Another successful day in the books! Today we visited our first company: Mantero Spa. We took an hour bus ride from Milan to the beautiful Lake Como for this exclusive opportunity. From what I learned in our group meetings, Mantero Spa is a family owned company that specializes in pure silk products. We even watched a video on how the process starts with a silkworm and ends with a beautiful silky scarf. By visiting it in person I was able to expand on that knowledge and gain a better understanding of the company and all of its logistics.
Mantero Spa was established in 1902. Even today, it is still in the family. What is amazing about this company is that everything is produced internally. When it comes to the supply chain, they are the producers and the sellers. Something that makes this company special is the level of creativity and hard work that goes into it. “Creativity is an everyday business” is how our tour guide described the work, given that new ideas and designs are made every day of the week.
First, I learned about some of the techniques when it comes to silk making. There are two techniques: screen and digital. Digital techniques are more modern and are expected to take over screen techniques within the next couple of years because they are less expensive to operate. The screen technique consists of physical screens with a metal frame that work as a stencil. You are then able to layer the various colors. The color layering process is a very important one. There is a team that manages the color combinations and while mostly everything is run by machines, this process is done by hand to ensure the correct amount of dye is put into each fabric. Each fabric has a different recipe to build, and there can be up to 32 colors per fabric. More colors=more layers=more expensive.
Something amazing that we got to see were the archives. This is where everything starts, and some of the French, British, and German archives date back to before 1902. There were books of thousands of sketches and designs, each put into order. One book could contain several pages of prints and prints of something as simple as polka dots. There are several fabrics and designers, but something I did not know is that the designer does often not create the prints. Our tour guide called Mantero Spa the “ghostwriters of fashion” which I thought was particularly interesting because you wouldn’t know that it was them behind the pattern of the fabrics.
Next, we moved on to operations. The entire process from creation to delivery can take from 3 to 4 months on average. It was perplexing to see the actual printing process. There were large machines, and at the time they were printing Louis Vuitton designs which were top secret, so pictures were not allowed. Before printing the designs, the fabrics are treated to have better color. After printing, there is a washing process to make sure the dye does not run. All of this is done in the warehouse. I would never have known the amount of skills and processes necessary to go into a seemingly simple flower scarf.
Although Mantero Spa is a vertically integrated company, they still buy the “basics” from China. The dyes are from independent companies in Italy and Germany. I learned that Italy ran out of silkworms, so now it is difficult to find good quality. Some of the more basic weaving is done in China, but some customers make special requests for it to be weaved in Italy for pure Italian silk. They have a total of around 100 customers, and 10 to 15 of which are big ones such as Gucci. The fact that Mantero Spa is vertically integrated gives them flexibility to do what they want with the company and how they want to do it. They structured themselves this way to be able to deliver the special one of a kind service. The quality that Mantero Spa has created has allowed them to even ship their products world-wide. After today’s visit, I truly understand why it is such a highly-regarded company.