Nestled in the south of France, Tissage Moutet has modernized the centuries-old tradition of Basque weaving. Basque linen, known for its signature striped pattern, started off as woven cloth farmers used to cover cattle. The entire region was producing the material, but because the more commercial area was the Basque Coast, the cloth became known as Basque linen.
Tissage Moutet, a family business, started weaving in 1919 and is now led by a mother/son team, Catherine and Benjamin Moutet. Globalization threatened the company, but thanks to the forward thinking of Catherine, Tissage Moutet is a thriving business that is helping to keep French history alive.
We sat down with Catherine to hear more about her life and company as a part of our series on women entrepreneurs.
What is Tissage Moutet?
Tissage Moutet is a textile factory specializing in table linens and home fabrics.
We are a very old company, a family business that was founded in Orthez in 1919. In the Basque country of southern France, linens were once used to cover the cattle’s backs to protect them from sun and flies. At some point, the covers for cattle were used to cover tables. It’s a surprising evolution, but that’s what happened, cattle covers became tablecloths, and Basque linen became famous worldwide.
The company was always located in Orthez, a little town in the southwest of France that was very well known for its linens. There were quite a number of weavers here but unfortunately, with the evolution of globalization, all the weaving companies in France experienced difficulties, this one included. Many closed down, but we survived.
How did you manage to survive?
The 1990s were difficult for many traditional shoe, wood and textile factories. Similar products were being made in other countries at a lower cost. Many businesses unfortunately died. This almost happened to Tissage Moutet as well.
I believed we needed to adapt, modernize and make things that people in those far away countries don’t know how to make. This meant creating, innovating and re-inventing the traditional, basic linens Tissage made for years, expanding our product line and producing pretty gift items.
Was it easy?
Not at all. The changes we made in the 1990s were an audacious, original and unheard of approach for a company in such a small town.
The first important change was to bring big name designers, which was difficult since we weren’t famous. We found a mixture of established and young artists, all who loved color and imagination, and were touched to participate in the revival of this little weaving company. This mix made it work. Traditionally, Basque linen has stripes but in the 80s and 90s Tissage Moutet started producing Jacquard linen, cloth with designs that are woven into the fabric instead of printed on the material.
We still needed to stand out though.
How did you do that?
Color is what makes Tissage Moutet unique. We have a range of colors that others don’t, which makes us recognizable by our customers. When they see our colors they say, “This is a Moutet!”
We are very happy about that. We mixed orange, pink, yellow, turquoise. We made many unpredictable mixes of colors. On top of that, we decided to make our own colors so we work with a yarn dying factory nearby, exclusively, which makes our orange, red, yellow and turquoise. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s a detail that changed everything. It was a very difficult process, but we persevered and the company succeeded.
We were very proud when we received the prestigious label of “Living Heritage Enterprise” from the French government. It’s a beautiful label celebrating French businesses with a history, ones that keep that keep French traditions alive and evolving. This was truly an honor because not many companies receive it.
You and your son run the company. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Everyone in your company should have a voice. That’s some of the best advice I can give an entrepreneur.
Listen. Listen to the people on your team and keep the atmosphere happy and creative.
What advice do you have a little girl out with a dream of running her own business?
Don’t be afraid to realize your dream!
I arrived at this company when the textile workers were all women and the managers were all men. We rectified that here and while it still happens in other industries it is getting better every day. If you have a project or a desire, just do not be afraid and go for it!