Tag Archives: Textiles

The Italian Job: Luxury at the Source. A Journey up the Supply Stream from a Boutique in Paris to a Specialty Yarn Producer in Florence

By Michael Battista
Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program

During a seminar to Florence, Global Fashion Management students tour Lineapiù Italia’s “Stitch Room,” a library of over 5,000 sample stitch swatches of the company’s specialty yarn.

The apparel and fashion industry is complex and multifarious. With variables steeped in aesthetic and material culture that both affect and lie at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable and unstable economic and political forces, there are many learning opportunities to be had. In the case of our international seminars, we are on a journey–both in the pedagogical and literal sense–where students are confronted with connections that extend between and beyond the artistic, commercial, cultural, industrial, and political. These connections are not always obvious in the moment or on the road. Sometimes lucidity is attained after-the-fact, when the components and context of the whole experience is reflected upon.

Following the program’s recent Paris Seminar, such an opportunity presented itself in our pilot seminar in Florence, where we traveled to further enhance our understanding of luxury fashion, and to explore Italy’s connection to this sector. Since the Renaissance, Florence has been a renowned center for expertise in artisanal craftsmanship and the transformation of raw materials into high quality leather goods and textiles. This reputation endures to this day, with Italy serving as the number one source of France’s textile and leather imports. Of course, France has its own high quality fabric mills and leather tanneries­, and certain cities have historically enjoyed reputations as epicenters of industry specialty: lace in Calais, linen in Normandy, and silk in Lyon. However, Made in France is expensive, even for those doing the making. While certain French luxury brands consistently earn annual profits between ten and over thirty billion dollars, for brands with tighter margins, the priority is product differentiation, quality, and skillfulness in production. The object of this affection is Made in Italy.

Our itinerary in Florence was developed and made possible with the expertise of the dynamic Pascal Gautrand, a textile specialist and developer of specialty trade shows Maison D’Exception and Made in France, and Founder of Made in Town, an online magazine, digital and consulting platform, and “manifesto to local fabrication.”

It was towards the end of our journey, on a visit to a specialty yarn producer nestled at the foot of the Tuscan hills, that we realized our own pilgrimage through luxury boutiques, ateliers, and production houses across France and Italy had been mirroring the journey of a value and supply chain. Back in Paris, at Chanel’s headquarters in the haute couture salon on Rue Cambon, students received an overview of the company’s fashion strategy and value chain from its tenet of client services to the craftsmanship in its famed métiers. After the lecture, we dispersed through the ready-to-wear boutique for a full merchandising experience and mise-en-scène of the flagship.

Inside the Haute Couture Salon at Chanel’s headquarters during the GFM Paris Seminar, students receive an intimate address by Florence Dennetière, Chanel’s Human Resources Director for Fashion Activities, on the house’s fashion strategy, its focus on customer service, and preservation of craftsmanship through its métiers.

A few days later, we traveled to Normandy to visit luxury manufacturer Les Ateliers Grandis. Here, we saw what it means to be Made in France. The artisans worked meticulously at a methodical pace, constructing high-end garments for notable brands. Among them, we saw the making of jackets of a certain unmistakable tweed variety.

Onwards, in Florence, after many other exclusive executive lectures and site visits, by bus we ascended the meandering roads of the Tuscan countryside to tour the knitwear manufacturing facility of Il Borgo Cashmere, a small family-owned company established in 1949. Here, expertise and specialized machinery is leveraged to execute complex and unique orders of high-end luxury knitwear and home products for brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Loro Piana. Textured evidence of an iconic brand revealed itself on the production floor in a glimpse of a scarf emblazoned with an interlocking logo in a relief of cashmere thread. Afterwards, in a final step towards the source of the supply chain we had been following, we returned to Florence to visit a material supplier of Il Borgo Cashmere.

GFM students in the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a small family-owned company outside of Florence that produces high-end knitwear and home products for marquee luxury brands.

