For 2019 I decided to try to find Made in France products each time I made a purchase and keep a Made in France Diary.
The idea sprang from my exercise diary. I write down on my calendar each time I get some exercise, riding my bike, taking a walk for errands or fun or taking a class. Keeping a diary helps me to keep that focus and make sure I move. I have a nice record of my constitutional outings. It is very satisfying to be able to look back and see that I pretty much get my requisite 30 minutes each day, plus needing to make an entry on the calendar gets me up and out; I get both satisfaction and encouragement.
I decided to apply that to my Made in France year. I’m keeping a diary, technically a monthly of what I buy and if it is MIF. I’m not going to be obsessive and buy ONLY MIF, like this guy Benjamin Carle who in 2014 made a project of transforming his life and apartment to only MIF. Benjamin was a bit obsessive about it, but that’s how he made a point. He wrote a book and made a film of his experience of his year “chaussé d’espadrilles, sans frigo, sans ordinateur et au guidon d’une Motobécane d’occasion” (because he couldn’t find a product made in France he went without), researching and talking with industrials. I am not going whole hog (certainly not giving up my morning coffee like Ben did) but I’m going to try to make a MIF choice if I can find one and if it is a quality product. I’m asking salespeople about the origin of the products they sell and doing research online or in magazines before purchasing. I’m also not ordering online and having something shipped across France just because it is MIF when I can get another product locally. I’ll contradict myself on this I’m sure, but it bothers my ecological self to see delivery trucks showing up left and right to deliver one tiny item that can be bought down the street. I’m also not going to settle for a product I don’t like just because it is MIF. I think things have evolved a bit for the better since Benjamin did his experiment. There is more MIF today, a bit of a prise de conscience and sense of pride. There seems to be more that is made in France now than just 5 years ago – or at least we sure talk about it more. I’d like to see that elan keep going – it’s good for France and it will make a nice article. I thought I’d share my year with FUSAC readers. So here we go for weekly updates on my year of purchasing MIF. It will be interesting to see what I find and if it really costs more as most people tend to think. PS: I’m not getting any free samples to write this article.
A new baby is coming to the FUSAC family in January! So as boss-parents-to-be we’re thinking about all the things MIF for babies. Monfoxy has come up with a high tech sock for babies that alerts parents when the baby rolls over on its belly and is thus in a dangerous position.
And since every French baby has to have a doudou we found Nin-Nin the MIF doudou. Say that 5 times fast! Nin-Nin is a very cute stylized rabbit imagained by a dad. It is safe for baby, attractive for the parents and personalizable for the person offering the gift. https://www.nin-nin.fr/fr/54-doudou-nin-nin
Another dad created Le Biberon Français! Again, safe (their motto is Liberté, Egalité, Qualité), attractive and MIF. They are easy to keep clean, don’t break and « grow » with the child – although you’ll have to ask them exactly what that means. The also call it » the holy grail of bottles for stylish young parents. » Obviously they are proud of their product. https://www.lebiberonfrancais.fr/en/
CADUM: The perfect soap for babies was a Franco-American initiative in 1912. An American industrial suffering from eczema got a balm from a French pharmacist that healed his skin immediately. They two men joined together to commercialize the product. The important ingredients in this soap are oil of cade which is a product of a mediterranean juniper and oil from sweet almonds. The real genius and connection to the French people though comes from the Cadum babies. There was a contest for the face of the most beautiful baby in France which still graces the packaging today incarnating softness and cleanliness. The brand is now owned by L’Oréal and represented by the swimmer Laure Manaudou.
As for clothing there are a ton of suppliers which use the best ecological cotton! We chose Mimi and Cookie because we like their name and logo. https://mimiandcookie.com/en/
October: New glasses, eye glasses that is
Both frames and lenses are made in France. It is not surprising that there are glasses makers in France as glasses are fashion and creativity statements, more than useful, often handcrafted and highly technical and France excels in these types of industries. What is amazing is the longevity of this industry in France. It seems that glasses making might be one of the oldest industries. There are several frame makers that go back to the early 19th century. Vuillet-Vega has been making glasses frames in France for 176 years. In 1845 they filed one of the first patents in the history of eyewear for solderless spectacle frames. They have since perfected a particular hinge and are working on a branch piece that is flexible using wood from the Jura region. In 2006 Vuillet Vega obtained the label « Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant » which is a French government award to distinguish companies with exceptional craftsmanship or industrial know-how. Another frame maker with nearly as much longevity is Lunettes Morel, who with their cat logo, boasts four generations of smart design, innovation, and high standards. Morel is also history, expertise, and their website says “a French reference in eyewear”. Lafont is a three generation optics family, but optics are not just the domain of the historic or family owned companies, there are also start-ups like Les Lunettes pour Tous who are focusing on reducing prices (which have been very high in France for years). Lunettes pour Tous boasts the slogan “Lunettes à 10€ en 10 minutes” which is true if you need a just unifocal prescription, no special coatings, limit yourself to one of two frame choices and you hit them on a day when they are not busy (not sure that exists). On a busy day you can wait a couple hours to finally place your order with a harried optician standing in the middle of the crowded store, it’s an interesting concept, unique in France, and the monetary price might be low but you pay with your time. They do also offer basic eye exams to update your prescription free of charge (BUT I’m not 100% sure their products are MIF, the concept is, but they haven’t answered my inquiry about the products and don’t display it on their website.). Another start up Les Lunettes de Louisette proposes that an optician come to your home (Nantes region) or that you buy online.
