Do you know Tartine et Chocolat? Yes? But do you know about Catherine Painvin? I didn’t! I discovered Catherine Painvin’s story completely by chance. Even though I knew the brand, I had no prior knowledge of the entrepreneurial story behind it and I found it really fascinating and worth sharing. As I am also a female entrepreneur navigating in the fashion world, I was excited to learn more about this woman who started from nothing and set up one of the most famous luxury brands for children.
Catherine Painvin: Childhood and background
Catherine was born in 1947. From a modest background, she married quickly and had children at quite a young age. Because her parents had some financial difficulties, Catherine started thinking very young of ways she could earn money in order to help her family. Hence, at 7 years old, Catherine was collecting seashells at low tide in summer to turn them into dolls. These dolls were then sold to shops.
Catherine Painvin’s journey to entrepreneurship
Hard work pays
At 17, she had her first child. To support her family, she began to create and sell textile accessories. At 20, she had 3 children and then founded her first home decor company. She made the patterns, sewed them, delivered and sold them in traditional markets. Not long after, she encountered some success and orders started piling up. Although it represented an incredible amount of work, she didn’t give up. Even within hours of giving birth, she was working on an order for matchboxes.
Her business grew thanks to her orange plastic apple-shaped placemats and her avant-garde dishewares. As a matter of fact, they were popular around the world and she sold millions of copies. At 23, in 1970, she managed a hundred workers and had a business with global reach.
Birth of Tartine et Chocolat
While her professional life was going well, you couldn’t say the same about her personal life. Her then-husband was a real womanizer that made her miserable. That’s why, at 27, she took the difficult decision to leave everything: husband and the company she developped. Thus, she took her children and entered a 2 year hippie period.
It was when she saw Jackie Kennedy’s children on the beach that she found the idea for her next business: a luxury fashion brand for children.
She named her brand after the nicknames the children used to call her and her current husband: “Tartine et Chocolat”.
However, at that time, despite the success of her first business, she did not have the necessary funds to register the trademark. But one day on her way home, she crossed paths with an old acquaintance who voluntarily lent her the money she needed to get started.
Setting the tone
She, then, contacted the factories, workers and people with whom she used to work with when she created her first business. They gladly accepted. The beginnings had some artisanal vibes. As a matter of fact, she used cardboard patronages and produced small series of the items. But, that didn’t stop the brand from becoming big.
What really set Tartine et Chocolat appart is that beyond the clothing line, Catherine created a real universe. In addition to clothes, she was offering bibs and various other accessories that she knew a new mother would need. The very first collection of Tartines et Chocolat consisted of 25 items with pink and blue tones.
As for distribution, Catherine knew exactly what she needed. As a matter of fact, she wanted her brand to be sold in the best childcare store around.
The manager doesn’t have time to receive her? Never mind ! She left him a few items at the front desk with her phone number attached. The next day, he called her back: he had sold everything she left him. With the money she got, she then produced other models and enrich the collections. And little by little, the brand’s notoriety rose.
Tartine et Chocolat: going international
Catherine always had an international ambition for her projects. That’s why she didn’t hesitate to add the tagline “Paris New York, Tokyo” on the corner shop of the brand, even if that was not completely true at the beginning! That takes guts if you want my opinion.
When intrigued Japanese women asked her where the brand is located in Tokyo, she replied that it is the ambition but that Tartine et Chocolat is not there yet. It turns out that these Japanese women were buyers for Seibu stores. And this is how Catherine landed her first contract abroad and created her first license.
After Japan, came Korea and other countries.
Tartine et Chocolat made several hundreds of millions a year and quite a number of licenses were created. Catherine also diversified by creating a line of perfumes, strollers. She definitely ruled the roost in this industry.
Baby children around the world dressed in Tartine et Chocolat and played with the ultra soft plush toys. And above all, the PTISENBON eau de toilette is still a winning product to this day.
