“My engine is the refusal of fatalism and the knowledge of history”, explains this 69-year-old Alsatian, nostalgic for the not so distant time when Mulhouse industry made the city more prosperous than its Swiss neighbor Basel.

The latest creation from his group is coming out of the factories this fall: linen jeans for which all the manufacturing stages are carried out in France, from the manufacture of the thread from flax grown in Normandy, to the making, including the weaving and finishing (dyeing).

This mastery of the production chain distinguishes Velcorex (147 employees, 23 million euros in turnover) from its competitors: most buy the fabric abroad to only carry out the cutting and the seams in France. , which is sufficient to affix a tricolor label to clothing.

The marketing of these jeans “makes it possible to cut short the speech which says that we cannot produce in France something from A to Z”, asserts Pierre Schmitt. “It’s the symbol of a real French sector, which no one believed in three years ago”.

It is also the culmination of an entrepreneurial adventure that began in 2010 and is often described as “madness”, but which Pierre Schmitt never gave up.

– Mortgaged family home –

At the time, Velcorex, Europe’s leading velvet manufacturer, was about to close. Pierre Schmitt, former executive of the textile giant DMC, refuses to see Velcorex’s bicentenary know-how extinguished. He develops a recovery plan.

“The banks were not ready to accompany me. To prove that I believed in it, I mortgaged my house,” he confides. “Thanks to that, I got loans, it allowed me to start.”

History repeated itself in 2013: Emanuel Lang, the last weaving company on French soil, went into liquidation. Pierre Schmitt submits a takeover offer, refused by the liquidator, who organizes the auction of the company’s equipment.

“I have a farmer brother. We put straw bales to prevent access to sales and we used a siren that made a hell of a noise,” he recalls. “The CRS were on site. The prefect found it impossible to proceed with the auction.”

The takeover will finally be concluded a few weeks later, after the intervention of Arnaud Montebourg, then Minister of Productive Recovery. “We still had to go illegal to save a French industrial heritage”, is still surprised Pierre Schmitt.

With these takeovers, the entrepreneur mastered finishing and weaving, but still had to import his yarn from abroad, the last French spinning mills having closed in the 2000s. So, in 2019, he bought machines in Hungary promised to the breakage and, to put them back into operation, calls on retired workers.

“That’s how we were able to produce the first French linen yarn for more than 20 years,” he says. “France is the world’s leading producer of flax, but it was unable to develop this resource.”

– “Finding meaning” –

With this mastery of the sector, the group offers, in addition to jeans, a whole wardrobe “made in France”, marketed under the “Sème” brand, developed by Agathe, the daughter of Pierre Schmitt. A former LVMH employee, she left the career that was available to her to “find meaning”.

His father already has other projects in mind: from natural textile fibers (flax, hemp or nettle), to develop biosourced materials as an alternative to petroleum derivatives.

“Fiberglass wind turbine blades, for example, we can’t recycle them, we bury them,” he laments. “It takes a little research, but tomorrow, we can make them from biosourced materials. These materials will be the engine of the next industrial revolution”. What, he hopes, will put Mulhouse back on the map of leading industrial cities.