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A tour inside the ateliers hermès in pantin, france.

hermes factory tour

photo © LUCIE & SIMON, Hermès

Here’s the one thing you’ll learn NOT to do when visiting the Hermès workshop in Paris: leave your bag on the floor! Once you’ve taken the tour through their Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré boutique, you’ll realize that treating your leather with the respect it deserves is like paying tribute to the craftsman who made it. Especially if it comes from Hermès!

On a typical grey Parisian morning, 'Hermès' picked me up - whisking me away to suburban Pantin, home to some of the biggest luxury houses in the world. But on the 24th October 2012, I only had eyes for Hermès! Visiting their fragrant workshop is a real sensory experience. Your eyes, your nose, you ears; they’re all part of a luxurious journey. First, it’s the tap-tap-tapping sound that rhythmically follows your every step, a sign of industrious hands at work. Then it’s the smell of the leather, from the simplest and supplest calfskins to rare finds like ostrich legs, rainbow lizard and reverse croco, all sourced by Hermès’ experienced leather-hunters.

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

On the ground floor of this charming building, designed by architect François Ceria , a monitor is strategically placed right next to the elevators, live streaming customers shopping in the Paris flagship store, so leather-workers can follow the fate of their beloved bags, even if they’re 6.4 kms away! 

photo © LUCIE & SIMON, Hermès

photo © LUCIE & SIMON, Hermès

photo © LUCIE & SIMON, Hermès

Hermès artisans claim they can recognize their handiwork on celebrities or pick their own pieces out of a line-up any day of the week and I, for one, am willing to believe it!

As for the workshop itself, the prevalent sentiment is that of everlasting love: each bag is affectionately crafted by a single artisan from start to finish, which would explain why they only turn out two pieces a week. No leather-worker is allowed to intervene in another colleague’s bag and each individual has their own set of tools, which they eventually take home with them when they retire. It goes without saying that the mere mention of placing your bag - no matter what the origins and price - on the floor to flex your tired muscles, is worthy of capital punishment!

It doesn’t take long to realize that the Hermès universe is ruled by discipline and precision, but that doesn’t mean it lacks imagination. Out of all the impossible beauties the bespoke department has produced over the years – including a portable bar, a machete, an aviator cap, Barbie clothes and a leather-clad Leika – the green apple bag still holds a special place in their heart. 'The client wanted to gift it to someone who constantly ate apples,' says Parisian bag maker Valerie Benardeau. ''The bag's inner layer was made of beaten silver metal and its exterior covering was leather. As the bag was being made, apples were constantly brought to Hermès to test whether the evolving design would fit perfectly!''

photo © Jérôme GALLAND, Hermès

photo © Jérôme GALLAND, Hermès

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

Although this cult legend was nowhere in sight, a lot of valuable pieces are bequeathed back to the house when they reach the hands of heirs who are generous enough to part with them, or feel they’d be better cared for in their natural environment. Let’s not forget that the Hermès heritage is not just limited to manufacturing, it also specializes in overcoming accidents and easing the passage of time.''It’s all functional, not decorative,'' says my tour guide and I can’t help but believe her. From its equestrian origins through to its first steps into society, the house of Hermès has proved that choosing, cutting and reading leather is akin to high art. Add a long work table, an experienced craftsman and forty leather and hardware elements, and you’ve got yourself a bag that’s worthy of royalty. So the next time you hear someone complain about the mile-long waiting list for the exquisite Kelly - named after the impossibly chic Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco – tell them it’s worth the wait!

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

photo © Alfredo PIOLA, Hermès

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

When you don’t take your time, time takes its toll. François Fayolle (1775-1852)

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

The beauty of the material calls for the perfection of the work, even if it can’t be seen. The bottom must be worthy of the top, and the inside the outside. Colette, 1942

photo © Costas Voyatzis for Yatzer.com

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Inside the Hermès Workshop That Makes Its Iconic Bags

By Alexis Cheung

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There is a kind of fashion object so long-lasting, so tirelessly wanted that its name becomes recognizable, a metonym for the brand that made it: the Air Jordan, the Love bracelet. Few brands, successful though they may be, attain that kind of saturation. Hermès has done it twice: the Birkin and, arguably the first of the household-name phenomena, the Kelly. Originally designed in the 1930s as the Petit sac haut, à courroie, simplifié, the Kelly was rechristened after the newly crowned Princess Grace was photographed, in 1956, clutching it to conceal her early pregnancy; the image appeared on the cover of Life magazine.

Image may contain Handbag Accessories Accessory Bag and Purse

But in the Hermès artisan workshops, the vaunted bag isn’t a waiting list status symbol, it’s an education: Usually the first item newly minted leather artisans construct, it serves as a leatherwork 101. “The Kelly bag is one of the most complex bags we have in terms of our savoir faire, or know-how, which is really based on the tradition of saddlery and harnesses,” says Olivier Fournier, executive vice president of compliance and organization development at Hermès International, who oversees the company’s sustainable development. With its crisp top flap, shoulder strap, and ladylike single handle (the most easily spotted differentiating feature from the double-handled Birkin), it requires 36 pieces of leather, a handful of metal parts, and 15 to 20 hours for one artisan to complete. Mastery of the Kelly means mastery over virtually every other Hermès bag design.

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Indeed, at Hermès so much depends upon a single stitch, taut and tensile, with almost 200 years of tradition. And if each stitch represents a sentence in Hermès’s history, which began when the German-born harness maker Thierry Hermès founded the company in Paris in 1837, then its manufacturing workshops are the grammar guiding their syntax. These workshops—of which there are 51 in France alone, each dedicated to women’s ready-to-wear, perfume, shoes, jewelry, menswear, silk, or home furnishings—are spaces where standards and techniques are passed down and preserved.

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Perhaps nowhere is this marriage of craft and legacy more apparent than at the company’s newest leather workshop, or maroquinerie, which opened this September in the pastoral village of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, on the outskirts of Bordeaux. Not far from the city center or the terroirs teeming with grapevines, a group of 180 artisans (a number that will swell to more than 250 once training and recruiting is complete) can be found selecting, cutting, perfecting, burnishing—and yes, stitching—yards of supple leathers into any one of Hermès’s signature bags, all exclusively made in France. “Making a bag is demanding in terms of time and skills,” says a Saint-Vincent-de-Paul leather artisan named Emilie, who joined Hermès in 2015. “There’s a little bit of our soul in each bag.”

The first Hermès leather workshop opened at the flagship store in Paris in 1880.

The leather workshops can be traced to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where Thierry Hermès’s only son, Charles-Émile, opened its flagship store in 1880. The first location outside of Paris opened near Lyon more than 100 years later, in 1989, and the next site came in Pantin in 1992. (All brands self-reference, but Hermès’s version is particularly cyclic; artistic director of women’s ready-to-wear Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski showed a poncho in her spring 2019 collection with a waistline based on the aprons worn at the Pantin site.)

Image may contain Finger Human and Person

“We have stuck for centuries now to a craftsmanship model because we strongly believe that to have the quality and the durability we want in our leather goods, we need this artisan approach,” explains Fournier. The company maxim, “Luxury is that which can be repaired” (set forth by former CEO Robert Dumas-Hermès), comes to life at the workshops as well: Each year, at 15 dedicated repair shops worldwide, Hermès mends up to 120,000 of its own pieces, from a worn shoulder strap to a decades-old saddle; on rare occasions an artisan might even fix a handbag they crafted more than 30 years prior.

