Sarkozy Sews Up Seamstress' Unemployment Fix

For most of the 20th century, high-end lingerie maker Lejaby has done well. But in 2010 it closed three factories. And now it is shuttering its last, the only place where French lingerie is still made in France. Until President Nicolas Sarkozky stepped in, 93 seamstresses were going to be unemployed.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And our last word in business today comes from France, where some lingerie workers pieced together a successful protest to save their jobs. France's last bra manufacturer is moving its business overseas. But the seamstresses have managed to needle politicians and the public into helping them.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley began her story at a factory.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (French language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A collective cry went up as the 93 seamstresses at Lejaby Lingerie were told the consortium buying the factory would soon be sending their jobs south, to Tunisia.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (French language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Thirty-two years of working over a machine, pushing that pedal and racing against the clock - 32 years and what do we get? A kick out the door, laments one woman. Shame, yell others.

Since its creation in 1930, the high-end lingerie maker Lejaby has been synonymous with the coquettish beauty of the feminine form in France. But 2010, the company closed three factories. And now it is shuttering its last, the only place where French lingerie is actually made in France.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOMEN SINGING)

BEARDSLEY: But the ladies decided they weren't going peacefully. The media took notice, and the politicians weren't far behind. With outsourcing, job loss, and the demise of a French brand as the narrative, the story packed a real election-year punch.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, desperate to gain ground on socialist front-runner Francois Hollande, pulled out all the stops to save the workers. The factory will stay open and the seamstresses will keep their jobs, only they'll soon be making high-end Louis Vuitton handbags instead of bras. Still, Sarkozy isn't getting as much election traction out the affair as he might have hoped. Turns out, the owner of Louis Vuitton is his good pal Bernard Arnaut.

NATASHA VONDUEL: (French language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Inside a lingerie shop in Paris, owner Natasha Vonduel says the seamstresses may have new jobs, but the story's ending is far from happy.

VONDUEL: (French language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The bra and corset-making industry thrived in France for so long because we had a real savior faire, says Vonduel. Now, when those 93 seamstresses retire, she says, that will be lost forever.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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