Founder of Sollen, Aurélien HIVONNET is an insatiable entrepreneur. However, his career and his desires did not predestined him to become one. Passionate about travel, especially to China, he was able to seize opportunities when they presented themselves to move forward. Passionate about Asia from an early age, thanks to a school trip to see the Beijing Circus, it was only natural that his steps guided him to the Middle Kingdom. An atypical career, made of opportunities seized and a desire to create.
An international journey from Paris to Canton
Originally, Aurélien HIVONNET was destined for a career in computer science, studying in Paris in this field, then employed in SSII. During his studies, he had the opportunity to go to China to do an internship in Guangzhou. An opportunity seized without hesitation, followed by other proposals, still in China. He then left Canton, then joined Shanghai, to work at the French Consulate during a contract in VIE. The Consulate was looking for people with good computer skills, which corresponded to the profile of Aurélien HIVONNET.
Then, over time, the missions follow one another and diversify. So much so that he found himself in charge of setting up a commercial exhibition to highlight French know-how. The event, “France des Maisons à vivre”, includes tableware, furniture and decoration. An ode to France in which Aurélien participates. During this event, he was then in charge of helping the proper functioning of a Matchmaking software developed in France to connect French and Chinese companies in this sector of activity.
This experience, which took place in 2006, was a real trigger, an awareness. The world of decoration, furniture, which until then was not a favorite field, began to please Aurélien HIVONNET. Following this experience, he returned to France, to his relatives. He resumed a salaried activity in France, but he had only one desire: to leave. Two years after his return to France, he decided to return to China, where it all began.
Combination of circumstances to embark on entrepreneurship
Once in China, Aurélien HIVONNET feels the desire to embark on the creation of his own business project. His first experience in furniture, as well as his family history, with a father himself architect and entrepreneur have strengthened him in this way.
Embarking on entrepreneurship was not a vocation, but a combination of circumstances.
He then created his very first brand in 2008, Asiaction, a company that creates and manufactures furniture. IT is far away, now Aurélien’s career projects are turning to furniture, the creation of original products. Associated with a person living in China, the case is quickly gaining momentum.
He works on the spot with Chinese workers, develops his project that still works today. But the distance with his relatives, who remained in France, became heavier. He therefore decided, after 15 years in China, to return to France to settle there and develop a new project. His steps then took him to Bordeaux, where part of his family lived.
Sollen, solemnity at the service of France
On his return to France, Aurélien HIVONNET wants to innovate again and create a new company, always with the same project: to offer unique furniture. For this, he surrounds himself with three co-founders at his side: Muriel Nicolas, Gaël Tauvel and Frédéric Devige. They are equally passionate and want to create locally made and high-quality products. This is how sollen was born.
Also, they quickly began to look for French partners and as close as possible to the Bordeaux region. They met the company Lecuiller, which is located in Charente-Maritime, and Bastiat Siège, in Hagetmau, in the Landes. These two companies share the same vision as Sollen, which makes it possible to project themselves into a more solid collaboration.
Sollen’s bet to rely only on local and eco-responsible manufacturing is a bias. Indeed, producing locally is more expensive than relocating production, as in Asia for example. Thus, producing the same product is much more expensive in Nouvelle-Aquitaine than in China. However, the proximity with suppliers makes it possible to check the products more quickly, but also to benefit from the quality of the products.
Indeed, the manufacturers are very competent, having the EPV label (Entreprise Patrimoine Vivant). Proof of a company that provides high-end services…
Sollen focuses on local and quality
The co-founders chose to specialize in the creation and sale of quality seats. A positioning that allows them to focus on the quality of materials, not the quantity to be sold. The base of the seat consists of plywood, that is, layers of wood glued together for a more resistant product. The other advantage of plywood? Being able to give it the desired shape very easily, which is not possible with a raw wood board.
Depending on the need, the wood will be different. However, the finishes use oak or walnut, for a clean aesthetic rendering. Always in the advantages and in the commitment of Sollen, the origin of the wood. The latter comes only from managed and sustainable French forests, such as the Limousin forest. This provenance therefore gives the brand the opportunity to highlight the FSC and PEFC labels, proof of the ecological and responsible origin of the woods used.
Although his activity is mainly concentrated in France, Aurélien HIVONNET still retains a strong attachment with China. Indeed, his wife is Chinese, and his partner is still on site, accompanying him in the management of his business on the spot.