As for lenses there are also several MIF companies. Krys, which has 885 franchised shops all over France, is the first lens crafter to have obtained the certificat Origine France Garantie en 2012 for their prescription lenses. They tout themselves as being a cooperative of opticians which makes their own lenses. The brands Mont-Royal and Essilor are also made in France. You may need to specify your request for MIF products when you sit down to finalize your order at your optician as they are likely to propose you the least expensive option rather than sticking to MIF principles. Essilor/Varilux/Crizal is another manufacturer of lenses with the label “Origine France garantie”. Essilor was born in 1972 when 2 French companies, Essel and Silor, fusioned. Bernard Maitenaz at Essel is credited with inventing the first manufactured progressive lenses in 1959. Today Essilor is huge and worldwide, the number one company in glasses lenses and contact lenses.
Vuarnet is a specialist of non-prescription and prescription sunglasses made in France. Roger Pouilloux, a forward thinking and ski-loving optician invented the Skilynx lens in 1957. Roger offered a pair of his new glasses to the French ski champion Jean Vuarnet and the brand was born after Vuarnet won Olympic Gold wearing the new glasses at Squaw Valley in 1959. The boutique on rue Boissy d’Anglas was opened only in 2017, but Roger was already working in that space in 1957. Vuarnet lenses are natural mineral (not plastic) based on silicon dioxide which comes from the Seine and Marne department. Vuarnet is another company baptized Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant.
September: Wedding gift? A knife!
I’ve been doing MIF wedding gifts since forever. I dislike bridal registries which I find very impersonal. No one will remember your gift if you give them 6 of the 12 wines glasses they asked for. A personal gift makes much more sense and since I live in France I get something Made in France so they connect it to me. Very often I select a knife. Practical, beautiful, handmade, unique, never goes out of style, doesn’t break, easy to mail (anything over 3cm thick costs way too much to mail) or transport – what’s not to like? Sometimes I get a table knife or a kitchen knife from the Corsican knifemaker Ceccaldi, but lately I’ve opted for a Deejo. Deejo offers folding knives which I explain to the happy couple are perfect for picnics. The Deejo’s are tattooed as they like to say or as I say « personalized ». There are hundreds of drawings to choose from to decorate the blade such as hearts, intertwining vines, biker motifs, bicycles, birds, graphic designs (and lots more) and on the handle you can put a few words, such as their names or date. You can also choose the type of wood used in the handle and the blade finish. A complimentary idea if a customized Deejo at 70€ isn’t enough is lovely French tea towels.
August: Pet food
Yes I’m looking for Made in France for the cats too, because a lot of what I purchase is for the cats. We have 2 cats. So far I’ve found both canned food and dry food MIF.
Nestor https://www.nestorbio.fr/ makes the canned food and both cats really like the two flavors. It costs 1€ per 100g, so it is pretty expensive. It is all meat and bio, so it is a good product too. Their products are available online at the animal shops (I like Wanimo because their platform is in France) or in natural food stores such as Natureo and Carrefour Bio. I see that Nestor also has dry food and smoothies (now really!?) for cats and dogs. My cats love vegetables especially zucchini, but I’m not sure they’ll go for a banana, carrot, potato smoothy!
There are 3 companies that make dry cat and dog food in France: Babin, Amikinos and Ultra. My cats love Babin (10€/kg) and I also give them Amikinos (11.50€/kg) which is really meaty and very low in carbohydrates – to the point that it seems a bit hard for them to digest even after a thorough transition and they seem to like it just a little less. So I mix the two and that seems to be a good balance. Amikinos is not only MIF, but a family affair run by two generations of the Maupilier family. Ultra is less expensive at 6,30€/kg, but also contains lots of unpronounceable ingredients. Ultra offers a 1€ trial pack. Babin and Ultra have a handy subscription service – no need to think to re-order the food just shows up. All of these are sold directly by the manufacturer so removing the added cost of an intermediary.
