The Mantero Seta Spa was the first business we visited in Italy. It is located just outside Como about an hour north of Milan, and this company is known for producing fabrics with printed patterns and textures. In the textile supply chain, this company acts as a manufacturer, a transporter, and a retailer depending on the client’s needs. From this trip, I learned a lot about how technology is evolving in the printing industry from traditional silk screen technology to digital ink-jet printers as this device gets more sophisticated. In fact one of the most pervasive issues in the management of Mantero Spa is adjusting to changes in technology, equipment, and labor.
Our tour guide for the trip was a manager and public relations representative of the Mantero Spa company, and she knew first hand about the steps the company takes to address its clients’ needs. When a client comes to the company, they come with an idea of the colors and patterns they feel will be successful during the upcoming season. Sometimes the clients and an employee of Mantero Spa will look through old records of patterns ranging from the late 1800s to the present styles to decide which pattern Mantero will make for them. In this case, the Mantero Spa acts as an advisor to their clients, which is not a specific link in the supply chain but a position that lies above the whole supply chain. Following the selection of colors and patterns, the Mantero Spa begins the manufacturing process of the fabric. They must plan which fabric base they will use and whether they will use the silk screening technique or the ink-jet printing technique. These questions may sometimes based on the requests of their clients. Just as we saw on our tour of the factory, the process of manufacturing is long, loud, and has many steps, including weaving, dyeing, washing, and quality control. These parts of Mantero Spa’s responsibilities qualify it as a manufacturer in the supply chain because they are using raw materials to create a finished product ready for their clients. Finally, Mantero may transport their finished fabrics to their clients if they are within Italy or in nearby countries. Their clients may further manufacture other clothing from the fabrics or simply sell the fabrics Mantero made. Mantero even has their own store where they sell their own products. Thus this company can act as a supplier to other companies or a retailer that sells to the end user, which includes some students from the Plus 3 group. Mantero clearly occupies several positions in the supply chain that can change depending on the location, nature, and requests of their clients.
Though I was not in the group that researched the Mantero Spa during the pre-departure meetings, I had an idea of what to expect when we got to the factory: smelly silk screens with reams of fabric flying through rollers and tables. While these elements are indeed part of the factory, I also learned that the printing of designs on fabrics is a lot more complicated than simply developing an image and replicating it. Silk screening involves planning out which colors are going to be used for different objects in the same design and more generally deciding how many colors are going to be used. The artists at the company need to weigh the benefits of using many colors to express the design in mind with using as few colors as possible to save money in the production stage. An issue facing the company right now is the slow evolution from the silk screening method to the ink-jet printing. Silk screening, which involves printing a single color onto the fabric using a screen acting as a stencil, has been the method of choice for hundreds of years. Ink-jet printing was less desirable until recently because it yielded lower quality designs, but as computer technology advanced, this technique has improved so even textile experts have a hard time differentiating between silk screened and ink-jet printed designs. More and more, clients of Mantero request ink-jet printed fabrics because they are cheaper and easier to produce. Mantero now has to address the empty tables of silk screens and silk screening workers who are not being used in manufacturing. Our tour guide predicted that soon ink-jet printing would become the default printing method except for traditionalist companies who want to be known for using the old fashioned methods. Many of these details did not occur to me before I visited the company, but speaking with the representative I see that even slight advances in technology can result in revolutionary changes to the production process.
As an introduction to how textile businesses function, the Mantero Spa opened my eyes to the fact that many companies do not occupy a single place in the supply chain, and may even change positions when their clients change. I also learned of some the revolutions occurring in the industry as a result of advances in automation and printing technology. Though the industry may face major changes in the coming years, I expect the Mantero Spa will continue to adjust their methods to continue supplying the market with silks and other fabrics.