Italy is famous for hosting great examples of excellence and creativity, though much of its prestige originates from its longtime and vast expertise in manufacturing and great professionals in many different fields. In our Italian Issue, we asked some top Italian companies and insiders about the importance of producing in Italy and its future.
Every area of Italy is renowned for top know-how in very specific segments. By mapping its regions whole fashion segment districts stand out. In Northern Italy there are various specialists in textile and apparel manufacturing. Denim and fabric producers are mostly located north of Milan and in the Veneto region. Mantua surroundings specialize in underwear and hosiery. Luxury footwear is produced in Veneto and Marche. Central Italy hosts an important production hub for jeanswear while near Bologna and Naples there are some important districts for pronto moda. Near Florence there are leather tanning and production districts while top quality eyewear is manufactured in Veneto. A whole wardrobe can be built out of this–what a coincidence–boot-shaped country!
Despite the current difficult economic situation, Italy continues to be a land where many productive hubs survive. According to Sistema Moda Italia, a federation of the fashion and textile sectors, estimated Italian textile apparel companies numbered 46,608 in 2017, stable when compared with 2016, though 12.2% less than the 53,085 of 2010. Similarly, there were 400 million estimated Italian textile apparel employees in 2017, 0.1% more than in 2016 though 12.9% less than the 458 million of 2010.
What are these highly specialized companies’ strategies for the future? Some top insiders shared their visions.
We invented denim and the textile industry
Among its various excellences, Italy has always been recognized as a go-to for producing premium denim and jeanswear. Despite economic difficulties caused by the advancement of low-cost manufacturing countries and globalization, many manufacturers resisted and worldwide brands continue to recognize the importance and worth of choosing materials and products manufactured in Italy.
Flavio Berto, owner of Berto Manifattura Tessile, a company founded in 1887 but always looking to the future with its innovative developments, strongly believes how different Italian denims are. “There are lots of elements that make Italian production significant,” he explains. “First of all there is sustainability as we pay high attention to human resources and their safety, plus we always use chemicals and water in respect of nature. A second aspect is the wonderful detailing of Made in Italy products as we pay maniac-like attention to specific characteristics of our fabrics. Third, there is style: Italians live in beautiful places and that helps us creating unique products, sometimes customized upon clients’ requests, but always characterized by the Italian spirit. A fourth aspect is flexibility as our network is constantly involved with talented artisans who help us finding day by day solutions for every problem.”
Berto also believes that working according to such standards, is not only a passion, but a commitment. “To live in the most precious country brings us to a careful study in terms of research and development.”
“Italians invented the textile industry,” provocatively states Gigi Caccia, owner of Pure Denim and its connected and productive arm Italdenim. “While in other countries the textile industry was much less developed, we invented new productive techniques and adjusted weaving machines to create highly advanced and sophisticated fabrics. What other countries have reached in recent times was possible thanks to our longtime expertise and competence.”
Italdenim-Pure Denim is strongly focused on R&D and developing a series of different new environmentally friendly denims. “Together with activists of the sustainably-focused Wrad company, we have applied a special technique they developed to denim. We obtained a gray denim that behaves like an indigo one, though we employ recycled industrial graphite leftovers, without using chemicals and water, while saving energy.” It also developed a new selection of Smart Indigo ecofriendly denims that employ pre-reduced indigo thanks to low-impact electrochemical cells. “In our company we are focused on finding crazy and unique ideas to be produced upon industrial scale and be sold.”
Collaborating is key
Many companies believe in the importance of cooperating with each other. Candiani Denim, another established company which was founded 80 years ago, recently joined forces for a capsule collection with Albini Group’s Albiate 1830 designed by consultant Matias Sandoval. Alberto Candiani, Candiani Denim’s owner, says: “It is important for Italian mills to showcase why we are still representing the textile excellence in the world. In general I am positive about collaborations but only when they bring you good visibility and strengthen your brand awareness.” Silvio Albini, president/owner, Albini Group, and its more casual minded fabric company Albiate 1830 adds: “By making this collaboration we left some ‘campanilismo’ (a term whose meaning is ‘proud to belong to a specific place, nation, or, in this case, company’) apart. Through it we want to give the market a strong sign, while also starting offering casual fabrics that can used for different products than simply shirts.”
Made in Italy, more than a marketing tool
Albini thinks “Made in Italy” is still very important, but it also plays a role as a marketing tool. “Made in Italy is still a value that brands want to promote and people still believe in, but in this complicated market our strength–even to justify our high prices–are aspects like: low minimums, flexibility, creativity, color combination, quality and designs, which are also part of the ‘making in Italy.’ This is now the main and bigger difference between us and our local or export competitors.” Despite this, where a product is manufactured is not enough anymore according to him as such a point can be the starting element for building customer experience and–again–make the difference from other suppliers.