July: Yarn for Knitting projects and French needles too
There’ s new babies coming all around me. That gives me lots of ideas for knitting. About 20 years ago I made pairs and pairs of baby booties in one year for all the new babies of friends and family – whose kids are now in college – wow. The upcoming year is promising to be a fruitful beginning for the next generation, so this summer I’m going to knit baby things and of course I’d like yarn that is Made in France. And there is plenty to choose from!
Yarn comes from all over France and there is a lot of choice of both wools and cottons, all kinds of colors too. The Shetland wool from L’échappée Laine is from French sheep in the Tarn region and is spun locally. Bergère de France from the Lorraine region is a long known brand started in 1946 and is easy to find as they have shops in Paris and are distributed in 530 independent shops all over France. Bergère is also a great source for patterns both free and paying (including baby booties!), kits, notions, books and embroidery. Wool Kiss offers baby merinos, kits and tutorials. Did you know that the Merino sheep is one of the most historically and economically important breeds? The breed originated in southwest Spain, around the 12th century and it was instrumental in the economic development of 15th and 16th century Spain, which held a monopoly on its trade. The export of Merinos from Spain was a crime punishable by death! Finally Louis XIV persuaded the king of Spain to send 366 sheep to France and thus the monopoly was ended. This original flock founded the stud at the Royal Farm at Rambouillet which is still operational today as the Bergerie Nationale.
The yarn pictured above is really being marketed to the French knitters! “Made in Creuse” is not necessarily obviously made in France to English speakers. But La Creuse is a rather rural department in the center of France. Jacques Chirac and many other politicians and presidents come from there; La Creuse being a bit like the states of Virginia and Michigan in that sense!
Bet you never thought of needles being made in France. If you are like me you probably never thought of needle manufacturing at all. Bohin needle works is in Normandy. Ideally located between rivers and forests, with a soil rich in iron ore, the nearby town of L ‘Aigle, France is the historic pin and needle capital of France. In 1747, 6,000 people worked in 450 pin workshops in that area. In 1866, the Bohin needle works founder Benjamin BOHIN was already playing the “Made in France” card saying: “Fight against unemployment, buy French”. Production continues today along with a museum and tour of the workshop. Bohin pins, needles and knitting needles are sold all over the world. There’s a good chance you already have some in your mending kit. http://www.bohin.fr
June: Father’s Day and My husband’s birthday
Egad, shopping for men, what a casse-tête. Socks are always a good bet especially if you have a guy who has a little Justin Trudeau in him. That works for my hubby, but for Dad I’ll have to select carefully. Luckily socks are one item that France makes a lot of. I never would have thought so, but France historically has had and currently has a strong textile industry and the biggest output seems to be socks. Le Slip Français makes fairly subtly striped ones in cotton, that might work for Dad who insists on cotton and usually on white. But wait there’s Kindy who has been making socks in northern France since 1863. They have pure cotton and they seem to understand my Dad “Quoi de mieux que des chaussettes pur coton homme pour profiter d’un confort incomparable au quotidien ?” Royalties might be good too. He’ll like the name! Might even grab a pair of these for Mom as they come with sparkly birds. Royalties socks are made of a mix of cotton, polyester and polyamid. Other companies use bamboo, recycled fibers or luxurious super comfortable merino wool (Ardelaine). Other say with elastic or without. Cotton called fils d’Ecosse – which has nothing to do with Scotland – is the crème de la crème of cotton. Fils d’Ecosse for socks often comes from Egypt or Italy, because even though these socks are all made in France not much cotton is grown in France. Made in France means patriotism so each brand has dozens of design allowing you to sport your blue, white and red, some in stripes, some with tiny flags, some say “Frenchie”. Dress socks come in a simple handsome knit or crazy flashy patterns. There are socks for specific sports: hiking, skiing, running, tennis just to name a few. There are Bio socks, hygiene socks, sock for diabetics, tiny little sockettes to knee socks. Slipper socks. You can select your socks by your favorite region: Manufacture Paris is logically made in Paris, Missegle made in the Tarn have been called les chaussettes les plus solides au monde, Achille in the Oise and Coccinelle in Savoye. Choose from long standing companies like Kindy and Labonal (since 1924) or start ups like the Slip. You can find something for every one on your list, all MIF, if you just stick to socks. Yet more brands include: Bleuforet, Lastage, Archiducesse, Modetic, Crochepied, La Française, Berthe au Grands Pieds, Perrin 24, Loom and to conclude reversible socks and undies by Dagobert à l’Envers – just ask any French person about King Dagobert’s underpants and he or she will start to sing… see I told you there’s a lot of French socks. Looks like my men (even hard to please Dad) and everyone else I know are going to have comfy feet.