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“Craftsmanship is based on transmission,” Fournier says. With every new workshop opening, a handful of the house’s 80 master trainers—a position that requires eight years of work at Hermès to attain—travel to teach a new generation of artisans. It’s a demanding pedagogy, one that takes 18 months to complete and happens in two phases: The first is verbal, and the second is “at the bench,” when artisans apply their new learnings under the watchful eyes of one of 200 designated mentors.

Scenes from the training workshop.

At Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, each artisan—many of whom are locals hired through vocational schools and employment offices, often with little experience in leatherwork—uses more than a dozen tools but soon learns that the meticulous attention to detail inherent in an Hermès objet begins with their body. On any given morning, groups of artisans can be found flexing their toes, swaying their arms, and bending their knees, the workshop appearing more like a class for modern dance than a lesson in leatherwork. “Every single gesture has its importance,” says Emilie. “It requires constant concentration so as to not miss anything.” The angle of the hips, the lean of the torso, the pressure of the hands—all affect the final aesthetic outcome.

Despite this staunch adherence to tradition, Hermès will introduce a decidedly modern material this fall: mycelium leather. Developed in collaboration with the San Francisco-based biotech company MycoWorks, this “Fine Mycelium,” coined Sylvania by its creators, derives not from cattle but from mushrooms. Fournier insists that its quality and durability meet the same high standards of traditional leathers and that the material continues Hermès’s long legacy of innovation—it was, after all, Thierry’s grandson Émile-Maurice Hermès who introduced the zipper to handbags in 1922.

Image may contain Furniture Shelf Cupboard Closet and Bag

Once finished, the bags await further packaging.

“We strongly believe that we should not oppose new technology with what we do with the hands and tradition,” says Fournier. “Both are compatible.” Plus, he adds, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for creation, to play with new materials.” (For now, this particular play is reserved for the Victoria handbag from the autumn/winter 2021 collection, constructed at a workshop of its own.)

If “leather is a confrontation with reality,” as artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas says, then mycelium leather is a confrontation with changing times. “The recipe for success doesn’t exist, even at Hermès,” says Fournier, who notes that certain styles take years to become a success—the iconic Kelly among them. “The basis for everything is the freedom of creation.”

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Inside Hermès: Where leather factories are still the future

By Bella Webb

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Leather artisanship is alive and well on the outskirts of Bordeaux, where Hermès last month inaugurated its 19th leather workshop in France, the Maroquinerie de Guyenne.

Employing nearly 300 artisans, the new workshop is one of five that the brand is opening in as many years. By investing in more workshops, the brand is confirming its commitment to animal leather at a time when more industry attention is being paid to alternatives . Hermès itself invested in mycelium startup MycoWorks earlier this year, with first products launching by the end of 2021.

article image

That investment from a company with a profile as elevated as Hermès represented a significant win for sustainable materials, but the luxury house doesn’t plan on shifting production over to leather alternatives anytime soon. Its exploration of alternative materials is one means by which Hermès can broaden its customer base by satisfying vegan consumers, but it’s not considered the future of the company. “The vegan movement is developing fast, but meat and farming have existed for centuries, and play a very important role in the economies and history of Europe,” says Olivier Fournier, executive vice president of corporate development and social affairs.

However, the commitment to leather raises sustainability questions for the company, which has several notable sustainability targets in the pipeline, including halving 2018 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. By 2020, Hermès had reduced carbon emissions by 4.7 per cent. Calculating the impact of leather production is difficult, says sustainability consultant Michael Sadowski, but will be necessary to determine whether Hermès can realistically meet its goals while increasing leather production.

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Hermès last month inaugurated its 19th leather workshop in France, the Maroquinerie de Guyenne.

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Within the sustainable fashion movement, leather remains a contentious topic, not least for the pollution caused by much of the tanning process ( 90 per cent of tanneries use chromium tanning, which pollutes waterways). Conventional livestock production is a key source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Campaigners are pushing for a move to regenerative agriculture, which Hermès expressed a degree of support for in its latest annual report.

On the subject of the sustainability of animal leather, Fournier responds by pointing to its durability — a point made by every other Hermès employee Vogue Business spoke to — as well as the repair services offered and the jobs created. “We need to assure our customers that they are buying an object for the long-term,” he says. “Our footprint is low because of the artisanal model. If we want to maintain employment and create jobs, we have to grow, but our growth is limited by our capacity to recruit and train artisans.”

Sixth-generation Hermès-Dumas family member and current CEO Axel Dumas says the training programme is an ode to manual handwork. “You don’t learn tasks, you learn the profession of an artisan craftsperson,” he says. The brand declined to disclose how much trainees or staff are paid, but says the starting salary is “widely above” France’s minimum wage, and medium- and long-term remuneration includes employee shareholding plans. Fournier adds that 25.8 per cent of Hermès employees in France rack up more than 15 years of service, and some supplier relationships span a century.

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Last month, Hermès was ranked “A” by the MSCI ESG rating index , which assesses environmental and social risks and resilience. (AAA or AA ranking companies are considered “leaders”, while A, BBB and BB are considered “average”.) According to Hermès, the brand also came 148th out of 13,657 global companies reviewed by Sustainalytics.

Improving traceability

For a company that has historically been secretive about its production, Hermès, like many brands in the luxury sector, is now edging towards a more transparent approach. “When we talk about sustainability, it’s about knowing what you are doing and where you are doing it,” says Fournier.

Moin Roberts-Islam, technology development manager at the Fashion Innovation Agency, would like to see more still, especially in an industry as notoriously opaque as leather. “A global supply chain is much harder to oversee and substantiate data claims,” he says. In Fashion Revolution’s 2021 Transparency Index , Hermès scored 37 per cent overall transparency. For context, only one brand scored over 70 per cent and the average was 23 per cent.

Leather’s footprint is disproportionately high given how small its contribution to fashion’s total material use is. Even with a switch to regenerative agriculture, experts say a reduction in material production is needed to meet emissions targets. Traceability and transparency are particularly important in leather supply chains, says Sheila Cooke, 3LM hub leader at The Savory Institute, which works with companies from Eileen Fisher to Kering on regenerative agriculture.

Fournier says Hermès is tackling this by prioritising vertical and local suppliers, with 80 per cent of production in France. The Hermès Group operates a total of 64 production sites, including 51 in France and others in Switzerland, the US, Australia, Italy, Portugal and the UK. The number includes seven tanneries: one in Italy, one in the US and five in France, where its two main suppliers, Tanneries d’Annonay and Tanneries du Puy, are located. Fournier says the brand’s tanneries adhere to European regulations, which are among the strictest in the world after significant updates.

Olivier Fournier executive vice president of corporate development and social affairs for Hermès International.

Olivier Fournier, executive vice president of corporate development and social affairs for Hermès International.

In its 2020 report, the company highlighted the saturation of local waste outlets including landfills and incinerators in Rhône-Alpes. Hermès has invested €1.4 million in optimising tannery waste management in the last year, including effluent treatment units, ultrafiltration and activated carbon filtration. Between 2019 and 2020, the hazardous industrial waste produced by the brand’s leather use dropped by 17 tonnes. Leather scraps and offcuts are not included as waste, but redirected to the brand’s Petit H collection for upcycling. Dye waste — which accounts for 50 per cent of the brand’s waste, it says — is used to manufacture alternative fuel. Of non-hazardous waste, 63 per cent was sorted and recycled in 2020, while 36 per cent was converted to energy, according to company data.

