Yet another beautiful day in Italy! We checked out of the hotel in Verona and headed to our first site visit of the day at Sartoria Cavour Tailoring Company.
Sartoria Cavour is a member company of the Consortium and was started 30 years ago by 2 tailors. Their business model is focused on on producing men’s custom tailored suits. Since opening, Sartoria Cavour has grown to 37 employees, which is huge for a small company in the fashion industry. Mainly, they do business to customer sales. Currently, they have a deal with a retailer in the United States to sell their products. However, they also do some business to business sales in the form of service to private labels. Service to private labels is when companies, like Polo Ralph Lauren, commission Sartoria Cavour to make product lines specifically for them.
Tailoring is different than fast fashion because it is classic. At Sartoria Cavour, they want to make suits that will last for at least 10 years, and typical clients will buy 1-2 suits per season as true “gentlemen” should always have at least 5. From the outside, the suits may look the same, but on the inside, there are intricate designs that make them unique. Each suit can have custom lining or pockets sewn in.
Their manufacturing process is the assembly line format. On the production floor, each tailor has a specific part of the suit that they are responsible for. Everything is manufactured in house, expect for the fabrics that come from England and Italy. Typical training to be a tailor is 2-3 months, but can last up to 2 years to complete the whole cycle. Every step of the process is handmade. Over the years, the Sartoria Cavour has tried to streamline their production process, but nothing is the same as a handmade product. About 60 jackets can be made per day, and every one of them is checked by the owner for quality control. One interesting fact that I learned is how to tell if clothing is high quality. If it is high quality, the fabric pattern will continue through the entire product without breaks, even if multiple pieces were sewn together.
The biggest problem that Sartoria Cavour faces is with the workforce. Most employees are women over 40. Even though the owners pay competitive wages and the work is part-time, Sartoria Cavour has trouble finding young girls. Now, girls would rather work in retail shops than become artisans.
After a beautiful lunch in a quaint small town, we headed to our second company visit at Mario Foroni. Mario Foroni is a knitwear manufacturer that is commissioned by big brands like Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and Louis Vuitton. They can produce product lines or custom pieces depending on cutomers’ needs. For example, Alexander McQueen hired the knitwear factory to make the cardigan that Kate Middleton wore on her wedding day, and Kanye West is scheduled to visit next week to choose knits for his new line! At the site that we visited, the first prototypes and fashion show samples are made.
Mario Foroni conducts business with clients, so it is important for employees to understand their needs and work out a fair price for the high level of quality they are providing. Trust is very important in this company because each employee has a client portfolio, and if a designer does not know what they want to create, they will do it for them. Since the typical prototype costs 500-1,000 euros, clients do not want to waste their money. In addition, to help with creativity, Mario Foroni has a large archive of all pieces that were made in the last 30 years. There is one room for whites and another for colors. Here, we saw custom pieces on display (like an outfit that Madonna wore to the Grammy’s).
Their operations are different from that of Sartoria Cavour. Instead of everything being handmade, the knits are produced by machines. This speeds up the process. Instead of a sweater taking days to make, it can be finished in an hour. Quality is not sacrificed because the machines are expensive and precise. Also, unlike fabric, knits are not cut. Therefore, they can be sewn to the specific size, and knits are higher quality if made this way. Even though machines do some of the production, the designs are finished by hand. They are sewn, washed, ironed, and then checked for quality.
In the coming years, Mario Foroni will be going through some changes. In September, they plan to launch their first independent brand. After 30 years, they are ready to express their own concept and not just a third parties. This will change part of their supply chain. Instead of only conducting business to business sales, they will be doing some business to customer through retailers like Bloomingdales. Also, Mario Foroni is planning to open a school to train new employees. He hopes that this will increase the number of people who want to work in the knitwear industry. Currently, he has too many job openings and not enough interest. The shortage of workers is the same problem that Sartoria Cavour is facing, but unlike Mario Foroni, they do not have a plan to solve it. With the school, hopefully Mario Foroni can solve his problem.
Even though we only did site visits today, I had so many valuable learning experiences that I wouldn’t have had in the United States. For example, I met a knitwear designer for the stars and had the opportunity to see his private collections and know about new products before they reach the market. Tomorrow we have another site visit, and I hope that I continue to grow my knowledge of the fashion industry in Italy!