L’Inattendue, founded in 1988 by Aline Wong, produces garments for well-known brands in the clothing industry. It provides its customers with everything from simple logo embroidery to fully fledged customized solutions. In 2004, it established its own brand: “L’In”. L’Inattendue developed an in-house design department, which offers its customers screen printing, integral print solutions and handmade embroidery carried out by about 20 women working from home. The company has 75 employees, 95% of whom are women. The company owns two shops and maintains three corners in other shops.
Aline’s business operates in three types of markets: the main export market is France, including the nearby island of La Réunion. “This is considered a niche market, which helps the company to keep in touch with market trends and international standards”, affirms Aline. The United States market is a recent target, to diversify the company’s customer base, manufacturing standards and types of fabric produced. However, the most interesting venture for her business is the market development of her own brand. This segment is growing – it is about 16% of L’Inattendue’s total output and brings about $400,000 in sales revenue. Sales in the local market helped the company to fare better during the financial crisis and recession in Europe, when unfavourable exchange rates saw sales in clothes drop abruptly and cotton prices of cotton rise. At the same time, non-traditional local markets are not mature enough for L’Inattendue to switch its customer segment completely.
The company stays ahead of competition by focusing on quality and providing flexible solutions. Conscious of environmental challenges, L’Inattendue constantly monitors the waste it produces. It trains its operators to optimize the use of machines so as to reduce energy costs, it has adopted “green” fabric-washing practices and is seeking to use natural fibre that requires less water to create (in comparison with cotton). L’Inattendue stresses the “human” in human resources management. The major strength of the company, Aline says, is its strong commitment to its employees, which has been built over the years. In the future, L’Inattendue would like to further expand its own brand, making greater use of innovation and technology in its production chain. It would also like to franchise the brand. The three to five years ahead are a challenging phase that Aline hopes will see the brand gain more market share.