Oversight of tanneries and production doesn’t guarantee sustainable farm management. Many brands purchase hides directly from abattoirs with little knowledge of which farms they came from or the practices used there. On this front, Hermès is betting on a laser leather-marking system developed with the Centre Technique du Cuir (CTC), which hopes to offer traceability from farm to finished product. In 2020, 35 per cent of calfskins tanned in Tanneries d’Annonay and Tanneries du Puy were marked in this way. The brand says rolling out this equipment across its leather supply chain will be a key challenge for the next few years.

Hermès uses 35 different types of leather in its products, with the majority sourced from its owned tanneries. By-products from food account for 96 per cent, while 92 per cent are sourced locally in Europe, according to the company. Although demand for vegan products is growing, companies shouldn’t be so quick to discount the potential environmental benefits of grazing animals used in leather production, says Nina Marenzi, founder and director of London-based materials advisory service, Future Fabrics Expo Ltd. “Kering and LVMH have been vocal about the bigger picture, about how fashion can help restore biodiversity,” she explains.

Further opportunities to invest and innovate are emerging in the leather sector. For example, in the UK, new venture Grady + Robinson is hoping to transform leather supply chains, rewarding farmers using regenerative agriculture methods (certified by The Savory Institute and the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association) with better prices, and improving transparency and traceability for designers aiming for the highest ecological and humane practices. UK designer Phoebe English is one of the names who has signed up.

Meanwhile, for the new generation of artisans in Bordeaux, the future looks bright. Hermès has weathered the Covid-19 pandemic well, with sales in leather goods alone up 25 per cent since 2019, it says. And the company retains the highest margins of any European luxury company — ultra-premium luxury indeed.

Correction: Removes incorrect reference to the Maroquinerie de Guyenne as the brand's 17th workshop in France; it is the 19th Hermès leather workshop in France. Also corrects title of Olivier Fournier to executive vice president of corporate development and social affairs. (7th October, 2021)

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A Tour of the Hermès' Factory in Pantin, France

There are certain nearly indefinable qualities that define each precision-crafted handbag from.

hermes factory tour

There are certain nearly indefinable qualities that define each precision-crafted handbag from French fashion atelier Hermès . Prescribing to a belief that gives meaning to the word meticulous, the process begins with leather-hunters who track down rare and exotic skins from ostriches, rainbow lizards and crocodiles. Once the the materials are chosen, a bespoke bag will be completed from start to finish by a single leather artisan who typically uses the same set of tools throughout the entirety of their career. Maintaining that each step in the operation is functional and not decorative, the tradition of the brand is crystal clear upon observing the making of bags worthy of the renowned waiting times to acquire one.

Source: Yatzer

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hermes factory tour

This Exhibition Shows What Makes Hermès, Hermès

"Hermès in the Making," on display through June 15, demonstrates how the house meticulously crafts every scarf, watch, and Birkin bag.

a photo of the heremes detroit exhibit hermès in the making including a used birkin bag and swatches of leather in detroit 2022

“Hermès in the Making,” a traveling experience currently open in the Detroit suburb Troy, is the closest one can get to the 52 Hermès workshops scattered across France without actually setting foot inside one of them. Four interactive sections highlight the generations of artisans behind every silk scarf and Kelly bag, allowing clients old and new to see what makes Hermès, Hermès, up close. It’s a limited engagement that runs through June 15, with a rarity mirroring the house’s own legendary pieces. The exhibition will travel to Austin in October, and also make stops in Kyoto and Singapore later this year.

a stitching station within the hermes in the making exhibition 2022

Taking up one cavernous space, the show includes winding open-concept displays along a pathway resembling a workbench, decked out in Hermès’s brightest pigments. In addition to broadcast snippets of Footsteps Across the World, a series produced by documentary filmmaker Frédéric Laffont, and sculptural displays of Hermès’s most iconic products , scheduled demonstrations take visitors inside the construction of saddles, timepieces, and more. (And for little ones, there’s the world’s chicest coloring station with paper prints of Hermès scarves.)

“Time” defines a section spotlighting watches and repair work, but the theme is threaded throughout the placards, videos, and glass-encased Birkins throughout the installation. More than once, copy in the exhibition tells you that Hermès respects time and treats it as an ally. This approach comes to life in the cutting and measuring of lambskin for a perfectly fitting glove; in a lineup of porcelain plates in various stages of completion, each decorated in gentle brushstrokes; in the length of the tenures on-site demonstrators have spent working at Hermès itself. In an era when most of fashion wants to hit the accelerator to its own detriment, some commotion for taking it slow feels borderline revolutionary.

a set of painted hermes plates resting on a work station to illustrate a gallery from the hermes in the making exhibition 2022

Visitors can interact with “Hermès in the Making” at their own pace, but the patient route is the one most aligned with the Hermès pace of craftsmanship—and more than worth the time.

Take a section of “Hermès in the Making” dedicated to the art of silk printing. For an hour, I am hypnotized by an artisan painstakingly pouring and spreading dye onto mesh frames to illustrate an Hermès silk scarf, layer by layer. The end result is worth the wait (and the standing): a vibrant printed silk scarf, transformed from what had been a bare white canvas 60 minutes before.

an hermes worker pours dye onto a screen to print a silk scarf

Before I take a second lap around the exhibition—some things deserve an extra glance—Ambelouis tells me about one of his most memorable projects. An Hermès client had somewhat recently brought a bag in need of touch-ups to the Manhattan workshop: production year, 1920. It was a true heirloom, used and handed down through just more than a century. With careful attention and all the technical expertise from years of training, he tells me, it was restored to be passed down once again.

There’s a magic to taking things slowly and deliberately. This is the essence of Hermès, now on display.

“Hermès in the Making” is open through June 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Somerset Collection in Troy, Michigan.

Halie LeSavage is the fashion commerce editor at Harper's BAZAAR . Her style reporting covers everything from reviewing the best designer products to profiling emerging brands and designers. Previously, she was the founding retail writer at Morning Brew and a fashion associate at Glamour .

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Take a Glorious Tour of the Hermès Silk Scarf Factory

Color story: It's not every day that we get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most prestigious fashion houses in the world—so you can bet we're reveling in Hermès's new film. Dubbed La Fabrique de la Soie , the video was shot by Craig McDean and offers a playful, colorful peek at the house's silk workshop, including over 600 different designs. The best part? All the silk featured in the film is available online at the brand's La Maison des Carrés site . [ Hermès ]

Gucci moment: Vogue reports that Cate Blanchett is the very first lucky lady to wear Gucci's S/S 17 collection on the red carpet. The dramatic dress debuted in Milan just two weeks ago, and it's truly a sight to behold. Head over to Vogue to see her gown. [ Vogue ]

Cool girl: French actress, singer, and model Josephine de la Baume chatted with Semaine for an in-depth interview that's definitely worth a read. From her go-to spots in her hometown of Paris to her style mantra, de la Baume spilled everything on how to master that French girl je ne sais quoi. Read the full interview on Semaine's website . [Semaine]

Budget buys: Need to spruce up your home on the cheap? IKEA just released a new limited-edition line that's chock-full of stylish pieces for your space. MyDomaine rounded up the specific items you should swipe up before they're gone. [ MyDomaine ]

Erin got her start as a Who What Wear intern over 13 years ago—back when the site only published a single story per day. (Who What Wear has since increased that number twentyfold.) She graduated magna cum laude from USC, which is how she ended up moving to Los Angeles from her hometown of San Diego. In college, she also interned at Refinery29 , where she was promoted to editorial assistant and then assistant editor. After nearly three years at R29, she came back to WWW in 2016, where she currently holds the title of Associate Director of Fashion News (as well as the unofficial title of resident royal expert—in case you haven't noticed her numerous Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton stories). She spends her days trying to incorporate her idols, Anna Wintour and Roger Federer, into as many stories as possible. Outside of work, she loves tennis, classic rock, traveling, and smothering her dog with affection.