We descended from the Tuscan hillside to the historical archives and spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of rare and exceptionally fine yarns since 1975. “Creator” is the most apt word to encapsulate the distinctness of their offering: technical expertise in manufacturing, research and development of innovative materials; and a resource for designers of high-end knitwear.

We were welcomed into the company’s Museum by archivist Chiara Petruccelli, a luxury native and textile savant formerly with the archives of Gucci, and credentialed in conservation at the University of Florence. True to form in Italian hospitality, with sweeping hand gestures she pointed out details of historical and technical significance as we were guided through the textile and swatch library, a designer garment collection, and a “stitch room” for design research. Amongst so many intriguing textures and surfaces, the curiosity of our group was irrepressible. No question went unanswered, and thankfully, “no touching” was not part of the lingua franca here. Afterwards, we were lead on a short walk through the company’s campus to tour the spinning facility where specialty fibers such as mohair, alpaca, and cashmere, among others, are transformed into yarns destined for the production of storied luxury brands such as Armani, Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and many others.

In the production of truly luxurious knitwear, all yarns are not created equal. Simply touting a composition of a noble fiber­­–such as cashmere, for example–is not enough. Further steps must be made to distinguish the basic and banal from the exceptional. While Lineapiù certainly uses premium raw materials, it excels in market competitiveness with its scientific method, artistic approach and penchant for whimsy.

Archivist Chiara Petruccelli gives Global Fashion Management students an overview of some of the historical artifacts in the collection of the Museum at Lineapiù Italia.
A selection of yarns on display in the knit sample book of Lineapiù Italia’s  fall/winter 2018-2019 Fantasy Mohair collection. Knit samples of the line are paired with images of their respective inspirations. The text at the bottom of the page translates to “The freedom of expression infects art. The colorful mohair patterns present generous and daring details.”
Lineapiù Italia Archivist Chiara Petruccelli (left) invites Global Fashion Management students to touch the fabric of a dress from the Winter 1991 collection of Azzedine Alaïa, which is made of specialty yarn produced by the family-owned company.

Laurels are not rested on here. Innovation and development are tirelessly pursued. The entire research, development, and manufacturing process–including combing, carding, twisting, dyeing, and finishing­–is carried out in its own laboratory and mills.

Yarn is designed and created in three categories of collections that coincide with the two primary seasons of the fashion calendar. In addition to three ready-to-knit lines, it offers clients bespoke production services to create exclusive yarns. Yarns are engineered from the inside out, composed from a selection of natural, manufactured, and synthetic fibers that are precisely blended and constructed to express the tactile, aesthetic or technical qualities desired. Yarn structure can have a traditional twist or a more complex design: employing certain fibers as scaffolding for encasement, or as a lattice for a garden of embellishment. A multitude of variations achieve the desired hand, strength, weight, texture, sheen, breathability, color intensity, and capacity to retain heat, among other features. From the ultra-soft and lightweight, to luminous and striated surfaces that intimate their inspirations. The results are as artful and original as they are scientific. Whether they are “mélanges inspired by mushrooms, lichens, the earth and leaves ruffled by impetuous winter’s winds” (as their fall-winter 2019/2020 season of its Knit Art collection is described) or made with filaments of carbon fiber that shield its wearer from electromagnetic radiation (the yarn named Relax, released in 1990).

At Lineapiù Italia, GFM receives a demonstration of the specialty yarn producer’s photoreactive yarn, named Lumen and released in 2017, which was developed with a coating of photosensitive pigments that change color as a reaction to UV light (from the sun or as shown here, with a special flash light).
A sample stitch swatch of the yarn named Gioiello, released in 1999, is embedded with Swarovski crystals.

What was demonstrably clear from our visit is that Lineapiù Italia is an enterprise with an innovative spirit in full command of its capabilities. Unfortunately for us, of all the components of luxury surrounding us, time was not one of them. Transfixed as we were by this immersion into specialty yarn production, we required prodding to depart and board our bus. We had a schedule to keep, after all, and our lives in New York to return to.

