Portfranc, combining tradition, modernity, sustainability and refined design.
Portfranc was born in Montreal in 2015. Its creation was based on the conviction that there still exist craftsmen who take the time to create products prioritizing meticulous know-how while combining tradition, modernity, sustainability and refined design. Its mission is to connect them to consumers while maintaining the smallest carbon footprint possible.
It all started with a french expat's crazy idea to import traditional french slippers to Canada. Clement was born in the region where the Charentaise has been invented and would often bring with him a few pairs as gifts for his friends in Montreal when coming back from his trips to France. Canadian winter is cold and lasts for a good portion of the year. People stay inside their home a lot during winter time and a good pair of wool slippers surely has its benefits.
Everybody loved their slippers and, as more and more people started to ask him to bring a pair for them as well, he envisioned that there could be a market for it. He decided to set up an online shop and start importing these slippers on a bigger scale.
We met in Paris, as Clement was traveling to France. He needed a logo and ideas on how to set up his online store.
From the very beginning we decided that we would select other traditional products as well and build a catalog of iconic manufactured goods. These products would have to be made by hand, with a very high-level of quality and as environment-friendly as possible. Outside of making money selling goods online, we all wanted to have a positive impact, help manufacturers gain visibility for their products and be mindful of the global carbon footprint for this project.
We knew that Clement’s initial budget was very limited and that most of it would have to be spent on buying the goods. Most of the products we handpicked had little to no visibility in North America and we would need to do a lot of storytelling around it in order to give substance to the project. This means a lot of copy, photography and possibly video. We wanted to present these goods in the most compelling way, highlighting their quality and the craftsmanship of their manufacturers.
Since we needed to be able to sell products online all the while giving it a strong editorial context, we went with Squarespace. This platform allowed us to run a blog and a shop at the same time, without the need to plug tedious plugins in order to achieve what we had in mind. We started filling a blog section with content around the products history and manufacturers craftsmanship. This way we could easily plug this content at the bottom of each the product details page.
We documented all products from the catalog, with a strong emphasis on the production process, visiting ateliers and interviewing their founders, asking them to talk about their history, where they are today and how they see themselves and their products in the future.
We produced collection and product details page visuals for all the goods and launched in September 2015.
Although slippers are traditionally worn inside the house, since the initial catalog included other pieces of clothing that are commonly worn outside we created for the brand an outdoor feel, shooting the products in the context of a week-end in a cabin. People in Canada are known for their cabin in the woods and these french rugged products would fit wonderfully in this context. This proved to be a winning strategy as initial response has been amazing. The brand we created to market all of these products under the same name would soon be contacted by mass market dealers and, quickly after launching the website, bigger quantities of all of these goods were already ordered, this time to be sold in retail stores around Canada.
This is what helped us adding one more layer to this initiative. Since the beginning we were really cautious about the products we would select, looking closely at the manufacturing process, making sure environment pollution was reduced to a minimum. But we still had to use container ships to send it from France to Canada, which had too much of an impact on our carbon footprint. Thanks to Simons, one of the companies who bought some of these products for their own stores, we were able to ship all of this merchandize via sailboat, for the first time in the 21st century! Sure it took twice the time a container ship would need to cross the Atlantic, but it emitted no carbon at all in the process. This has been a major selling point for these products ever since, as Portfranc is now operating transatlantic shipping via sailboat on a regular basis.
“Quality, durability and sustainability are not ideas of the past, they are the future”
Soon, Midnight Club became associate with Portfranc and for more than two years we helped them with the selection of new products, production of all branding material and visual assets, and developed marketing and digital strategies.
Portfranc is now almost three years old and has since received a lot of press, both in France and in Canada. The response to the products and initiative is overwhelming and helped some of these manufacturers gain visibility on their work and find new clients in North America. This project helped us realize that there are solutions to preserve the environment while keeping a global market alive, that craftsmanship still has value in the eyes of consumers and that quality, durability and sustainability are not ideas of the past, they are the future.