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hermes factory tour

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The Kelly bag will be a focus of the facility, which will also be the first outside of Paris to make saddles.

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Hermès Louviers

PARIS — Hermès cut the equine-embossed ribbon on its newest leather goods factory on Friday, just days after its market cap soared past the 200 billion-euro mark.

“We’ve had good results this year,” chief executive officer Axel Dumas acknowledged during the symbolic cutting ceremony, slightly underplaying the stellar sales numbers. “This development allows us to open another leather workshop to create local jobs that export goods to the four corners of the world.”

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“We never think about additional quantity, we think about the additional number of hours and then of course these hours can be used on five different models,” he told WWD. Each bag takes between 15 and 18 hours to make. All artisans first train on the Kelly model, as it brings together several complex processes, and can go on to specialize in other bags.

As the “ quiet luxury ” craze gets buzzier, Hermès continues to focus on its craftsmanship. The method of making a handbag is the same as it was 50 years ago, he said, limiting production to two or three bags per worker per week. It’s the opposite of fast fashion since a customer may have to wait months for a bag.

The company has been accused of artificially restricting supply, particularly on its most popular models, which Dumas denied during a call with analysts in February . “We are trying to produce as many as we can,” he said at the time.

De Seynes added that Hermès is hiring hundreds of people per year, but that it takes 18 months of training before an artisan hits the factory floor. “We are trying to increase the production, but we want to maintain the approach to quality that is for us absolutely essential,” he said. There are around 4,700 artisans in leather goods production at its various facilities in France, he added.

While other luxury goods companies have acknowledged issues with recruiting and hiring enough workers to fulfill demand, De Seynes said Hermès’ combination of training, education and commitment to hiring from all age ranges somewhat insulates them from hiring issues. However he acknowledged that “in some activities — not leather — we really have to convince people that we can be attractive.”

At Louviers, the new facility will employ 260 artisans in its airy 66,700-square-foot facility.

Inside, artisans were on hand to show off their skills in cutting, sewing and finishing the bags, while rows of Kellys sat at a quality control station ready to be examined.

The factory sits on four hectares previously occupied by Philips, which had remained a brown site slated for environmental cleanup before it could be repurposed.

The new factory was constructed of 500,000 locally made bricks, and uses geothermal energy. It is also topped with 25,000 square feet of solar panels. The company says it’s “energy-positive,” meaning it puts more kilowatts back into the power grid than it uses.

The Louviers facility was built to be carbon-neutral, while the company is also working to decarbonize its existing plants by moving to wood or natural gas, said Olivier Fournier, executive vice president, corporate development and social affairs.

Fournier told WWD that the company is starting out with a lower carbon footprint than the other luxury groups due to its craftsmanship model. Hermès produces 78 percent of its products in France, and 65 percent are in made within its own workshops. Most other facilities are in close countries, with watches in Switzerland, for example.

“This gives us very good traceability because we have strong vertical integration regarding raw materials,” Fournier said. Again, most are sourced from France, with some coming from nearby nations, such as the Netherlands. Hermès keeps tight reigns on its supply chain. “It’s not a question of quantities, it’s a question of quality,” he said.

Though the company produces the majority of its goods in France, it is not untouched by global supply chain problems, de Seynes said. “In the case of silk, for example, [due to] the turmoil of the war and inflation, the time frame for investing in new capacities has been extended,” he said.

“2022 was above all expectations,” he added. “There was growth in every division, so we need to invest in every activity and try to increase capacity.”

Producing more enamel is also in the cards. The tableware division “is doing extremely well, so we need to increase the facilities and invest in that activity,” he said. To that end, they are modernizing an existing site, the location of which has not been announced.

There are four other leather factories in the works, with two expected to open later this year and two additional facilities rolling out over the next two years.

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hermes factory tour


Workshop visit: the hermes silk scarf workshops in lyon.


“It takes two years to make and two minutes to buy!” So says Kamel Hamadou, the affable communications manager of Hermès silk, hosting a rare tour of the company’s silk printing facilities in Lyon. Two weeks ago I was invited on a whirlwind trip to learn the many meticulous stages of making one of those familiar silk ‘ ca rrés ’ of which I’m the proud owner of a few, neatly folded and stored in their equally familiar flat orange boxes.

My most astonishing discovery? The utter complexity of printing involved in a silk scarf of many colours. The average scarf has around 30 colours, of which each shade has its own precise mixing process. The printing itself has to be seen to be believed, but next week, you’ll have the chance to see it all when Hermès ’ Festival Des Metiers lands on the London leg of its world tour.

Arriving from China (and then on to Dusseldorf), the exhibition showing at the Saatchi Gallery will continue Hermès ’ mission in sharing the knowledge and skills of its workforce beyond the secretive workshops to a wider and very curious audience. None of this is a coincidence of course. All the major brands are shifting focus from overdone logos to house codes as a way of redefining their brand and heritage to customers new and old. So for a brand like Hermès , that’s the silk square scarf (or ‘ ca rré ’) or the Birkin, while for Chanel it’s the boucle jacket, the quilting and the Chanel no5 perfume. It’s not only about product in the store or on the runway but about bringing those codes to life. Hence this exhibition and current Chanel exhibitions ( Little Black Jacket and No5 Culture Chanel ) that celebrate – at close quarters – the iconic elements of these brands.

Hermes-carre-ss13 3

But to start the whole process, you have to go right back to the original design. Part one of my Lyon tour began at a giant light box in the engraving workshop. Here, the engraver’s job is to look at the original design, commissioned from artists around the world, deconstruct the image and break it down ‘without betraying the spirit of the artist’, as our guide explains. That is, boil down a sometimes highly complex and colourful design to, at most, 47 colours. This is pretty technical stuff.

For each colour, a clear film slide is drawn, using black Indian ink, gouache, brushes and pens. For the finest detail work, an electric pen is used in micro strokes which Hamadou describes as ‘like putting makeup on’. Sounds complex, right? Well if a scarf has 47 colours then the process happens 47 times, with a new film slide drawn for each colour representing a different part of the overall image. That’s all for one scarf design. It necessitates a careful and sensitive eye and the patience of a saint. A design of 30 colours equates to around 600 hours work engraving 30 films. From here the finished engravings are transferred to computers on which each colour is assigned a number. Wait, did I mention each design might come in ten different colourways? At this point one thinks it’s a good idea to write all this stuff down.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 1

On the printing floor we get to see some printing in action. I love the mix of delicate draughtsmanship one minute, then ultra modern machinery the next. We’re whisked past a spanking new laser machine that’s being tried out but we’re not allowed to take photos or even see it. Instead we’re shown more traditional-looking screen-printing – big metal-framed screens of polyester gauze (stronger than silk screens) which are adapted to the design and the fabric being used. (A c arré isn’t only silk, sometimes it’s a silk-cashmere mix.) It’s then covered in blue photo sensitive gelatine and the gauze exposed to UV light. The gelatine’s job is to stop the colour landing on those areas.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 7

Also housed in this building are the finishing workshops where the cutting, sewing and hand rolling takes place. Here, heavy tie silks are layered and cut by hand with a lethal-looking tool that looks like a pizza wheel (spot the chainmail glove to avert nasty accidents). Long pins keep these multiple pieces of silk in place but this young fellow showed us plenty of scratches from accidental scrapes.