We study this industry from the vantage point of our offices and classrooms, with troves of data, articles, resources in databases, and lectures by executives and intellectuals. Yet, to physically arrive at this point in the process, to the source of luxury, in a facility at the foot of the Tuscan hills, to run our hands through strands of alpaca and cashmere fibers in hues of hot pink and cream destined for the type of garment that might be on display in a Parisian boutique, fully rendered the intricacies of supply and value chains into a tangible experience that was both grand and granular. Whatever your expertise or experience is, if you’re going to study an industry as complex as apparel, you can expect to be confronted with limitless opportunities to discover connections and learn something new. To get out of the classroom and into the world to experience these connections through our own hands and eyes, we could at least now be 100% certain of the quality and specialized skill that is Made in France and Made in Italy.

A student looks through a selection of sample stitch swatches inside Lineapiù Italia’s “Stitch Room.”
A Global Fashion Management student inside the spinning facility of Lineapiù Italia runs her hand through a blend of freshly combed (but not yet spun) alpaca and cashmere fibers.

Found in Translation: A Visit to Japan’s Toyota City

By Michael Battista
Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program

After the Hong Kong Seminar, GFM traveled to Japan for site visits and executive lectures to learn more about the apparel and fashion industry from the Japanese point of view. Here, a student is explores the visual merchandising of Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

As a complement to the recent Hong Kong Seminar and its focus on apparel production and the Asian markets, GFM continued onward to Japan for an optional two-day segment of executive lectures and site visits. Here, the scope of our attention expanded to include merchandising techniques at Isetan Department Store, the ethos of home goods and lifestyle brand Muji, a presentation by renowned textile designer Reiko Sudo of the innovative textile corporation Nuno, and a visit to the headquarters of Toyota [cue the abrupt screech of a record stopping]. You may be wondering what a car manufacturer has to do with Global Fashion Management. The answer is actually, quite a lot.

Toyota is one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. Before these Japanese cars dominated the planet’s roads, it was a family business known as Toyoda Loom Works. Established in 1907, it became an innovator and inventor of a number of textile looms and cotton spinning machines, improving on the speed, quality, and efficiency of mechanical textile production, and ultimately developing the technology towards automation. The company headquarters in Nagoya, Japan hosts a museum dedicated to exhibiting this history and its pivotal transition to car manufacturing on its original founding site.

Before Toyota was the company that we know of today, it was Toyoda Loom Works, a manufacturer of innovative textile looms that improved the  productivity and efficiency of textile production. Here, GFM students are in the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, a museum at the original founding site of the company in Nagoya, Japan, dedicated to exhibiting this history.

The significance of Toyota’s contribution to the apparel industry transcends its historical role in loom development and textile production. The company pioneered a highly efficient and agile manufacturing methodology, known as the Toyota Production System, that serves as the foundation for the Fast Fashion models leveraged by H&M and Inditex (the retail group behind Zara), the second and third most valuable apparel companies in the world. Additionally, Toyota’s principals of flexibility, waste reduction, and efficiency are the foundation of the Eton System, used in Esquel’s vertical production plant in Guangdong. During our China seminar, students observe​d this flexible material handling system, which is designed to eliminate manual handling and transportation, resulting in an increase in production.

While GFM Students explore the fundamentals of agile, efficient, responsive, and risk minimizing production models like the Toyota Production System in the program’s Production Management and Supply Chain course, there’s nothing quite like seeing the application of a methodology with your own eyes. The site visit to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, and then later to Toyota Motor Corporation’s Tsutsumi Assembly Plant, offered an additional opportunity for the concepts covered in the classroom to spring to life.

The museum’s textile machinery pavilion is a hangar-sized space of over 11,000 square feet filled with nearly 100 pieces of equipment from its archive­—many of which are functional—that showcases the evolution of cotton spinning and textile looms from the industrial revolution of the 18th century to today. Docents lead us through the exhibition, charting the historical progression of these production processes and stopping to demonstrate the machinery along the way. As we proceeded, we witnessed the evolution of technology, speed, and complexity, from wooden machines powered by hand to those forged by steel and guided by computer.

