Trained by the Compagnons du Devoir crafts guild and their Tour de France programme as a saddler, Etienne Buffard has recently overseen the installation of the Centre of Excellence for Flexible Materials (PEMS) in the Guild’s new training centre in Pantin.
Etienne Buffard was going to become an upholsterer until he discovered saddlery and decided differently. “I was interested in volume. The mobility and the many and various possible uses of saddlery also suited me perfectly.” Today Etienne Buffard directs the PEMS in Pantin, the new leather professions’ flagship located in north-east Paris. Yet he remains modest and loyal to the values he acquired during his apprenticeship.
It all started for him in 2004. He registered with the craftsman’s training centre in Lyon and studied for a series of diplomas in saddlery whilst experiencing the daily life of the workplace. He worked for three companies in all, including Steiner, a German manufacturer.
"The transition from being an apprentice to an aspiring artisan is one of the highlights of the Compagnons du Devoir experience”, he recalls. “The piece of work one produces in order to achieve this transition is the proof of our desire to master our craft. But it’s not the ultimate goal. During an internship at Décathlon, I produced a camping tent with new functions.”
This innovation was his lucky break – in 2008 Décathlon placed him in charge of the department making prototypes for luggage, rucksacks and life jackets, among other products, before sending him to Shanghai where from 2009 to 2011, Etienne Buffard was in charge of production. "My experience in the company opened doors to international management positions,” he willingly acknowledges.
When he returned to France in 2011, he took charge of the Institut des Matériaux Souples [Flexible Materials Institute] (leather and textiles) which was growing in importance in the brand new building in Pantin. “My task,” he told us, “was to put in place the Centre of Excellence, incorporating a dynamic teaching sector and an active network to strengthen recruitment”.
Buffard was the winner of the Défi Innover Ensemble 2012 challenge with his folding screen for use in the hotel sector and now, for the first time, he is welcoming the latest entrants in this collaborative project supported by the J.M.Weston Foundation to the Pantin centre. This years theme is connected flexible materials. He is in no doubt that “electronics are going to bring a new dimension of innovation to leather”.
Etienne Buffard is 28, and he looks to the future with confidence. “Studying with Les Compagnons makes you want to travel...” He can easily imagine returning to Asia to share his expertise while continuing to learn. And why not try his hand at developing new products and managing teams in a thriving sector that he knows so well – that of sport and leisure items?