The name Millet became famous in the 1930s when the first shopping bags with shoulder straps appeared. Adapted a few years later into a backpack, the idea quickly catapulted the French brand to the top. The development of technical products for use in the mountain environment gave the brand a strong image, strengthened by the input and backing of the generation’s best mountaineers.
Discover the twists and turns of this extraordinary story.
Mr. and Mrs. Marc Millet (the parents of Raymond and René Millet) originally worked for Maréchal oilcloths before founding their own company specializing in the manufacture of bags to hold supplies and haversacks in St Fons in the southern suburbs of Lyon in 1921. At that time the staff counted just 10 people. Seven years later, the company moved to Annecy to be closer to the Alps. The manufacturing workshop grew, the techniques improved, original concepts began to appear and the first backpacks with rigid frames came out in 1934. Then came the first Millet bag collections.
After her husband’s passing in 1937, Madame Millet took control of the head of the company with the help of her two sons who were obligated to leave their studies. She worked as such until her death in 1974.
René, Raymond Millet with their mother - Quai perrière, Annecy - 1945
During the Second World War, the Millet brothers participated in the rural Resistance movement, René Millet in Bauges and Raymond Millet in Glières. They continued their parents' business to a certain extent by supplying the Resistance with backpacks. From 1945, the Millet brothers really began to run the company. The following year, René Millet, member of the French Alpine Club in Annecy, had the idea of creating backpacks specially adapted for use in the mountains. It was at this time that he met a young 25-year old alpinist through the Club, who would participate actively in the design of the bags, a certain Louis Lachenal.
The golden age of the ‘50s
1950 was a turning point in the brand’s history: Millet equipped the first French expeditions to the Himalayas. The spotlight would be definitively turned on the French brand after the conquest of Annapurna. This French ascent of the first summit of over 8,000 meters in history by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal on 3 June 1950 caused huge excitement. Millet quickly established itself as the leader in the manufacture of mountain backpacks in France, and the reputation of Millet products soon spread worldwide. Major expeditions to the Himalayas continued throughout the decade and the summits of over 8,000 meters were vanquished one after another.
The following decade saw the arrival of a great many new products, particularly backpacks, each one as innovative as the next. Millet became the specialist in mountaineering bags. From then on, Millet focused on the mountain environment and constantly strengthened its ties with the milieu
1959 was the year that Raymond Millet met Walter Bonatti, a mountain guide in Courmayeur. Bonatti became the first Millet technical consultant under contract. The slogan "Confiez vos charges à Walter Bonatti" (which could be translated as "Entrust your load to Walter Bonatti") proved to be a real success… For the company, the ‘60s was a decade dedicated to pursuing growth in France and marked the real beginning of international sales. The fame of the French brand had spread like wildfire thanks to the huge interest that mountaineers showed in Millet after the success of the various climbing expeditions.
From 1961 Millet decided to concentrate on innovation and to focus on 2 concepts: In 1964 the two brothers launched a revolutionary backpack strap made entirely of nylon, padded with foam, and seamless. This patent and strap would go round the world several times. For the first time in Europe, Millet launched backpacks made entirely of nylon, making them lighter to carry and waterproof, and replacing the cotton that had, until then, universally been used for this type of article. In this way, Millet set the example that many others would go on to follow.
Despite the myriad of copies and imitations around the world, Millet confirmed its position as leader in the backpack market. Always with the same innovative spirit, patents were registered for its ski-carrying system and tubular straps.
In 1975, the company decided to expand and opened a factory in Frontenex in the Savoie region. The year 1977 was another turning point for Millet with the first foray into making clothing for use in the mountains and in particular a range of technically advanced down fillings and the first parka using the new Gore-Tex© fabric. Millet put in place a diversification strategy and extended its activities by launching three clothing lines, one for use at high altitudes, one for hiking and the third for skiing. This diversification was underpinned by the image of the Millet brand, the knowledge of the specific difficulties of the mountains and hiking, and the existence of a solid distribution network. Evidently, this new collection was an instant success.
At the same time, the company continued to surround itself with the most talented alpinists of their generation. The height of this brilliant strategy was surely reached when the Italian Reinhold Messner joined the Millet team. According to their proven recipe, the Millet brothers sponsored Reinhold Messner who, in 1978, was the first man to climb to the summit of Everest without an oxygen mask but with a Millet backpack! The Messner saga continued in 1980 with the first solo ascent of Everest, again without oxygen. Reinhold Messner became the 1st man in the world to have scaled the planet's 14 highest summits.
The brand’s success reached its peak in the ‘80s with the recognition of the ‘made in France’ quality label. The notoriety of the brand was such that instead of saying ‘a backpack’ people would say ‘a Millet’. This recognition also applied to its technical clothing. Millet used increasingly technical fabrics such as fleece and Gore tex.
The buyout by the Lafuma Group
On 6 February 1995, the brands Millet, Racer and Gamet were purchased by Lafuma (Philippe Joffard), leader in the French market for backpacks, Millet having been edged out into second place. In October, Millet formed links with Mac (leader in underclothing for use in the mountains) which had belonged to Lafuma since 1993. In 1996, the links between the two brands were completely established and they merged to form an international-scale company in the outdoor goods sector, under the brand name MILLET, on 1 September 1997.
The second diversification of the Millet brand occurred in the same year in the market for climbing ropes and shoes. The Lafuma Group bought out Rivory and marketed the brand’s products via Millet. In September 1998, the takeover of One Sport (climbing shoes, hiking and mountaineering boots) inaugurated the creation of a technical cell within the Lafuma Group comprising the Millet, Rivory and One Sport brands. Rivory allied itself with Cousin to create the world number 2 in the market for climbing, alpinism, and canyoning ropes. Today the ropes are made by Cousin and distributed under the Millet brand name.
Faithful to its roots, Millet is currently as prolific as ever in its traditional sector of technical products, clothing, backpacks, shoes, and ropes based on its textile expertise. Millet continues to offer each mountaineer, hiker or skier the possibility to kit themselves out from head to toe, a promise that few brands are in a position to make.
60 years of expeditions around the world...
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