Pierre Duponchel

Le Relais
Year founded: 

Through the collection of second-hand textiles, Le Relais creates jobs in France and Africa for people that have been excluded from society.

Focus: Unemployment, Professional Integration, Environment
Geographic Area of Impact: France, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Madagascar
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1,500 (2009)
Annual Budget: US$ 52 million (2008)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 95%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, France, 2009

Finding a stable job has become a real challenge, particularly in former industrial regions of France. The increasing rate of unemployment and its social consequences are also a big social and economic challenge for the country. Increasingly, many youth and those excluded from society have little to no chance of finding a job. For more than 25 years Pierre Duponchel, through his social enterprise, has been creating jobs for the disenfranchised in France and Africa.

Innovation and Activities
Le Relais collects, sorts, resells or recycles second-hand textiles, employing socially excluded people. The company has created 1,500 jobs in France and Africa. Facing the difficulties met by employees in finding a new job, Le Relais has been developing activities that provide training and sustainable employment since 1993. Pierre Duponchel is focused on making Le Relais become a company with a socio-economic objective.

Starting as a small door-to-door collection activity in the north of France, Le Relais has become a major industry, treating more than 60,000 tons of textiles each year. The textiles collected are used for different purposes: top quality material is resold in Ding-Bring boutiques, an integrated network of second-hand shops; approximately 40% are exported to Africa where they are sorted again and resold in local markets; and textiles that cannot be resold are recycled into industrial rags. Le Relais is also committed to recycling textile and paper waste, reusing more than 85% of the 60,000 tons of textiles collected every year.

To remain viable and create value from the collected textiles, Le Relais has developed innovative products from this raw material. For example, the company has developed Metisse, a heat and sound isolating material based on recycled textile fibres from jeans and cotton. This licensed eco-material has had great success in environmentally-friendly construction projects.

After a television programme dedicated time to Le Relais initiatives, the company received multiple requests to duplicate the model throughout France. It has more recently developed activities in Africa.

The Entrepreneur
Before he began a career as a manufacturing engineer in the food processing industry, Pierre Duponchel got involved during his studies in helping socially excluded people in social projects dedicated to underclass youth. He is involved in France’s Emmaus community, which enables people to escape homelessness, providing work and a home in a supportive family.