The Making of Fashion

This morning we left Verona to return to Milan, but on the way, we stopped to visit two more companies, with a group lunch in the beautiful little town Borghetto. Borghetto is a tiny, medieval town in the middle of the countryside with the Mincio river running through it. It may have been the prettiest and most peaceful place I have ever seen. The two companies we visited were the Sartoria Cavour Tailoring Company, which makes mostly menswear jackets, and Mario Foroni Knitwear, or MF1, which makes all kinds of clothing and accessories out of fabrics they knit. Both of these companies make high-quality, expensive clothing, and both do commissions for big brands, but their business models are very different. Sartoria Cavour was started about 30 years ago when Mr. Barba and Mr. Vergine opened the company together. They both learned tailoring as a family business and wanted to expand. They started out with six employees, and now they have 37, which is a lot for a small company. This company is one of the members of the Consorzio Della Moda, and Mr. Barba is actually one of the directors. Being a part of the consortium has helped Sartoria Cavour connect with other companies and to reach new markets in other countries.

Sartoria Cavour doesn’t mass produce their clothing, they want the clothing they make to be high-quality and artisanal. They do custom-made jackets for individual customers who can have them tailored to their own body so that the fit is perfect, which makes up for about 15% of their sales.  The rest come from big brands like Ralph Lauren who ask for a number of suits to be made that fit the style they are looking for. However, it can’t be too large of a number because making the jackets by hand takes a long time, and the company can make only about 60 per day. It takes three hours to make a simple jacket, and it can take over four hours to make a more complicated one. More complicated jackets with have additional details in the lining like extra pockets or zippers to attach another thicker lining for cold weather. The jacket Mr. Barba was wearing had a little cellphone pocket just above the right outer pocket. He told us that the inspiration for the cell phone pocket was actually what used to be a sandwich pocket. When stock brokers worked, they would be busy all day and often wouldn’t have a chance for lunch so they had a pocket to keep a sandwich in so they could pull it out and eat while working.

As you could probably guess from the name, Mario Foroni Knitwear exclusively makes their products out of materials they knit. Because everything has to be knit, the process of making the clothing and accessories is more complicated than making these things out of other fabrics. Clients come to MF1 with an idea for what they want have made, and to come to an agreement on the price and quality of the product, even though those at MF1 would like to make everything the absolute highest quality, clients want to get a good price. MF1 is the company responsible for taking those ideas, which can often be very vague, and making them into a reality. In the factory we visited, they just make the prototypes of clothes to be used in fashion shows, but if the client likes the piece more can be made at another location. One of the difficulties in making knitwear is figuring out the kinds of knots needed for creating the clothing. To do this MF1 has a small team of programmers to analyze what they want to make and fitting the different colors and types of knots together in the most efficient way. High-quality knitwear also shouldn’t be cut so the item must be made into the correct shape as it’s being knit. Each product must be perfect when presented to keep a good relationship with their clients. This is especially important because many of their clients are well-know, expensive brands like Yves Saint Lauren, Gucci, Armani and others like them. After we had finished the factory portion of the tour, Mario Foroni himself showed us the archive of every piece of clothing his company has every created including clothes worn by Gwenyth Paltrow, Madonna, and Kate Middleton.

Both of these companies have some difficulties finding a skilled labor force. None of the people working at Sartoria Cavour were very young, which can definitely be a problem going forward as the current workers get older and retire. Sartoria Cavour offers decent wages and their hours are only from eight until two Monday through Friday, and no experience is needed to start because they can learn once they are hired. It seems that in Italy, like in the United States, young people don’t want to work in a factory, even though they would be learning a unique skill. Mario Foroni also doesn’t have the easiest time finding skilled workers. Even if someone has the knowledge needed to work there, they need to be passionate about fashion to want to dedicate their time to it. MF1 has a fashion school to help bring in more people who are passionate about fashion, and will hopefully want to stay there to work after they graduate. They are also planning on building a student village to make it easier for more students to attend.

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