Le Slip Français, purveyors of men’s and women’s undergarments, have parlayed old-world manufacturing and award-winning digital marketing into an under-the-radar success. Here’s how.
by Mary B. Adams @ladymissmba
Le Slip Français is a modest company with a discreet product and humble beginnings. In 2011 founder Guillaume Gibault was fresh out of business school when a friend bet him that quality underwear could no longer be manufactured in modern France. Gibault set out to prove him wrong, and did.
Today Le Slip Français manufactures upscale unmentionables at nine workshops across France and sells them almost exclusively through e-commerce. The signature blue-white-and-red undies are priced between 25 and 35 euros apiece. Revenues in 2013 exceeded 900,000 euros, more than tripling those from the previous year. Ninety percent of the company’s sales are from France, and a third of them are from the Paris region. The company’s tagline, Made in France 3.0, sums up the brand’s key strengths: leveraging modern communication tools to build a compelling heritage brand out of an otherwise basic commodity—a pair of drawers.
Digital Marketing a Key Success Factor
Born and raised on the Internet, Le Slip Français understands the importance of relevant, valuable content. Effective storytelling feeds social networks, boosts brand recognition and gets the e-shoppers e-shopping. The retro-sleek aesthetic of Le Slip Français’ website (in French and English) mixes schoolboy geekiness and “Mad Men” sophistication. A generous portion of the website focuses on Francis, the hunky model depicted in—you guessed it—a pair of briefs.
Thousands of fans and customers follow Francis around the world on Facebook. He pops up in endless postcard settings—beaches, fields, mountaintops—like the gnome in Amelie Poulin. On the Instagram feed, behind-the-scenes glimpses of office life are among the more popular posts. Pinterest is a storehouse of “Inspiration” for the brand, with historic boxing posters and vintage black-and-white photos of Alain Delon, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and – perhaps to demonstrate that inspiration can also come from beyond the borders of France – Mohammed Ali.
In addition to photos, videos are powerful communication tools used to showcase “the unique savoir-faire” of traditional French manufacturing or to poke fun at political campaigns. The socialist party’s slogan during the 2012 presidential elections, “Change is Now,” became “Change Your Underwear Now” in a promotional video that generated loads of buzz and press for the brand. The “Chef’s Surprise,” a 1960s throwback comparing Le Slip Français undies to those of brand x, concludes that men who appreciate elegance and comfort insist on Le Slip Français. This video is close to reaching a million views on YouTube.
A MyMajorCompany crowdfunding campaign launched in March 2013 further illustrates Le Slip Français’ digital marketing prowess. The company needed €10,000 to develop and launch an innovative concept: scented skivvies for men. They collected €22,252 from more than 500 investors, blowing the pants off their goal. By summertime, the low-rise fragranced briefs had already gone to market.
In October 2014 Le Slip Français received a Digital Marketing of the Year trophy for using digital technologies in transformative ways. In a phone interview, Guillaume Gibault explains where he gets ideas for marketing campaigns:
“I get inspiration from all kinds of sources, traditional and modern. I spend loads of time on social media networks and blogs. Reading novels and magazines also provides inspiration.”
Expansion via Brick-and-Mortar and Partnerships
Le Slip Français recently burst out of its online britches, opening its first boutique in the Marais, a trendy shopping district in Paris. “In our business, if we want to build credibility in the export market, particularly with our partners in Japan, Korea, etc, it is important to have a storefront in Paris…even if we are very internet-oriented,” Gibault explains. The company is also experimenting with a pop-up shop in Hong Kong, the first of several standalone points of sale in Asia, aimed to build trust and brand recognition among Asian consumers.
The firm is quite big on partnerships and counts Princesse Tam.Tam, Balibaris, Kulte and Monette among them. A strategic partnership with Agnès B, the iconic Parisian fashion brand, also helped open door into the Asian market. “Associating ourselves with solid brands like these boosts our visibility and helps us come up with fresh new products,” Gibault adds. He also notes that a collaboration with heritage footwear maker Aigle is in the works.
This year the company plans to open two new boutiques, add four employees to its staff and grow its export business (today representing 10% of total revenues). Championing the revival of French manufacturing has no doubt contributed to Le Slip Français’ success at home. Just how big the sales potential is for these little briefs proudly displaying the “Made in France” pedigree on an international scale remains to be seen…