After the revival of flax cultivation, soon a spinning mill in Morlaix

From left to right: Xavier Denis and Tim Muller, co-founders of Linfini. ©Chantal Pape

“This whole story started by accident”, acknowledges Xavier Denis, co-founder with Tim Muller of Linfini. “We bought a French linen sofa for our office. And we want to know more. One thing leads to another, they discover that although France is the largest producer of linen in the world, it is sent, usually, to China to be worked there, before returning to us woven. “Covid has shown our industrial dependence on imports, masks and so on. And it proves that it is urgent to transfer our knowledge, to re-industrialize France”. A need further fueled by the current energy crisis, cereals…

A branch of France

“We rely too much on plastic. We need to regain trust in plants”. Convinced of the merits of a French vegetable fiber sector, intended for textiles or composite materials, the two entrepreneurs responded to the call for projects launched by MP Sandrine Le Feur. They work hard and manage, in a short time, to unite many actors in their rather crazy project to set up a spinning mill in Morlaix, in the middle of the historic flax basin. “It will be 4e to see the light of day in France”.

A once highly organized sector

“In the past, flax seeds, coming from the Baltic, arrived at the port of Roscoff”, recalls Andrée le Gall-Sanquer, vice-president of the Lin and hemp network in Brittany. Sown in the dusty soil of Léon, the flax is processed in the hinterland. A highly organized sector, which left many traces on the landscape, from the kandis, these laundries where the fiber was bleached, to the rich parish jails, which were supplied by the linen trade. “20 years ago, when I started getting interested in flax, I didn’t think it would get to this point…even though I kind of hoped it would”.

500 ha of flax

Guillaume Letur
Based in Commana, Guillaume Letur brings together around sixty farmers around his project to revive the cultivation of flax in Brittany ©Chantal Pape

Because flax signed its return to the lands of Finistère two years ago. After the test on ten hectares in Commana, in 2021, Guillaume Letur, farmer and businessman, launched tests on a larger scale, on one hundred hectares. “And next year, about sixty farmers should plant 500 ha”. A scutching plant is well carried on at Commana. “We just bought the land.” And this raw material will feed the future spinning mill in Morlaix, “for a fabric made in Brittany”, welcomes Xavier Denis, who will also work on Norman linen there, thanks to the collaboration with the Terre cooperative of course

23 direct jobs

Requiring an investment of 10 million euros, the future factory will expand over 4,500 m² and will be able, if necessary, to process hemp as well. Work should begin in the spring of 2023, for entry into production by the end of the year.

Linfini will create 23 direct jobs, including 14 machine operators. The knowledge lost in Brittany, the recruitment, planned for next summer, will be done, in collaboration with Pôle emploi, through simulation, with simulation of candidates. Chosen for their ability, they are then trained by the Emanuel Lang spinning mill in Alsace. “There is no competition between us,” said Pierre Schmitt. “Each spinning mill will only process 5 to 600 tons of flax, when France produces 150,000 tons”.

Multiple outlets

Nets for packaging vegetables, fabrics for furniture…: Linfini has begun to explore the many uses of linen. ©Chantal Pape

If it wants to bet on the knowledge of tourism when the production starts, Linfini has already started to think about the outlets. “The yarn can be used by weavers, weaving or knitting factories, rope factories”, lists Françoise Kerjose, the future director of the factory. “Canvas can be used for furniture, hotel and catering industry for tableware, bedroom or bathroom”.

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Pack the vegetables

More locally, Linfini has approached Sica of Saint-Pol-de-Léon. “Tube nets will be used to wrap their vegetables.” The sector will also need bulk bags. “And we are considering making tote-bags, packaging for leather products, cosmetics…”.

Contacts were also established with Breizh mode, which produces fabrics for the Leclerc brand. Without forgetting the outlets for biocomposites: construction, automobile, sports and leisure… “The market is huge”, estimates Pierre Schmitt. “And most of the future uses of flax are still unknown.” So, flax can replace part of fiberglass. “A huge market”.

Wanting to bring its stone to the building, Linfini will build a design office, experimenting with new fibers. “Flax can be woven with hemp fiber, but also with broom, seaweed or artichoke”, explains Martina Planty, innovation manager. “We will also work on dyeing plants, for natural fiber dyeing”.

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