Today we headed out from Milan to spend the day in the beautiful City of Como. Historically known for its silk production, Como is still home to large textile company that operates today. We had the privilege of touring this business, the Mantero Seta Spa. Mantero is a fourth generation family owned business that originally specialized in the production and printing of silk fabrics, but has since diversified into other textiles.
The Mantero Seta Spa was clearly an industrial complex from the moment we walked in. However, the first place that our tour brought us was the Mantero archives. These archives house fabric swatches and pattern designs dating back to 1902 when the company was founded. Due to purchasing other collections, some designs date back even further! Mantero Seta produces and prints fabric designs. Today we were in their printing warehouse. They print their own line as well as fabrics on commission for many different fashion companies and boutiques ranging from big names like Chanel or Louis Vuitton to small businesses. Mantero Seta has approximately one hundred customers at any given time, but typically they have ten big name intensive projects they work on. Mantero utilizes two printing methods, screen printing and digital printing. Screen printing is the traditional method for the company and is considered more luxurious. The screen printing process involves designing a pattern that can utilize up to 32 different fabric dying colors. The patterns are built in layers that include all of the same color in the layer. These layers are then cut into a silk screen and are printed onto the fabric in a different run through the printer for each color. This process is mostly automated, but there are still skilled workers who apply the ink to each screen to get the perfect amount for print. The second method is digital printing. The process works a lot like a computer printer except that the details are much more precise. Since digital printing is so fast the fabrics must be pretreated with a chemical to help absorb pigment more quickly. Digital printing also tends to be less expensive than screen printing.
Mantero Seta Spa has a very unique supply chain. Since it is an old family company that prides itself on quality, Mantero Seta feels that the only way to ensure its quality is to vertically integrate the majority of its supply chain. Mantero Seta no longer produces silk in Italy, but instead owns a subsidiary in China that produces top quality silk for production. Here the silk is spun and woven. Mantero Seta also owns its warehouses and packaging facilities. This is essential because they have to be able to package products up with the correct packaging materials for the brand they were made for. However, Mantero contracts out shipping logistics to an outside company. They also purchase the fabric dye from other companies in Italy and Germany. Mantero Seta also has rigorous quality control as they pride themselves on the quality of their product. At the company tour I gained a lot of insight into the process of printing fabrics as well as a more clear idea of the structure of the company.
Mantero has a very clear set of values and principles. Their company has also had to learn to adjust to stay open for so long. Because of this the company philosophy has generally become to mix innovation and tradition. Mantero has always had a large design team to help create the prints customers want on their fabrics. Because of this they look to hire many people with art and design experience. Mantero also hires workers who have to be trained to work on the screen printing line. It is an artisanal skill to build the instinct of applying ink to the silk screens. Due to the large machinery there is always concerned with worker safety. However, the Mantero site had clearly marked safety signs, walkways and general safety measures throughout the complex. A large concern for Mantero was also moving the silk manufacturing to China. This was necessary for their company though due to the large decline of silkworms in Italy. The silk from China is still of the highest quality, but Mantero says that high quality silk is more expensive and harder to come by nowadays, creating strain for their company. Another strain on their company is the rising demand for environmental consciousness. While Mantero works to achieve a high quality of social and environmental consciousness to match the quality of their products, the reality of it is that the dying process is not very environmentally friendly. Many customers do not want natural dye because of how fast it loses its pigmentation. The dying process is also very chemical and water heavy. To adjust for this Mantero is able to work with a company ahead of time to meet environmental consciousness certifications for the fabrics production process. This has to be determined at the beginning of the design process though and limits the design options for the fabric. Mantero hopes that in the future more environmentally friendly dyes will be made, but in the meantime they are doing what they can to meet the need for environmentally conscious production processes.
Touring the Mantero Seta Spa was a real privilege. After the tour we receive another wonderfully opportunity to spend the day along Lake Como. We received a delicious lunch, a boat tour of the lake, and a walking tour of the city. Como is a wonderful city with rich history and a beautiful aesthetic.