Everything is measured and cut strategically to minimise waste. The ties are all hand made. Watching these deft hands flying so fast and effortlessly was quite mesmerising. We also saw a natty trick where the seamstress twisted a special stitch that hides inside the tie. Look inside an authentic Hermès tie and you’ll find this unique looped knot inside.

How-Hermes-ties-Are-Made 8

This gleaming, spacious new workshop is where the rolled edges (the ‘ roulotte ’) are stitched on the scarves, all by hand. The thread is colour-matched to the border and giant pin cushions are used to pin the scarf in place. The roll is exactly 15mm, hemmed on the right side of the scarf (as opposed to the Italian way, which is hemmed on the reverse). At the exhibition you’ll be able to see this hand rolling and tie making happening live.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 8

After lunch we drove to another Hermès facility, Ateliers A.S, where we came to my favourite part of the process – the coloration. This is why it takes two years to make a scarf. Colours are decided two years in advance by the colour committee (yes, it’s actually called that), overseen by artistic director of women’s silks, Bali Barret. Barret collects colour inspirations continuously and for each biannual collection will produce a palette that runs across the brand’s entire product output including Christophe Lemaire’s RTW.

“Bali is like a conductor and the colourists are the orchestra”, Hamadou explains, gesticulating to a delicious array of mood boards, fabric swatches and boxes of coloured card samples on a vast table. The palette has to suit all women, hence the importance of a colour committee, and a scarf design translated in ten different colourways can effectively be ten very different scarves.

Here Hamadou also explains the silk-making process – a chain from the cocoon to the thread to loom to cloth. Alas, this is where I got lost as I just wanted to play with the coloured cards in the boxes, not learn about silk worms. But Hermes silk is not any old silk. It has its own strength and stability and comes from cocoons woven by silkworms farmed at an Hermès -owned facility in Brazil.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 11

On to the most exciting part, the ‘kitchen’ and another much more dramatic printing studio. But first, on with the health and safety footwear – a bulbous toe-cap, strapped on over our shoes like an avant-garde slingback. In a buzzing lab called the ‘kitchen’, we were shown the top secret ‘recipe book’, a file containing all the combinations of dyes to make up different colours.

For just one scarf in one colourway, you might need 25 different ‘recipes’ (mathematical formulae) for each of the 25 colours in the scarf. Where there are big quantities of a particular colour mixed, it can only be kept for two weeks, otherwise the water evaporates changing the viscosity of the dye, which affects the uniformity of the colour. Again, I loved the combo of modern technology and tradition here. A lot depends on computers but the experienced hand, eye and judgment are equally vital.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 20

Here at Ateliers A.S we experienced a different printing experience to the one a couple of hours earlier. Here the designs are printed on a 160m long table on which an equally long piece of 100cm wide silk twill is stuck on with special glue. There are big and slightly scary machines that move along the silk methodically, printing a screen at a time with the technician checking as each square goes along, to make sure nothing has shifted.

The order of screens starts with the outline first, building the design one colour at a time and finishing with the border of the square. If the technician’s eagle eye spots an error, he can halt the process, repositioning the screen. If not, the wonky prints are deemed unusable – a disaster for 100 metres of silk. The dyes dry quickly. As each metre is printed, it’s pegged above the table on a kind of washing line so by the time the last metre has been printed, the first metre has dried. Watching this exacting process happening live was quite a thrill, how on earth do these technicians spot a tiny smudge or splash in this fast-moving process?

Post-printing comes more processes. The colours are fixed by steaming then the printed silk is washed to remove the gum residue. At this stage the silk is still a bit hard so it’s coated with a special substance to soften it and brighten the colours. Little known fact: this is also why Hermès scarves are dry clean only – ordinary detergents can dull the dyes.

How-Hermes-Scarves-Are-Made 26

Spending a good six hours learning about every stage of the scarf-making process was absolutely mind blowing – in a good way of course. So much information, science and skill to absorb. But that wasn’t it. The tour ended at quality control and here we weren’t allowed to take photos (not quite sure why). Again, a meticulous eye and years of experience are needed to weed out the not-100%-perfect scarves. While checks are made at every stage of the process, this is the place where final checks happen before scarves are packed up to go to the Paris distribution centre. We saw a scarf with a teeny tiny splash of dye (that no ordinary person would have noticed it) and another that was printed one millimeter out of alignment. Out they went, to be shredded and sold as upholstery stuffing!

These insights into the making of hand-crafted luxury items are so useful in understanding the time and skill that goes into their design and production. For Hermès , one of the most authentic luxury heritage brands, it’s important to show how its products are really made and finished. In an age of increasingly digital retail and marketing ( Hermès has a scarf knotting app coming in July and I’m currently loving its Tumblr ), there seems to be an equal desire for evidence of the human touch. I love digital but I also love physical. We’re not all robots yet!


For more How It’s Made posts, check out my other workshop and factory visits:

How Hermes handbags are made

How Smythson diaries are made

How Smythson business cards are printed

How Johnstons of Elgin scarves are made

How Chanel fine jewellery is made

Visiting the Lesage embroidery atelier with Chanel

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl; Hermes NOTE: Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my cookies policy here

For more on heritage brands and artisanal luxury, order my book, The New Garconne – How to be a Modern Gentlewoman (published September 2016) CLICK HERE  to get Disneyrollergirl blog posts straight to your inbox once a week

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hermes factory tour

Disneyrollergirl Brands , Design , Events , Technology accessories , behind the scenes , craft , exhibitions , factory visit , heritage , Hermes , how it's made , long read , luxury , scarves

hermes factory tour

Hermes scarves are so beautiful and I can now see why because so much time and care has gone into making them. I definitely agree with you it is important to know how products are made.

hermes factory tour

What a gorgeous piece, and how wonderful you were given this opportunity. Thank you so much for sharing it.

hermes factory tour

Wow- this must have been such an amazing experience. Craftsmanship at its finest!; thelaststraggler.wordpress.com

hermes factory tour

Thank you so much for this post. I got here from a pin by P Gaye Tapp of a Hermes scarf ad and started searching same. Mouthwatering joy in a bleak winters morning.

Down here in New Zealand the opportunities to see such exhibitions are few. The web is a revelation. Your images and sharing of your tour are the highlight for today. A trip to Lyon is at the top of my desire list.

hermes factory tour

thank you so much for this. It was beautiful to experience through your eyes. I wanted to ask if this was a course you applied or paid for? or was it by invitation? I would love to attend.

hermes factory tour

Thank you, it really was amazing. Alas, it was a press trip to promote an exhibition. I’m not sure if they do these tours at any other time I’m afraid!

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Monday, June 10, 2024 9:37 am (Paris)

Hermès opens three new leather goods factories to meet soaring demand

The opening of these factories will not be enough to quickly solve Hermès' supply problems after sales grew by 16% in 2022.

By  Juliette Garnier

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At the new Hermès leather goods workshop in Louviers (Eure), April 6, 2023.

On Friday, April 7, Axel Dumas inaugurated a new Hermès leather goods factory in Louviers (Eure), near Rouen. The manager of the luxury goods group welcomed the opening of the 21 st Hermès workshop dedicated to the manufacturing of leather goods and riding saddles in France. "Eight years ago, this was a desolate place," recalled François-Xavier Priollaud, mayor of Louviers (centrist). The Hermès factory is on a former Philips site built in 1957 for manufacturing vinyl records and CDs. When the plant closed in the mid-2010s, 700 jobs were lost.

