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Pre-war machine is secret of our success

France is known for its artisans who make unique and desirable products. Here we look at a man who wins warm praise for winter clothing that he has been making ethically for 30 years using a vintage plucking machine

WINTER clothing firm Triple Zero has found a niche in the market with its feather down jackets made using a machine that dates back to before the Second World War.

Louis Pinel’s extra-warm clothing regularly wins outdoors magazine tests and he has been making items in Dur­fort, Tarn, for 30 years.

His feathers are ethically- sourced and not just because they are only taken from dead birds – it is against the law to use live ones as it causes excruciating pain – but also because he prefers birds reared on small farms.

He is convinced birds reared in smaller numbers and given better care produce healthier feathers and a higher-quality product.

“Like all animals, birds are sensitive to stress, affection, things like that. When one tends one’s gardens the vegetables are good – if you don’t then they won’t be. It’s a bit like that with birds – if their producers make sure they are in good spirits and aren’t stressed you are going to get a good quality of feathers, a good quality of bird.

“That’s the principle I have respected since the beginning.”

His family business began life as Etablissements Pinel in 1860 and was renamed in 2004 but the humane way of getting the feathers was not always so.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the feathers were plucked by hand from living birds, before being disinfected by heating them in a baker’s oven – after the morning’s bread had been made...

Then in 1936 the family bought a hydraulic mechanical plucker, whose technology was based on that of older machines used to thresh wheat.

Mr Pinel said: “It was constructed specifically for plucking birds. It was made in Germany by [a firm called] Lorch, which still exists.”

It uses air compression and is remarkably durable. Break-downs are rare, giving an advantage over technologically superior but high-maintenance digital machines as well as being cheap to maintain.

Mr Pinel said: “That’s an advantage of using material like this which is very reliable. It’s very easy to run. You don’t need [support] technicians or any of that.”

There are drawbacks and Mr Pinel admits that what modern rivals can make in a day will take him a year to complete.

“Now you have big machines with lots of electronics – it’s the same principle but it’s at another level. That’s the difference in quantity.”

However, part of Mr Pinel’s success has been to turn his laborious but craftsman-like approach into another unique selling point.

He said: “It’s not about quantity – it’s about quality. I’m not looking to grow and grow, I don’t do many adverts, I sell directly.”

Also, by using less energy and operating on a smaller scale Mr Pinel believes he has made his products more appealing to environmentally aware conscientious consumers. “We use the least amount of products and processing possible.”

He added that emphasis is put on the superior quality and technique of his coats.

“The reputation of our brand rests on this quality.”

Mr Pinel said: “I am convinced that the energy you put into something automatically will be sensed by the people who come into contact with your product.”

His prices reflect this care: his top men’s down jacket costs €590, with women’s from €370. Lighter jackets start at around €220. Customers agree they are worth the money and Triple Zero sells about €300,000 of down products every year, which also include duvets, pillows and cushions.

Leading magazine Montagne, which reviews winter clothing, recently said Triple Zero’s Anza coat was among the lightest and least cumbersome of its kind on the market and ranked it in its top three picks.

The company’s website at shows some of his top sellers and he has carved out a special niche in the market for down jackets.

Mr Pinel happily admits his desire to keep the old hydraulic machine and not replace it may also be because he has a personal interest in the period: “I was fascinated by the subtlety of the 1930s and this is what motivated me to keep it going.”

“It’s rare, in my profession, because all my colleagues are working with technology dating from the [digital] revolution of the 1960s.

“We have remained like a manufacturer from the 1930s. Everyone uses a machine – the main difference is that mine is old; the last of its kind in action, possibly in the whole world.”

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