On our group’s fourth day in Milan, we travelled to the small city of Como, nestled at the foothills of the Swiss Alps. Before arriving in Como, our group toured the Mantero Spa. This Spa is not what you would think of when one hears the word spa. Established in 1902, Mantero Spa is in the business of designing and printing fabrics for fashion brands across the globe. They are a fourth generation family run company and their specialty is silk printing. Since they are vertically integrated in this type of production, there are very few other materials that they produce which come from upstream supplies. During the visit, our guide explained how the industry has shifted significantly with regards to the preferred printing method for different brands. Initially, all the brands preferred the silkscreen method of printing. Specifically, this method forces the producer to lay out the bare design and then fill in each part with a different color and layer of screen. This process is especially time consuming since the spa also needs to mix certain colors in order to blend them and create the perfect one. Also, the spa needs to make the print one layer at a time rather than printing it all at once. Furthermore, not only was this process time consuming but it was also much more expensive. The firm had to invest more resources into both labor and capital in order to move these prints from table to table and make sure the total process was running smoothly. Design companies used to prefer silkscreen printing due to the disparity in quality between silkscreen and digital printing. After massive innovations in technology, digital printing has become wildly popular amongst worldwide fashion brands. Brands have accepted this method since the level of quality between the two methods now is virtually identical. Fortunately, the digital method allows Mantero to invest their valuable resources elsewhere, thus cutting labor and capital costs. The total process needed to produce their product is sizable, taking roughly 3-4 months depending of the size of the order from the customer.
There were many aspects of the Mantero Spa that impressed me. The first aspect was the extensive archives they kept from previous designs. Their archives start well before the twentieth century (though Mantero was established in 1902) since they had purchased design archives from other brands that were established well before their prominence. This immense level of history allows Mantero to go back and search their books by using a keyword system, helping many of their customers streamline their designs by seeing what has worked in the past and using it as inspiration for future designs. I think that this extensive history helped establish Mantero’s brand reputation among other world renowned fashion brands including: Gucci, Valentino, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and many others. Mantero has roughly 100 total customers but there are 10-15 “big players” that help account for the majority of their annual revenue. Something that I found disappointing about Mantero was that they did not allow individual customers to personalize their own fabrics. Obviously, they help brands design their patterns using archives and a creative team but the guide explained how it would simply cost too much money to make one individual scarf for a specific customer. In an age of online accessibility and consumer power, this approach somewhat limits the potential growth of their company. However, I also respect Mantero for not trying to change what their best at which is catering to larger fashion brands rather than individual customers.
As our tour guide said, she likes to think of Mantero Spa as “The ghostwriters of fashion”. This quote travelled far with me simply because it’s honest. Millions of consumers will look at these high end fashion brands and comment on their gorgeous prints along with their pleasing design aesthetic. All while not once thinking that a firm like Mantero Spa helped create the product that the brand then put their label on. Their brand has now been established for well over a century and their depth of archives provide a unique advantage over their competition. Furthermore, their credibility is high amongst the best brands in the world and as long as they continue to produce a quality product, I do not see that changing.