Hermès, which bought five of the 12 hectares of this industrial wasteland located in the middle of the city, invested in the construction of this 6,200 square meter building "without having to resort to subsidies," said Hervé Morin, president of the Normandy region (center-right), at the inauguration ceremony. For the time being, Hermès employs 170 people there. The number of employees will grow to 260 in the future, as training courses are offered at the Normandy site of Hermès's"Ecole des savoir-faire" ("School of know-how").

The opening of this factory will not be enough to quickly solve Hermès's supply problems. But the company is working hard to increase its capacity. Over the past three years, the brand has opened 10 leather goods factories. In 2022, it invested €192 million in these facilities. Two more openings are planned for this spring, in Tournes in May and Saint-Junien in June. Three others are under construction, and will open in 2024, 2025, and 2026.

No respite on the horizon

Still, according to its executives, Hermès will not be able to eliminate its bag shortages in stores any time soon. Because in spite of the astronomical prices – expect to pay €6,500 for a Constance shoulder bag – demand remains very high in its 300 stores. For several years, sales volumes of leather goods have been growing at about 7% per year. In 2022, Hermès leather goods sales, including bags, grew by 16% in value, when price increases are factored in. They amounted to €4.9 billion, or nearly half of its total activity.

And there is no suggestion that there will be any respite for the group, whose sales rose by 23% in 2022. After a surge in sales in the United States last year, thanks to a strong dollar, the return to normalcy of the Chinese market and the revival of Asian tourism suggest a new rebound in bag sales in 2023. In Paris, in particular, visitors from Asia will soon be back in stores.

For the time being, if you want to buy one of its signature models, a Kelly, a Birkin or a Constance, you will have to be patient, in addition to having deep pockets. A visit to the Faubourg Saint-Honoré store, which stands opposite Cartier and Chanel shops, demonstrates this. A salesperson explains the procedure. "First, get an appointment online," from your smartphone, then show up on the day to see the few models available. "It is better to decide on the spot," explained the salesman succinctly, without hiding his embarrassment.

You have 37.79% of this article left to read. The rest is for subscribers only.

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Omar Apollo Announces He’ll Launch ‘God Said No’ Tour This Fall

By Julyssa Lopez

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Omar Apollo has been hard at work on his latest album , God Said No — and now he’s sharing that he’ll launch an accompanying tour to coincide with the album.

The tour will kick off on August 20, starting in Apollo’s hometown of Indianapolis. He’ll then work his way through major venues and amphitheaters across the U.S., including Forest Hills Stadium in New York and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Apollo’s tour comes after he spent some time opening for SZA back in 2023.

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He also said that God Said No features some of the best music he’s ever made. “The album doesn’t feel like it’s a bunch of songs put together. It’s a sequence that is made to be listened to front to back. That’s what I love about it. The songs, the writing, the narrative, everything about it is just from someone who has progressed in music. You can just tell.” Omar Apollo Tour Dates August 20 – Indianapolis, IN @ Everwise Amphitheater at White River State Park   August 21 – Sterling Heights, MI @ Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre  August 23 -Chicago, IL @ Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island  August 25- Philadelphia, PA @ Skyline Stage at The Mann  September 3 – Columbia, MD @ Merriweather Post Pavilion  September 4 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage  September 6 – Boston, MA @ Leader Bank Pavilion September 7 – Forest Hills, NY @ Forest Hills Stadium  September 10 – Cincinnati, OH @ The ICON Festival Stage at Smale Park September 11 – Raleigh, NC @ Red Hat Amphitheater   September 13 – Charlotte, NC @ Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre  September 14 – Atlanta, GA @ Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park  September 16 – Miami, FL @ FPL Solar Amphitheater at Bayfront Park September 17 – Orlando, FL @ Orlando Amphitheater  September 19 – Houston, TX @ The Lawn at White Oak Music Hall  September 21 – Austin, TX @ Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park September 22 – Irving (Dallas), TX @ The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory  September 24 – Bentonville, AR @ The Momentary * September 26 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre  September 29 – Vancouver, BC @ Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre October 1 – Seattle, WA @ WAMU Theater October 2 – Troutdale, OR @ McMenamins Edgefield *  October 4 – Berkeley, CA @ The Greek Theatre *  October 5 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl  October 8 – Santa Barbara, CA @ Santa Barbara Bowl * October 10 – Mesa, AZ @ Mesa Amphitheatre  October 11 – San Diego, CA @ The Rady Shell at Jacobs Par

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Inside the Russian effort to build 6,000 attack drones with Iran’s help

Leaked documents show that Moscow is progressing toward its goal of mass-producing UAVs it could use to pummel Ukrainian cities

The engineers at a once-bustling industrial hub deep inside Russia were busy planning. The team had been secretly tasked with building a production line that would operate around-the-clock churning out self-detonating drones, weapons that President Vladimir Putin’s forces could use to bombard Ukrainian cities.

A retired official of Russia’s Federal Security Service was put in charge of security for the program. The passports of highly skilled employees were seized so they could not leave the country. In correspondence and other documents, engineers used coded language: Drones were “boats,” their explosives were “bumpers,” and Iran — the country covertly providing technical assistance — was “Ireland” or “Belarus.”

This was Russia’s billion-dollar weapons deal with Iran coming to life in November, 500 miles east of Moscow in the Tatarstan region. Its aim is to domestically build 6,000 drones by summer 2025 — enough to reverse the Russian army’s chronic shortages of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, on the front line. If it succeeds, the sprawling new drone factory could help Russia preserve its dwindling supply of precision munitions, thwart Ukraine’s effort to retake occupied territory and dramatically advance Moscow’s position in the drone arms race that is remaking modern warfare.

Although Western officials have revealed the existence of the facility and Moscow’s partnership with Tehran, documents leaked from the program and obtained by The Washington Post provide new information about the effort by two self-proclaimed enemies of the United States — under some of the world’s heaviest sanctions — to expand the Kremlin’s drone program. Altogether, the documents indicate that, despite delays and a production process that is deeply reliant on foreign-produced electronic components, Moscow has made steady progress toward its goal of manufacturing a variant of the Iranian Shahed-136, an attack drone capable of traveling more than 1,000 miles.

The documents show that the facility’s engineers are trying to improve on Iran’s dated manufacturing techniques, using Russian industrial expertise to produce the drones on a larger scale than Tehran has achieved and with greater quality control. The engineers also are exploring improvements to the drone itself, including making it capable of swarm attacks in which the UAVs autonomously coordinate a strike on a target.

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OCT. 5, 2021

APRIL 4, 2023

Construction of facilities Alabuga later used to establish a drone production line.

Preliminary floor plan for part of the drone assembly line.

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JUNE 20, 2021

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Researchers at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, who reviewed the documents pertaining to the production process at the request of The Post, estimated that work at the facility in the Republic of Tatarstan’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone is at least a month behind schedule. The facility has reassembled drones provided by Iran but has itself manufactured only drone bodies, and probably for not more than 300 of the UAVs, the researchers concluded. Alabuga is unlikely to meet its target date for the 6,000 drones, they said.

Even so, David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who helped lead the research team that studied the documents, said: “Alabuga looks to be seeking a drone developmental capability that exceeds Iran’s.”

The Post obtained the documents from an individual involved in the work at Alabuga but who opposes Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The individual decided to expose details of the effort in the hope that international attention might lead to additional sanctions, potentially disrupting production and bringing the war to an end more quickly, the person told The Post.

“This was the only thing I could do to at least stop and maybe create some obstacles to the implementation of this project,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. “It has gone too far.”

