Day 4 of our stay in Italy started bright and early, with our group piling into a bus for a day trip to Como, a minor city known for its extremely picturesque houses, restaurants and neighboring body of water, Lake Como. But before we traveled to the main part of Como, we visited the Mantero Spa. Full disclosure; this place is not an actual spa, but one of the most prominent producers of high end fabrics in the fashion industry, being known for its fine silk production in particular. Mantero, as the main company is named, is a supplies specialty fabrics to major clothing companies including Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and many others, arguably making it a more important component of the fashion industry than any one of the companies it supplies.
How this company can be a huge player in the fashion industry without being a household name like so many of the designers it supplies, is no mere accident but the result of the overall design of Mantero’s supply chain. As we were taken through the various rooms and factory facilities of the spa, our tour guide explained to us that Mantero is a completely vertically integrated company. This entails that Mantero owns and controls both the components of production and sale of their products.
For the supply of their company, which mainly consists of silk, Mantero has extended is hand into China in order to vertically integrate itself. With the silkworm being native to the country, in addition to the cost of labor being much lower compared to costs in Italy, Mantero has bought smaller companies in China which supply the Spa with enough silk sustain their production. Owning the suppliers needed for their output product has allowed Mantero to attain a great amount of flexibility, as this allows them to maintain or adjust the price and quality of the silk they are using.
With control of their supply in place, Mantero advances through the design process of their silk through working with either in house designers or designers hired by their customers to decide on such characteristics of the fabric such as the color and print. Much deliberation is done over the print of the silk, though this does not mean that designers must start from scratch each time. Our tour guide took us into one room which held numerous massive books, each containing previously designed patterns that are at the disposal of the company. To give an example of just how many patterns they had, our tour guide pulled out one book that looked to be about 400 pages thick. This book contained exclusively polka dot designs. Who knew there were so many ways to arrange dots?
The next step of the silk fabric’s production that we were shown was the process of coloring and printing the selected pattern. Mantero actually has two different methods of completing this process at their disposal; the traditional screen printing, and digitally controlled printing, with both of these processes being done within the confines of the Spa. Screen printing is a process of using different screens to color the various components of a pattern its corresponding color. In this way, one color used in the pattern is applied at a time. This is a much more time consuming process than that of digital printing, but Mantero’s capability of using this technique enables it to do business with certain companies who actually require screen printing in order to keep up the standards of high quality within their brand. When this process is not required, Mantero can resort to digital screening, that is, inputting the design of a pattern into a program, and using machinery to print the pattern onto the fabric automatically. This is a much less labor intensive process, which helps to save the company a good deal of money, as the process of printing is done entirely in Italy. While labor may expensive in Italy, Mantero believes that they have a greater ability to ensure the best quality of their products through keeping this step in Italy instead of another country. One can’t be too surprised with this line of thinking, as it goes perfectly with the prevailing theme of control that is present with just about every other aspect of their supply chain.
In essence, this trip to the Mantero Spa once again proved to me that there is no one way to succeed in the fashion industry. Mantero’s method of contributing to the industry was unique from all of other companies that we have observed so far, not only in their further upstream position in the supply chain of fashion, but also on their huge emphasis of control. I can’t help but admire the whole operation that Mantero has going. It is clear they have been able to fill and maintain control of a large niche in silk, allowing their fabric to make its way onto the runways of high fashion without having to broadcast their brand. In this way, they truly do encompass their nickname “The Ghostwriters of Fashion”. Forget Louie V, rappers need to mention this company in their songs.
Tomorrow we move ourselves to Florence, so it is ciao for now to Milan!