were plagued by doubt, I would say, “if I can do it, so can you!”.

This courage has given Olivier, who attended a German secondary school in France, the lucidity and insight to study the twists and turns of his professional career in order to better identify his strengths and desires. “Not only in Germany but in the northern countries in general, national education often focuses on manual activities. There are plenty to choose from, including basketry, potter and housekeeping, and that's how, when I was around 13-14 years old, I found myself making theatre costumes with a needle and an old pedal machine that I had to wiggle all over the place. I guess that’s what brought me to Esmod. While I was at the school, headmaster Alain Boix once asked me, “What do you want to do later on?” and I replied, “I want to work in textiles”.

And Olivier has certainly shaped this vocation, combining manual activity with creativity, with great patience. "Following my time at Esmod, I did a six-month internship in Germany, at Ethell Vaughn, which does streetwear, made-to-measure and event wear. I ran the showroom, which was in the workshop, meaning that it was my job to greet customers and help produce the garments, so it was quite a wide-reaching internship. When I returned to France, I said to myself, why don’t I do that? And so, in 2015, o92 Clothing was born. I created a brand of sportswear basics, sweaters and coats. It was an interesting first experience, especially as I had managed to obtain 12-metre rolls of fabric from a weaver that was perfect for my business. I have very fond memories of this period, including a charity fashion show in Scotland attended by 1,500 guests”.

This first entrepreneurial step was followed by several years’ experience working in a boutique. As the manager of an independent shop specialising in footwear, Olivier learned how to run a shop, manage staff, and even deal with recruitment and purchasing. “It was a very formative experience, and above all it allowed me to amass a little capital to resurrect o92 Clothing and its 100% French denim jackets”. The first challenge was to find a French supplier who offered a product that was as sophisticated as American or Japanese jeans. “I came across a self-taught man in northern France who was the only one in all of France to practice this trade. I sold the jackets, which I made myself, from the cutting right through the pattern-making stage, for €400 a piece. I’d even managed to find a REECE 101 eyelet buttonhole machine, a legendary piece of equipment in itself. I’d made sure all the odds were stacked in my favour by creating a real brand image with the help of my photographer partner”.

We were certainly very optimistic as we saw the pre-orders coming in, but our hopes were unfortunately dashed by the Covid epidemic that began in Asia. “The uncertainties about shipping, customs and postage altered buyers’ expectations and priorities; after all, there was a certain element of luck, that we had no control over, at play in all sectors at the time”, Olivier explains, looking back with the sort of lucidity that has paradoxically given him the strength he has needed to bounce back: “That's the way I operate, though - I don't focus on failure, but instead try to take the good bits from every experience. Just having set up this jeans-based project, which was one I’d had my mind set on for 5 years, I think is awesome and I'm so pleased to have done it. And as for what happens next, well, I always tell myself, “you can bounce back”.

And what a bounce it’s been! “I started to think about what I could offer others, so I poured all of my knowledge into developing a range of services including consultancy on manufacturing, purchasing and merchandising”. There was one service, though, that would make all the difference: textile sourcing consultancy. Olivier had just unknowingly stumbled across the winning formula for combining his passion and his skills. “An initial e-mail arrived, then a second, then a third. My first client was a Belgian entrepreneur, who said, “I need to produce an off-the-peg collection and my deadlines are very tight. Do you have anything for me?”, and that was that”.

Olivier summarises his situation with perfect clarity: “What makes me think I'm on the right track is the fact that things are moving along nicely, even though there are, of course, many difficulties along the way. I am dealing with what is a common issue in the textile industry, namely that weavers are generally located in remote areas; many don’t have a website and do not have this culture of communication that we have. These small suppliers don’t often attend shows like Première Vision for one reason or another. My role involves finding these weavers, or more specifically the good ones (because not all of them meet my specifications), and then to make my selection available to clients from all walks of life. I believe I’m currently the only one in France who has focused solely on this activity, in which it takes time to achieve excellence.

A few facts and figures (which are also available on the very well made 092 Studio website): “I have around 3,000 to 4,000 textile products in my portfolio, mainly natural materials, so cotton, linen, hemp, nettle, fish skin and wools, and I do a lot of pure research to find these suppliers, spending my days out on the road when I’m not on Google Maps. I meet great people who take great pleasure in explaining their craft to me and who are happy that a new generation is taking an interest in what they do. I must admit, I find there’s a certain magic in looking for fabrics in remote corners where you least expect them, sometimes even in the mountains. I still remember my surprise when, during the pandemic, having travelled a thousand kilometres to the Cévennes, towards the Toulouse area, I found myself in the middle of nowhere, amid a barren landscape with just this big shed stood there. But in this shed there were 14 gleaming bright weaving machines producing remarkable fabrics. It often reawakens the child in me when I receive a package containing beautiful fabrics that just amaze me”.

o92 Studio's clientèle consists mainly of off-the-peg brands for which Olivier provides turnkey solutions specific to each textile-related issue, whether in terms of order quantities, production times or transparency regarding the origins of the fibres. “I also offer textiles for accessories and I am currently branching into furniture and interior design. The weaver's craft is a difficult one; I meet some who are my age but they’re like aliens - they learn alone based on old lessons passed on by craftsmen who have retired”. This observation hasn’t prevented Olivier’s die-hard optimism from manifesting itself, though: “I have great faith in this activity, especially given that, paradoxically, the epidemic has reawakened in many of us the appetite for beautiful work, and this is achieved through an intimate relationship with beautiful materials that tell the stories of the lands and the expertise they stem from. Given the damage that fast fashion and outsourcing causes, I believe that the sector is really waking up now, as demonstrated by the emergence of agricultural cooperatives. There is a real interest in the Made in France movement, along with a renewed appreciation for meaningful activities”.

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