The documents, dating from winter 2022 to spring 2023, include factory-floor blueprints, technical schematics, personnel records, memorandums provided to Iranian counterparts and presentations given to representatives of Russia’s Defense Ministry on the status of the effort code-named “Project Boat.” The Russian-language news outlet Protokol reported on some of the documents in July.

The team led by Albright and senior researcher Sarah Burkhard said the documents “appear authentic” and “go to great length to describe supply-chain procurement, production capabilities, manufacturing plans and processes, as well as plans to disguise and hide the production of Shahed drones.”

The research team found that the project faces challenges — including “doubt about its ability to reach its desired staffing levels” — but cautioned that Russia might be able to overcome those difficulties.

“Russia has a credible way of building over the next year or so a capability to go from periodically launching tens of imported Shahed-136 kamikaze drones against Ukrainian targets to more regularly attacking with hundreds of them,” Albright told The Post.

Albright said the disclosure of the records makes it difficult for Iran — which has publicly declared it is neutral in the war — to claim that it is not helping Moscow develop the ability to manufacture drones at Alabuga.

The Russian government and Alabuga did not respond to requests for comment from The Post. The Kremlin has dismissed reports that it is receiving assistance from Tehran on drones, saying that Russia relies on its own research and development .

Iran’s mission to the United Nations also did not respond to a request for comment.

‘The flying moped’

While Russia has made breakthroughs in air defense and hypersonic missiles, its military was late to prioritize drone technology. To catch up, Moscow has had to turn to Iran, one of the few nations willing to sell it military hardware.

Last summer, Russia began receiving secret shipments of Iranian drones — many of them Shaheds — that were quickly deployed to prop up its flagging war effort, U.S. and other Western officials have said.

Iran’s Shahed-136 — Russia calls the drone the Geran-2 — can carry a 118-pound explosive payload toward a target that is programmed in before launch. Because the drone is powered by a noisy propeller engine, some Ukrainians have dubbed it “the flying moped.”

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The Iranian Shahed-136

Russia is working toward manufacturing a variant of the Iranian drone, which it calls the Geran-2, to supplement its dwindling stockpile of precision weapons. The drone can deliver small payloads of explosives in self-detonating attacks.


Length: 11 feet

Max. speed:

Approx. weight: 440 pounds

Range: About 1,100 - 1,500 miles

Overhead view

Its nose contains a warhead and can be equipped with a camera.

Sources: Defense Express, AeroVironment


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Max. speed: 115 mph

Russia’s drones have struck targets deep inside Ukraine, degrading Kyiv’s precious air defenses and allowing Moscow to preserve its more expensive precision-guided missiles. The attacks, often targeting critical civilian infrastructure, have had a devastating impact on Ukraine’s war effort, knocking critical power grids offline and destroying grain stockpiles, according to Vladyslav Vlasiuk, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Those drones are much cheaper to produce compared to the damage they cause, and this is the problem,” Vlasiuk told The Post.

In November, a Kyiv-based think tank became one of the first nongovernmental organizations to examine the wreckage from a Russian Geran-2 drone downed in Ukraine. It found that key parts — the motor and warhead — were produced by Tehran. “We knew the drone was from Iran,” said Gleb Kanievskyi, the founder of the StateWatch think tank.

That month, Iran acknowledged it had provided drones to Russia but said it had done so only before the start of the war.

In the past three months, Russia has attacked Ukraine with more than 600 of the self-detonating Shahed-136 drones, according to an intelligence assessment produced by Kyiv in July and obtained by The Post.

Conflict Armament Research, a weapons-tracking group based in Britain, examined two drones downed last month and concluded based on components it found that the Kremlin has started producing “its own domestic version of the Shahed-136.”

The Post reported in November that Russian and Iranian officials had finalized a deal in which the self-detonating drones would be produced at the Alabuga Special Economic Zone, a government-backed manufacturing hub designed to attract foreign investment. The cooperation included the transfer of designs, training of production staff and provision of increasingly hard-to-source electronic components.

“This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors and to the international community,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in June as the Biden administration confirmed plans by the two countries to build a drone production facility. Kirby said the plant “could be fully operational next year.”

Under the deal, the new documents show, Tehran agreed to sell Moscow what is effectively a franchise, with Iranian specialists sharing project documentation, locally produced or reverse-engineered components, and know-how. A document created in February by the project’s chief manager details the parameters of the effort and estimates the cost for some aspects of the project to be 151 billion rubles, more than $2 billion at the exchange rate at the time. Under agreements reached earlier, more than half of that sum was to go to Iran, which insisted on being paid in dollars or gold because of the volatility of the ruble, the individual who provided the documents said.

The effort — at a facility larger than 14 football fields and set to be expanded — is to be separated into three stages, according to a planning document. The first envisioned Iran’s delivery of disassembled drones that would be reassembled at the facility. The second called for the facility to produce airframes — the hollow bodies of the drones — that would be combined with Iranian-supplied engines and electronics. In the final and most ambitious stage, more than 4,000 drones would be produced with little Iranian assistance and delivered to the Russian military by September 2025.

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A three-stage plan

Below is a visualization of the production timeline, based on internal documents, that engineers set out late in 2022. Experts who reviewed the documents for The Post said work has probably been delayed.

100 units per month

600 total units

Iran was to deliver disassembled drones that would be reassembled at Alabuga.

170-180 units per month

1,332 total units

The facility is to produce airframes — the hollow bodies of the drones — that would be combined with Iranian supplied engines and electronics.

226 units per month

4,068 total units

In the third stage, Alabuga is to independently produce drones built with materials and components sourced largely by Russia. Under the facility’s contract, the last of those drones must be delivered to the Russian Defense Ministry by September 2025.

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Up to 170-180 units per month

The analysis conducted for The Post by the Institute for Science and International Security found that the facility’s production plan “appears to be feasible” but has “vulnerabilities that could disrupt its ability to fulfill its contract … or at least delay the fulfillment.”

Scarce components

The documents identify the sourcing of components required to build the Shahed-136 as an immediate challenge, after Western restrictions disrupted Russian access to foreign-produced electronics.

A detailed inventory, based on data provided to the Russians by Tehran, shows that over 90 percent of the drone system’s computer chips and electrical components are manufactured in the West, primarily in the United States. Only four of the 130 electronic components needed to build the drone are made in Russia, according to the document.

The research team led by Albright and Burkhard noted that none of the required items appears to be exclusively for use in military drones, and none is listed as a sensitive technology that is subject to export controls by the U.S. Commerce Department. The components would, however, fall under a near-blanket ban the United States recently imposed on the export of electronics to Russia, the team said.

The flight-control unit, used to pilot the drone, comprises 21 separate electronic components manufactured by the Dallas-based company Texas Instruments. At least 13 electronic components manufactured by the Massachusetts-based company Analog Devices are present in all of the drone’s major circuit boards, including an accelerometer critical for the craft’s operation that allows the UAV to navigate along a preprogrammed route if the GPS signal is lost.

One document highlights the need to develop a supply channel for various American components, including a Kintex-7 FPGA, a processor used in the drone’s navigation and communication system, made by a company that was acquired last year by California-based AMD. Without elaborating, another spreadsheet notes the domestic availability of Western-made components inside Russia and lists U.S.-based electronics distributors Mouser and DigiKey as potential suppliers.

AMD, DigiKey, Texas Instruments and Analog Devices told The Post that they comply with all U.S. sanctions and global export regulations and work to ensure that the products they make or distribute are not diverted to prohibited users. Mouser did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents do not suggest that any Western company directly supplied Iran or Russia with components used in production of the drone.

