Many people reach a point in their lives when they feel the need to reinvent themselves, to find a new direction with fresh challenges. But not everybody buys a stoneware factory on the decline and saves the business!
We went to visit the Manufacture de Digoin and learn from the new owner, Corinne Jourdain Gros on how she came to take on the town’s biggest ceramic manufacturer.
Just five years ago Corinne Jourdain Gros was working as a publicist in Paris. The work had its glamorous side, and she loved the city, but the time had come for a change.
Although Corinne was good at her job, she wanted to learn a new skill. She set out to retrain and obtained an MBA in fashion management, and when she wrote her dissertation on the artisan manufacturers in France, she realized how fascinating and rich this traditional part of French industrial life had been. Corine knew that this would be her new direction.
While visiting her family in the center of France, Corinne heard that the Manufacture de Digoin was suffering. Manufacture de Digoin – Grès & Poteries is the oldest manufacturer in the town of Digoin, famous for its tableware, stoneware and beautiful patterns that have been loved for over a century.
Established in 1875, the buildings were showing their age and the factory itself was on its last legs. However, the skilled workforce still remained and Corinne was instantly drawn to the beauty of the products and materials.
She managed to buy the company, which felt very exciting, but the day she first turned the key in the main gate, the adventure became very real and rather daunting.
She was not put off, and so began an extremely steep learning curve, during which she relied on the employees to teach her their craft, and help her understand how the factory functioned.
The Manufacture had a rich legacy including hundreds of moulds, heavy machinery and thousands of square feet in factory space. Corinne explored some of the older moulds that hadn’t been used for decades, and chose the models that she was naturally drawn to.
There was much to learn about pigments, and Corinne introduced a whole new range of colors, adding a more contemporary charm to the traditional pieces.
Within a few months she had booked her stand at the huge Parisian decoration fair, Maison & Objet, and she took it by storm. Buyers were immediately seduced by the quality and design of her beautiful platters, bowls and urns. Orders started pouring in, and then came the challenge of fulfilling them.
Additional staff was taken on, an unhoped situation for this company that had very nearly closed its doors forever, only six months earlier.
Today, Corinne continues to grow the business and has big ambitions for her huge premises. She would love to see these old buildings buzzing as a creative hub, welcoming young designers. Some of the buildings are already used by local photographers, seduced by the amazing volumes and light.
She hopes that one day there will be a culinary activity to complement her beautiful tableware, and because she loves all things botanical, she would also like to develop more products for the garden, such as large jars and planters.
We love this tale of reinvention and safeguarding of one of France’s most loved brands!
This article was originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of My French Country Home.
Photography & Text by Sharon Santoni