Inside the Toyota Museum’s Textile Pavilion, a docent holds a wooden shuttle and explains the innovations of this hand-and-foot-powered wooden loom model invented in 1891 by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works.
While it no longer operates as Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Today, Toyota Industries Corporation is still active in the production of industrial textile machinery. Here, GFM students witness a photograph transcribed to cloth right before their eyes with this demonstration of a contemporary jacquard loom.

Compared to the more contemporary and dizzyingly fast machines used by factories today, the earlier wooden looms from the beginning of the 20th century have parts that move at speeds more amenable for the human eye to process. For those of us on the tour without a technical background in textiles, it was an opportunity to better see and understand the mechanical process of a loom shuttle moving yarn back and forth between the vertical warp threads to create fabric. It was truly an aha moment for many of us, with the cadence of clicking heard from students and looms alike.

Additional wings of the museum are dedicated to the company’s transition from Toyoda Loom Works to the Toyota that we know today. The most salient changes resulted from the generational shift in management from father to son, and a culturally astute rebranding that altered the company’s name to allude to “good fortune” in the written Japanese language.

By bus, we continued our site visit to the Toyota Motor Corporation Assembly Plant in nearby Toyota City. We ascended to a network of catwalks perched above the production lines. From here, we bore witness to a focused and coordinated effort of man and machine. There was a great deal of activity. Workers were staged across various points of the production lines, diligently and swiftly transforming frames of steel into cars by methodically adding its components. Small robotic carts tugged bins filled with parts to their respective stations. There was a symphony of coded tones and musical notes to indicate production status, delays or errors. This is where we could see and hear the Toyota Production System’s deployment of two of its core philosophical principles:

Just-in-Time: where the supply follows the demand, this is defined by Toyota as “making only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.” Each car we saw on the production line, represented a sale and customer order for that specific model.

Jidoka: a Japanese word at the intersection of automation and human intelligence has come to embody a quality control methodology to prevent defects throughout the workflow. Assembly workers stop the production line if a problem arises or is detected before the car moves forward to the next step in the manufacturing process.

Toyota’s growth and capture of the global market share is due to its development and refinement of these core principals (among others), which have enabled it to maximize efficiency and minimize waste (waste, in this case, being defined as overproduction).

The history of this company’s success across generations and industries illustrates the value of internationalism and open trade. Both generations of Toyoda leadership were informed and inspired by site visits abroad, building their respective global empires on the foundation of their impressions of best practices and innovations, and ultimately improving on them. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the company’s first incarnation, visited the global textile centers of his day, touring fabric mills in the northeastern U.S. and Manchester, England. His son, Kiichiro Toyoda, who transformed the company into an automobile manufacturer in 1937, went to see the Ford operation in Detroit at the onset of its development of the Assembly Line Method, a transformative innovation in manufacturing at the time.

For a grand finale, we witnessed the mechanical ballet of the welding machines fortifying the frames of cars-to-be, rhythmically moving to the beat of their own programming. Many large mechanical arms swiftly and articulately moved in concert across the body of a single car. They stretched, contracted, and rotated around each other, sending bursts of orange sparks into the air. At this point on the catwalk, we stood entranced by the performance, which would end within a minute’s time, only to be repeated on the next car frame in line. The speed and scale of the elegant process was both impressive and humbling. Many jaws had fallen ajar at the sight of it all. As we stood there above the manufacturing line, I could do nothing but appreciate that after nearly 80 years from the company’s inception, we were witnessing the fulfillment of a vision of automation, efficiency, and synergy of human and machine. And so I wondered, what potential advancements might lie on the horizon of the apparel industry’s future, and what visions have yet to come?

Sparks fly inside the Toyota Manufacturing Plant as robots weld the frames of cars together. Photo source: Toyota.