In response to questions from The Post, the White House said U.S. officials have worked to prevent Moscow from obtaining technology that might be used in its war against Ukraine and have imposed sanctions against those involved in the transfer of Iranian military equipment to Russia.

“As Russia searches for ways to evade our actions, the U.S. government, alongside allies and partners, will continue to ramp up our own efforts to counter such evasion,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

According to a breakdown of material requirements along with the status of negotiations with suppliers, Alabuga specialists were able to promptly source the materials required for manufacturing the airframe. Most of those components are supplied by Russian or Belarusian companies, and the Chinese company Metastar provided a sample of a material used to make the wings, the breakdown shows.

Metastar did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Other components proved harder to obtain. Documents highlighted a problem that perpetually plagues Russian military production: the lack of a capable domestic engine industry. The Shahed-136 is powered by a reverse-engineered German Limbach Flugmotoren L550E engine, which Iran illicitly obtained two decades ago.

To reach the final stage of the project, Russia would have to come up with its own version of the engine, which engineers described in internal documents as their most complex task. A spreadsheet created by a senior engineer on Nov. 5, titled “Questions asked to Iran at the very beginning of cooperation,” listed a request for a copy of the engine as “the most important point.”

“Better two: one to take apart, and after the chemical analysis it will not be functional; the second one is for comparative tests. The propeller is also needed for testing,” the engineer wrote. “We’ll copy it too.”

The questions — over 120 in total — were separated into thematic categories that include “policy” and “warhead,” and requested details on how Iran achieved mass production. They also asked “which countries are suppliers of electronic components.” The documents obtained by The Post do not show a response to that question.

The Alabuga team also requested a meeting with Mado, an Iranian company that produces engines and other components for UAVs with the help of illicitly obtained Western technology. Western governments imposed sanctions on the company late last year for its contribution to the war in Ukraine.

Subsequent documents include a detailed description of the re-engineered Limbach engine, known as the Mado MD550. The authors indicated that the description was compiled on the basis of the information “provided by Mado specialists.”

Efforts to reach Mado for comment were not successful.

Despite those challenges, Alabuga engineers have worked to improve the drones, the documents show. They have swapped out malfunctioning Chinese electronic components for more-reliable analogues, and they replaced a glue the Russians deemed defective and added waterproofing in a design overhaul of the airframe.

Struggling to staff up

Documents show that Alabuga has struggled to fill specialized positions at the facility, which was to have 810 employees for each of three shifts per day. The production team lacked experts in key and highly complex areas of drone development including electronic warfare systems.

Numerous Alabuga employees have traveled to drone manufacturing centers in Iran to gain expertise, according to personnel documents. Delegations included project managers and engineers, along with students and manual laborers.

While one group was visiting Tehran on Jan. 29, Israeli’s external intelligence service, the Mossad, carried out a strike on a weapons factory in the Iranian city of Isfahan, leaving flames billowing from a site believed to be a production hub for drones and missiles. Alabuga’s managers and engineers were forbidden to leave their hotel as Iranian officials worried that Israel might strike facilities the group was supposed to tour, according to the individual who provided the documents.

The documents also reveal that Central Asian workers who held low-level jobs at Alabuga were sent to Iran because they speak a language similar to Farsi. They were supposed to observe the assembly process on Iranian production sites, interpret for the rest of the delegation and undergo training that would allow them to build drones back in Russia.

By end of spring, an estimated 200 employees and 100 students had received training at the Iranian facilities, according to the documents and the individual.

Students from the local polytechnic university were required to work at the Alabuga factory as part of their curriculum, the Russian news outlet Razvorot reported in July.

Alabuga also has sought to recruit young people for menial assembly-line positions, with glitzy ads promising “a career of the future” and subsidized housing. One ad posted on Alabuga’s Telegram channels invites women ages 16 to 22 to relocate to the site and “build a promising career in the largest center for training specialists in the UAV production,” with a wage starting at $550 a month.

At the same time, the individual said, some workers have been uncomfortable with the idea of developing drones to pummel Ukraine and discontented by what they view as long work hours and poor management. To keep staffers and lure talent from rival manufacturers, Alabuga boosted salaries, budget documents show, with some key workers earning 10 times the median Russian salary. Management created obstacles to prevent employees from quitting, including seizing passports and requiring workers to seek sign-off before leaving their positions, according to the individual.

Damaged drones

The Russians had issues in dealing with the Iranian side. An estimated 25 percent of the drones shipped from Iran for Alabuga’s use and delivered by Russian Defense Ministry aircraft were damaged, according to the documents and the individual who provided them.

One document from February includes a log of damaged or faulty drones received in a second shipment of the UAVs from Iran — separated into the categories of “big boats” and “small boats,” which refer to the Shahed-136 and the Shahed-131, respectively, despite Alabuga’s mainly being interested in the former. The document indicates that 12 of the Iranian drones in the Feb. 15 delivery were inoperable, including one irreparably damaged when it was dropped on the ground.

“That was an interesting moment, because the initial agreement with Iran concerned only big Shahed drones, as the smaller 131 model is pretty useless — its payload is ten times lower compared to the 136 model, and it can maybe blow up a car,” the individual said. “But as you can see, Iran pressed its own conditions for the deal and supplied smaller models, many of them broken.”

The log shows that the Russian team lacked the expertise and replacement parts to repair the damaged or malfunctioning drones.

The team struggled to meet initial deadlines. A February memo shows that project managers warned their higher-ups about a 37-day delay in the schedule as communications with Iran were slowed by the Russian Defense Ministry’s bureaucracy and Iran’s failure to provide some technical documentation.

“Iranians aren’t used to working according to some high European standards, and I suspect they didn’t have a ready set of all documentation,” the person said.

Technicians suggested reverse-engineering a drone already in the possession of Russia’s Defense Ministry to create their own project documentation, but the request was denied as their managers feared it would be perceived as a failure on Alabuga’s part by military officials in Moscow, according to the individual.

“There was a political moment that if we say that we don’t have something, it would show our weakness and inability to implement such a complex project, so all problems were being swept under the rug,” the individual said.

Delivery of the drones and equipment to the production facility also was a challenge. The first Iranian shipments arrived at Begishevo Airport in Tatarstan with little advance notice. Staffers at Alabuga scrambled to sort out the basic logistics of transporting the cargo back to their warehouse, the individual said.

In one instance, after securing trucks to transport the shipment, the staffers realized they did not have a forklift to load the heavy wooden crates full of disassembled drones. An employee was dispatched to a nearby business to find an off-loader, only to realize after finding one that no one was qualified to operate it.

The individual related that boxes of drones were first stored in a nearly empty warehouse as the facility was not yet prepared even for simple tasks such as reattaching parts of the UAV body that had been disassembled for transportation.

“So they just unboxed them and tried to reassemble on the floor,” the individual added. “At the same time, they wanted to show the Defense Ministry that the process was ongoing, the facilities are being built, so they bought some tables and did a photo shoot to show how they are supposedly actively assembling these drones.”

High-ranking officials at Alabuga spent a week taking and retaking photos, according to the individual.

What to know about Ukraine’s counteroffensive

The latest: The Ukrainian military has launched a long-anticipated counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces , opening a crucial phase in the war aimed at restoring Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and preserving Western support in its fight against Moscow.

The fight: Ukrainian troops have intensified their attacks on the front line in the southeast region, according to multiple individuals in the country’s armed forces, in a significant push toward Russian-occupied territory.

The front line: The Washington Post has mapped out the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces .

How you can help: Here are ways those in the United States can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war . Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video .

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