April – Plants that don’t bring INVADERS!
There’s the usual patriotic economic reasons to buy MIF, but with plants there is another reason which is perhaps even more important. Imported pests. Many regions of the USA have been plagued by brown marmorated stink bugs which first arrived in 1998. The bugs, officially known as “halyomorpha halys”, also called shield bugs, true bugs, devil bugs and punaise in French, are stinky when crushed, invade homes as they seek warm spots to winter over, cause allergies and destroy crops. In the fall of 2018 they invaded Paris after appearing in southern France in 2015. Because they come from Asia they have no predators here and so are multiplying like crazy. How did they get here from their native Asia? Via human activity. The boxwood moth (Pyrale du buis in French) is most often seen in the caterpillar stage while munching and killing boxwoods all over Europe. Again from Asia, again no local predators, again imported … on boxwoods. And the latest creature is a worm from Brazil the Obama Nungara (no connection to the former US President) that seems to have arrived in 2018 hiding in imported potted plants. These example have convinced me to look for MIF plants for my house, garden and balcony from now on. Once these invaders are here it’s pretty impossible to get rid of them and they threaten the local biodiversity. If you still need more encouragement remember the Asian hornet (frelon asiatique) that kills European bees … and people too.
April – Mother’s Day gift
Mother’s Day in the USA is two weeks earlier in May than it is in France, soI needed a gift for Mom in April. It had to be easy to mail, light and flat (the postal rates for items over 3cm thick are outrageous). Mom, is nearly 80 and is always cold. So I headed to the Moi froid? Jamais! Store aka Damart for a pretty undershirt to keep her warm. Unfortunately Damart, though a family-owned French company started by three brothers near Lille in the 1950s, no longer manufacturers their Thermolactyl underclothes in France. They did make a 60th anniversary collection that was MIF and featured a tiny bleu, blanc, rouge band on the sleeve, but their general products are not made here. I looked around a bit more, but finally went back to Damart for a plum colored long sleeved undershirt with a lacey neckline and a fuzzy warm inside. Mom thinks it is too pretty to wear under something else and now is saying Moi froid? Jamais! (just like Princess Diana once did). Read more about Thermolactyl: https://fusac.fr/more-french-entrepreneur-families/
March – Cat litter, balls and nets!
After finding a cat litter that makes both me, the scooper, and the cats, the poopers, happy I discovered that it was made in the USA! Another I liked by a European brand I discovered was made in Brazil! Those are long distances to ship cat litter! So far I have found three Made in France cat litters. There is Nestor, but it is not clumping, and there is Vitakraft Litière Verte à l’argile which promises to be clumping, but is not too efficient and there is Freshcat Compacte also clay from l’Argile verte du Puy-en-Velay but I can’t find it. My recent find was Litière Tranquille which is mineral (the same stuff used for drainage in road building I’m told) and comes from Turkey. I like the product, it doesn’t come from too far away (relatively)… but still looking for the right product in the cat litter department. I have however found that Litter Locker replacement bag cartridges are MIF, yippee! The Litter Locker (essentially a dedicated poubelle) is the best cat invention since clumping litter.
Balls and nets are not something I was looking to purchase, but I heard about this factory that makes kids balls and stumbled across this other one that makes nets for sports and was intrigued because 1. I have never thought before about the fact that someone must specialize in these items and 2. that they could possibly be MIF. La Fabrique à Filets https://www.fabrique-a-filets.com/ will make any net that you need to your dimensions and your colors. It’s true that they don’t actually make the netting here in France, but they will make the net you might need for your backyard trees, wind break, security or sports goals. But in fact La Fabrique is not unique, there are quite a number of net makers in France. Who’d-a-thunk? And once you have your basket ball net in place you need the ball. You’ll find all sorts of plastic balls made by Sporteus since 1965 in Auvergne. They mold balls of all sizes in brightly colored plastic for kids, jugglers and sports. To make sure that the balls are perfectly round they are inflated under water! Did you know the lines on a basketball are hand painted?
