Collégien was founded in Briatexte, a small village in the southwest of France, in 1947. Six decades later, the same village saw the relaunch of the brand thanks to the backbone of its company: a dedicated family. Collégien, then and now, prides itself on their collection of socks, slippers, and tights.
We had the privilege to speak to a family member, Charlotte Guille, about the meaning of family in the world of business, which pretty much summed up why Collégien is the unique and meaningful brand it is today. We speak about generations (and generations) of diligence, craft, and passion that created and is still creating the sustainability and foundation that Collégien stands on.
Having a family business is not easy, to say the least, and perhaps that’s why we don’t see many operating so widely today. “It’s sort of this symbol, a symbol for us of sustainability, because we’ve been offering employment to people in the region for so many decades. And so it’s kind of a trust relationship that we have, and we’re working very hard on trying to keep that trust,” says Charlotte about the concept of family playing into the brand.
Collégien's story begins in the 1870s with Charlotte’s great-great-great grandfather, who owned a grocery shop in the small village of southern France. Labeled as the first entrepreneur of the family, Charlotte’s great-great-great grandfather took pride in finding new ideas for his local market, such as using Colombian coffee beans for the coffee he sold to his customers who were not familiar but elated with this sort of product expansion at the time.
Above, photo of Olivier Guille and Robert Guille in 1964.
From there, each generation continued the enterprise as they cultivated personal techniques to their clothing, most of which are still humbly practiced in Collégien today. For instance, Charlotte’s great-great grandfather bought local cotton yarn and dyed it himself to knit and sell sweaters to their local customers. “It was a sort of tie and dye because it wasn’t perfect and it was handmade. That was sort of his unique brand image,” says Charlotte of the meticulous process that is still used today for Collégien’s apparel.
Charlotte points out that the biggest turning point for Collégien was the purchase of the circular knitting machine. While still making sweaters, Charlotte’s great grandfather, Olivier, executed the idea of manufacturing socks but faced an unforeseen obstacle when the machine was too small to produce socks to fit a grown man’s feet. As any wise entrepreneur would do, Charlotte’s great grandfather quickly pivoted to a different market: children.
Above, a photo of the dyeing machine used to create the pieces.
The socks perfectly fit children who were ten to fifteen years old, and simultaneously, Charlotte’s great grandfather quickly saw a solution that would address one of the necessities of post-war France. Charlotte mentions that middle school in French is “le collège,” which swiftly led to Olivier’s decision to name the brand Collégien. “The first machine, that was basically mistaken, could make socks for kids that go to middle school … basically started as a mistake but was actually a solution,” states Charlotte.
Since generations have passed and a relaunch has occurred within the brand, it’s intriguing to think about what the original entrepreneur might think of what Collégien is today. Charlotte offered her opinion, saying, “I think he would be proud that we kept that idea going at least. Or maybe it would be because it was his first idea, and that we’re still doing it today. He would be proud, of course.”
Collégien's original hosiery factory in Briatexte still operates as their manufacturing location today. “There are just a few companies that do that still in France, and I think it’s very unique the way that we’re trying to preserve that. We’re very proud of it, and I think that’s what makes the story of Collégien,” shares Charlotte.
Above, a photo the village of Briatexte, today.
When asked how decades of family working together succeeds, Charlotte responds, “It’s important to have your family at work and then your family at home, too. It’s important to preserve your family relations, family relationships, to have that trust and that love that you have with your parents or your brothers or your cousins.”
Collégien dedicates itself to the quality of their products, especially because socks should be made to last. Charlotte shares that the strategy dedicated to picking fabrics and yarn, such as their long-staple Egyptian cotton and merino wool, was a crucial factor for Collégien’s relaunch in 2007. This results in the brand’s promise of soft but sturdy materiality, easy caretaking, and no animal cruelty.
When asked about her favorite Collégien product, Charlotte hesitated to choose one but ended up speaking about the tights. “They’re comfortable. They don’t fall down when the kids are wearing them. They don’t have any holes. I mean, I saw a video of a girl skateboarding and falling all the time and the tights were impeccable!” Speaking further to her favorite products, Charlotte mentioned that her personal favorites are the glittery socks. “I have all the colors and they’re my basic go-to socks. Depending on what I’m wearing, I choose a different color of socks,” shares Charlotte. In the Guille family, knowledge was not the only thing that was passed down. Collégien stands on a foundation of strength, promising the quality and fashion that a diverse range of families might look for.
“It’s the fact that we’re in a very small village in the south of France, but we’re still here and we have been here from the beginning.” -Charlotte Guille