Tailor-made, the guarantee of Sollen quality
Sollen has chosen to position itself on a high-end service, tailor-made to adapt to the needs of its customers. Thus, no product is made in advance, everything is made to order. Having no storage or storage premises, nor physical trade, it avoids cluttering with many products.
This also allows the customer to “create” his own product, with a selection of colors and finishes. Thus, he is able to adapt the armchair or ottoman to the atmosphere of his interior decoration. But this is not the only advantage for the company.
Producing only what is necessary helps to limit the environmental impact.
The products offered are intended for individuals, the offer has not been designed for a professional clientele. However, adaptations are possible if an order made by a professional arrives.
Sollen focuses on quality before quantity. It offers two ranges: Nuage and Racine, an ottoman and two armchairs. Its iconic product, the cloud armchair, is for example offered at a price of € 2,449 including VAT. An investment for a product that is intended to last over time. Especially since the company adopts a lifetime warranty policy on wood structures. A guarantee of quality and durability.
I would like to know, in a few decades, that Sollen products are passed down from generation to generation.
Once ordered, the product will be manufactured and delivered within 6 to 8 weeks. A delay similar to what is done at the major furniture brands that import their products from China.
Ambitions for the future
Two years after the launch of Sollen, Aurélien HIVONNET is optimistic.
Above all, we create a pleasure product that pleases our customers. We have a strong close relationship with our partners, and want to have this same relationship with our customers.
Thus, Sollen aims to conquer the national market this year, and why not to project itself towards Europe in the years to come. For the moment, Aurélien HIVONNET wants to work on the notoriety of the brand to make himself known throughout the regions. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of many national and international trade shows in 2020 and 2021.
Another great visibility that Sollen is working on is the installation within Showrooms. This allows customers to test the products before purchasing them. If the product has everything to please, it is first necessary to make the public understand the positioning and the stakes behind their manufacture. Raise awareness among customers already interested in local and eco-responsible products.
In the long term, Aurélien HIVONNET wants Sollen to become a brand that marks its difference, with the recognition of its products.
I wish that one day people would see our products and say: this is the Sollen Cloud! This would be a great proof of gratitude for the quality of our chairs.
Sollen, a team and partners linked and involved
The core of the Sollen team now consists of five people. This is not expected to change over the course of the year, with a future growth outlook, but not before the end of the year. In the Sollen ecosystem, partners also play an important role. In addition to producing the seats, they are also involved in the testing of all products to ensure that the quality remains optimal.
We pay attention to everything we do, at all levels and aspects.
There are so many offers that it is difficult to be heard, to make yourself known. But Sollen’s commitment and values resonate, combining comfort, local manufacturing and eco-responsibility. Quality is optimal in every detail, and throughout the customer experience.
Thus, the product is cared for during its manufacture… But also on delivery. It is mounted directly in the room that welcomes it, to avoid the slightest shock. This operation runs smoothly and pleases customers. A high-end approach that corresponds to their purchase. For customers who cannot travel to see their chair before it is delivered, or who want to see in more detail the rendering of the product, Sollen sets up video calls. This allows the customer to see the product, and to reassure himself.
Bordeaux, a city of listening and support
Based for the moment in the Héméra space, the Sollen team appreciates Bordeaux. Aurélien HIVONNET is satisfied because this workplace has allowed him to have many contacts, but also advice and services to establish himself on the local market. Tapping into the Bordeaux network was therefore not difficult, on the contrary, it made it possible to forge strong links.
Coworking allows us to have more support, accompaniment, it has helped us to set up partnerships.
For example, Sollen approached the design firm Garrigos Design to design the armchairs, and also works with partners for many aspects of its operation: Marketing, Press Relations, Manufacturing… All these actors are located in Bordeaux, in order to facilitate exchanges with Sollen.
By having an activity only concentrated within the Héméra space, Sollen has a space where it can present its products. However, having a larger showroom would be a good way to highlight a universe, an atmosphere. Indeed, for the moment, the company sells its foundations through digital: dedicated website, presence on marketplaces… And considers, why not, access pop up stores.
The pandemic has reinforced the desire to refocus countries’ production within their own markets. With the lockdowns, the interest in the choice of furniture for its interior is growing all the more. For customers, the quality of their products is more important than the price invested – which therefore makes it possible to offer more expensive products, but of a higher quality. A local and long-term investment, the very essence of Sollen.