The beginning of the end
In the 2000s, Tartine et Chocolat was a hit and Catherine Painvin had a good reputation. But again, her sentimental setbacks came across her way.
She divorced Bernard Painvin and her health started declining. Taking advantage of her moments of vulnerability, the new boss of her license in Korea decided to rename Tartine et Chocolat into Alfonso.
In 1 year, the name of the 120 stores and corners of the brand changed. Tartine et Chocolat no longer existed in Korea. Then, began an unnamed nightmare for Catherine who had to deal with the franchisees, the lawyers and the press. The loss of license revenues was colossal.
Afterwards, in 2004, she made the decision to sell the business. Between betrayal and naivety, she gave up her shares for next to nothing.
Le comptoir d’Aubrac
In 1992, Catherine returned to her first profession: home decor. She then created EVERWOOD, a brand specialized in furniture, bedrooms, woolen and faux fur plaids and other decorative objects. She entrusted the business development to her son Nicolas and his wife Emma.
Later on, in 2000, she opened in Aubrac, in a village of 3 inhabitants, an exceptional guest house, which was the subject of 20 television reports and 700 pages in the most beautiful national and international decoration magazines.
In 2004, after the sale of Tartine et Chocolat, her world fell apart. Her health is deteriorating. Leukemia is declared.
She decided to take refuge behind her haven of peace: the Comptoir d’Aubrac, which she transformed into a real guest house. The guest house then received many celebrities, artists, writers, industrialists and anonymous lovers from all over the world, in search of originality.
And when they went back home, they always brought back some of the wonders she sold in the tea room at le comptoir d’aubrac. Her plaids, curtains, cushions, eiderdowns, candle holders, lamps and candlesticks, sets, tablecloths, napkins , baskets and customized tote bags are sold out as soon as they are offered.
Her exclusive creations gradually became considered as incredible artworks.
The artist beyond the entrepreneur
From 2009 to 2012, she became the artistic advisor of JACADI.
In 2014, COTE TABLE ordered collections of tableware and linens from Catherine..
In 2015, with 15 years of experience at the Comptoir and in her private house in Aubrac, she launched a series of well received table decoration seminars.
Rewards and recognition
Throughout her career, Catherine Painvin has received several awards.
In 1985, she received the Veuve Clicquot Prize for Business Women in France.
In 1996, L’Enseigne d´Or rewarded his work.
In 1998, she was awarded the Woman in Gold prize.
In 2001, Star Group USA named her Leading Woman, Entrepreneur of the Year.
In 2002, Jacques Chirac made her Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
In 2004, she received the Talent luxury award.
Finally in 2012, François Hollande appointed her Officer of the Legion of Honor.
Firstly, you can start small and end up playing with the big boys through hard work and perseverance.
Secondly, to create luxury, you have to make people dream and the packaging is as important as the product itself. Catherine Painvin understood this well by ensuring that her Tartine et Chocolat brand was sold in one of the most beautiful childcare shops in the capital.
The license can be a very interesting development axis. This gives visibility internationally. You develop your image and your influence without having to manage logistics and production on a global scale. But to do this, you need to have an enviable and recognizable image. The Tartine et Chocolat style was very recognizable and unique at that time.
Love and business don’t always mix. However, if it didn’t work for her, that doesn’t mean it can’t. There are several entrepreneurial couples who are doing very well.
In conclusion, you could say that you should never underestimate a woman’s ressources.
Sources and references about Catherine Painvin
Her biography: Une vie et cinq minutes, by Catherine Painvin, 2015
Catherine Painvin’s interview in the French podcast Génération DIY : https://soundcloud.com/generation-do-it-yourself/40-catherine-painvin-tartine-et-chocolat-entrepreneur-depuis-50-ans-et-toujours-a-fond
Tartine et Chocolat : https://www.tartine-et-chocolat.com
Catherine Paivin’s instagram account : https://www.instagram.com/catherinepainvin/
Catherine Painvin’s facebook account : https://www.facebook.com/catherine.painvin.1