February – A new toothbrush
There is also a MIF toothbrush made of bamboo available in Day by Day bulk grocery Shops https://www.comme-avant.bio/pages/brosse-a-dents-en-bambou-naturel
And while we’re on the subject of teeth and because 20 March is World Oral Health Day, ask your dentist about Sm;)ers (Smilers) – 3D-printed transparent substitutes for braces, that are also MIF! https://smilers.com/
January – A pair of jeans
There are 2 MIF brands of jeans that I know of: the start-up 1083 and Atelier Tuffery which has been making jeans in France since 1892. Indeed jeans go back a long ways. Did you know denim was invented in France and the word denim has its origin in « de Nîmes »? Both jean makers have online sales, but buying jeans online is risky business and not really ecological. Think of the carbon imprint of having one pair of jeans delivered in a box to your door as opposed to hundreds of pairs delivered in a large box to a central spot. It is doesn’t take much more cardboard or gas to deliver 100 pairs than it does to deliver 1! OK, off that high horse and back to my subject. One perplexing thing about 1083s is that they use US sizing. The jeans are handsome, have nice lines, a red thread theme runs through them and they have 1% elastane for comfort. Men’s are in denim and black, women’s in red, bordeaux, khaki and black. To get the jeans in the right size we had two options either the 1083 shop in the Marais or another pop up L’Appartement français on the Champs-Elysées (also a pop up, on the Champs until June, but looking for a permanent address). The helpful salesladies at L’Appartement français found me a khaki pair in my size and one for John in black. They both need hemming – our legs are always much shorter than the models! – and we were warned to wash and wear before shortening as these will shrink vertically. At 109€ per pair they are at the upper end of the price scale. I hope they last a long time! They sure are comfortable and very attractive though and I do have the warm fuzzy feeling of them being made less than 1083 kilometers from chez moi. And that explains the name of the company: No two points in France can be more than 1083 kilometers apart and so every pair of 1083s is forcément made less than 1083 kilometers from you. They even weave the fabric in France, but admit the rivets and buttons are Italian.
January – Fresh food shopping
The first shopping trip was for groceries. We most often shop at Grand Frais, a sort of supermarket market. They have fresher products than a grocery and a market atmosphere plus are open long hours (morning trips to the market just aren’t my thing). Grand Frais is in fact 4-5 different businesses grouped under one roof with a common cashier. Yes, it is really grande surface, a chain, but not a behemoth store. Buying MIF is pretty easy at the butcher counter. Beef, chicken, rabbit and pork are most often French produced. Lamb usually is but you have to check. Sea food though comes in from Normandy. Fish is however another story. Rarely do you find French fish, despite all the coastal waters. You’ll have some better luck at the fishmonger’s, but they are expensive.
For fruits and veggies you have to be careful. What is French grown one week will not be the next. Luckily in France the origin of products must be clearly labeled. Grand Frais selects products based on quality and price, so they offer plenty of fruits and veggies from Europe and North Africa, plus of course the exotics and the out of season stuff from the other hemisphere. But if you are willing to choose what you eat by their origin you’ll find plenty of products from France and thus you’ll be eating product in season. The same goes for open air markets, just because it is a street market doesn’t mean it is local! Most products at your weekly market come in through the centralized market at Rungis south of Paris and they come from every where! Again look at the signs. So this week I found clementines from Corsica, bananas while not exactly local are technically MIF as they come from Guadalupe, pears and apples. Kiwis can be French – or not – you really have to pay attention to kiwis! In the vegetable department there were brussels sprouts and beautifully white cauliflower. I found pink onions from Roscoff in Brittany. I hadn’t had these before, but they were firm and pretty. Wow do they taste good too. They made the best onion quiche and oignon confit I have ever made. I suppose they were a bit pricier than other onions, but I’m hooked on them now! This time I chose curly parsley because the flat leafed kind was from Italy.
Cheese and dairy you’d think would be easy and it was, although there were a plethora of non-French cheeses on offer. Butter was a cinch – again from Normandy and Brittany (what would we eat if we didn’t have Normandy and Brittany??!!). Yogurt had plenty of choice too and I took one from Savoy – the only one that comes in a large multi-serving jar. I try to purchase the least packaging I can, plus a large container allows me to eat the amount I want and close the container back up. I’ve never understood why fromage blanc and faisselle come in large jars or tubs and yogurt doesn’t. (One of my other crusades is packaging but I won’t go into that here)
So for fresh food it is pretty easy to stick to Made in France products if you are attentive, flexible and thoughtful, but you might not satisfy every craving. I confess that we also bought green beans from Morocco on this visit. They just looked too good and it has been a long time since we’ve had green beans.