Joining forces equals great products
Creating a great and strong network is a fil rouge many Italian entrepreneurs consider important. Among them, for instance, is Rete ITS, a network created by different specialized manufacturers from Central Italy including small-medium companies such as Wash Italia and ItacLab laundries, Mactec, a treating machine manufacturer, and label producer Dienpi. Part of this network is also G&G Abbigliamento, owned by Christian Reca, whose company manufactures jeans collections for top and luxury brands including Balmain, Valentino, Versace, Moschino and also the recently reborn Fiorucci. “Indeed Made in Italy is a challenge but it is also a big opportunity,” he says. He adds that working for such prestigious brands, a manufacturer has to also guarantee quick response service, flexibility in producing small and mid size volumes and always evolve and invest in infrastructure and automation, new software and personnel training: “Though as not every company in the country can invest in all this today, more than ever, it is necessary to collaborate with others and create a new model of business.” He continues: “Our choice is to maintain a reasonable level of growth considering that service to customers is key. Therefore we focus on a limited number of partners and seriously collaborate within the value chain.”
No help from politicians
According to Mediobanca, Italian fashion registered €62.6 billion turnover in 2016, counting for 4% of the Italian GDP, and grew 9.4% more than in 2015, and 28.4% more than in 2011 Despite this, the Italian government is not doing much in to support the industry.
“No help has arrived fom the Italian government in all of these years,” continues Reca. “Despite the many taxes I pay every year no benefit arrives for the value chain. What I expect is a better support for the value chain in terms of communication abroad and not only the support to the main national trade shows in the country’s main cities.” Similarly Candiani explains: “Our government shakes our hands complimenting the Italian textile excellence without realizing that most of it was gone over ten years ago.” He rather thinks that the only way to support enterprises directly is lowering taxation: “I would rather invest more in technology and innovation sources. I would like to pay my workers more instead of burning millions into taxes. If you look at what Turkey, India and Pakistan to support their own textile operations you will probably realize that we are playing one big global game with different rules. Unfortunately Europe kills our competitiveness by underestimating the relevance of the domestic textile industry.” Also Umberto Brocchetto, owner of MYR, a newborn software company focused on offering solutions for designing and producing jeans, complains about politicians’ disinterest: “In the ’90s 100 million pairs of jeans were produced in Veneto region, while nowadays they produce only three million pairs. It’s enough to follow the lead of the countries that took over that amount of jeans production.” Alice Tonello, owner of Tonello, is also critical: “The government should encourage companies producing 100% in Italy, through economic support and facilitations.”
Laundries, the new creative hubs
To differentiate themselves from products that all look identical, brands have to opt for top quality and research they can find in Italy’s productive districts. With the passing of time, always more R&D in jeanswear has been carried ahead and not by brands and designers but rather fabric manufacturers, laundries and finishers. This is the opinion of Luca Soligo, owner of Everest, an Italian laundry. “In the last ten years we noticed that research, moods and novelties are most often developed by providers like fabric manufacturers, laundries, technology and chemicals manufacturers. As brands produce their collections through the same manufacturers all products look the same. The few brands that still believe in Made in Italy can discover novelties earlier than others here and can differentiate themselves from competitors.” He continues: “For us remaining in Italy is fundamental. Inside our R&D laboratory we create novelties, study developments and test fabrics’ performance. Although we founded our Everwash subsidiary in Tunis ten years ago to serve clients who were more focused on price, many clients still look for special products and developments with our Italian laundry. Here we host highly specialized professionals and last-generation environmentally friendly machinery making our company look rather like a chemist shop, not like a laundry!”
Alberto Rossi, managing director of the Blue Jeans laundry, thinks that flexible structures able to switch producction from small to big quantities easily can help the industry develop: “What counts is becoming as lean as possible and always keeping a clear focus on customers’ needs.”
Also technology and industrial washing machine manufacturers have developed significantly. Tonello believes that investing in research and technological development are two crucial points: “We always believed in research and in that kind of priceless added value it can give to the industry,” says Alice Tonello. “For us it’s important offering concrete solutions for the market. That’s what we did by opening our Creative Area inside our company, a gathering place for customers, brands and designers inside our company who, thanks to the support of our team, can transform our clients’ ideas into reality. We don’t want to be just machine manufacturers.”
Italians have a soul
Italian leather goods and shoes are another great example of excellence. Top quality manufacturers of raw materials, components and footwear are constantly focused on research and experimentation. Vibram, for instance, is an 80-year-old top quality manufacturer of rubber soles. The company has developed various sole types that don’t slip on wet and iced surfaces, but are also very lightweight. It has also started a series of collaborations with fashion designers and brands such as Bruno Bordese, Carmina Campus and Arthur Arbesser. In addition it has developed a “clinic” service in about 100 stores all over Europe through which it can explain all the benefits of its soles. It also started the project Vibram Sole Factor through which final consumers can choose what sole they can apply or their shoes at the moment of purchase inside a group of selected stores.
Great innovation– with an eye on tradition–is what footwear manufacturing DIS Shoes-Design Italian Shoes is offering. This high-quality Made in Italy shoe manufacturer produces custom-made shoes and sneakers. Francesco Carpineti, CCO, explains: “Everybody wants to be a designer for a day and create products that can really fit with personal needs and tastes. For this reason we invested significantly in 3D technology and supply-chain organization and can offer final customers the opportunity to have their Made in Italy custom-made pair of shoes, delivered in only 10 days and exclusively made for them!” DIS Shoes offers an online service through its website www.dis.shoes, and an offline alternative support available inside a selection of international premium stores. Through its system it can also solve problems of in-store stocks, offer a complete size range (from 36 to 52 including half sizes) while serving the most demanding customers.