It was a long day for us in Verona because we visited two fashion production companies. The first was an Italian tailoring company called Sartoria Cavour, which makes custom suits for men. With exceptions, many of the suits produced are to the measurements of people who come to their store, so since products are not mass produced, the each item is made by hand by a skilled craftsman. The other company was called Mario Foroni, and this company was unique in that it specialized in knitwear products. The majority of their business is large scale orders to clothing lines for companies like Versace, Kanye West, and Gucci. Since their products are mass produced, they carefully program the products onto the computer before letting machines knit the products.
In an industrial park near Verona, we entered a small warehouse of Sartoria Cavour. This tailoring company was started by two partners thirty years ago with the goal of creating handmade suits the old fashioned way. This process begins with a customer being measured by the tailor, choosing the suit styles and fabrics (every man should have five type of suits in their wardrobe), and then manufacturing the suits. The fabrics used for the suits are transported from Italy and England according to the desired style. We watched women hand making the suits on sewing machines with various pieces passing between sewing stations. The manufacturing process can take anywhere from three to six hours depending on how complicated the lining of the suit is. Today, this type of tailor-made business accounts for 15% of the orders of Sartoria Cavour, which is an increase from past years where it was only 4% of their orders. The other part of their business is creating multiple sets of a suit whose design is brought to them by large clothing labels. An example of this we saw lying around the shop was Ralph Lauren Polo. Since the majority of orders placed to Sartoria Cavour are custom measurements and designs, each item must be hand stitched in the meticulous manner only a skilled artisan can achieve. For this reason, Sartoria Cavour must hire or train skilled artisans and have many of them work in the shop, leaving little of the work to be mechanized. One issue facing the company these days is finding Italians willing to come and work in the shop because many modern Italians would rather work in retail or management.
The Mario Foroni knitwear factory produced their product in a very different way because the nature of their product demanded faster and more exact manufacturing than human hands could achieve. The products made by MF1 run the gamut from knit shoes to knit shirt to knit jackets, but walking around the facility it was obvious that all the knitting patterns were different. The process for creating the products begins with designing the product, which may be done with the customers input. From here, a stylist plans how the knit product will be constructed, the stitches used and the order the parts will be assembled. A team of programmers sitting in a stuffy warm office space input these stitch patterns onto a computer, because this program is read by the knitting machines. Each machine costs over 100,000 euros but is exponentially faster than human hands can knit, and more consistent in the knitting quality. Mario Foroni uses machines to knit its products because it makes many products of a single design that can be based off a computer program. At the site we visited, there were only about six full sized machines because this is all they need to make prototypes of their products. For large scale production, the company has a site devoted to mass producing products on many many more of these machines. Similar to Sartoria Cavour, MF1 is finding it increasingly more difficult to find Italian workers who want to work in the shop (they might first consider adding air conditioning). Their solution to this problem is to start construction on a boarding school attached to the factory to train prospective employees in knitwear. This way they will be able to attract the interest of young people and show them that this is a valuable skill that takes time, effort and passion to learn.
Though each company had its niche market of specialized fashion products, we saw that they approached the manufacturing process differently according to the nature of their products. Mario Foroni could use machines because they were recreating the same digitized product many times. Sartoria Cavour needed many hand laborers because their products were each unique or required the handmade branding. Despite their different manufacturing styles, both companies faced the issue of difficulty finding laborers to train. Of their solutions, I feel MF1’s method of creating a school will best attract young people and keep the business adjusting to a changing workforce.