8 July, 2015
Catalan Fashion Industry III / III – The big international labels in the high-end fashion sector are looking to Catalonia. In this report we ask their providers to explain why.
What do high-end firms like Marni, Celine, Saint Laurent, Chanel, Sandro, Etro, Balenciaga, Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim have in common? They all entrust some of their creations to Catalan businesses – more specifically, to fashion-sector providers which, rather than just manufacture the pieces designed by these international firms, work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to bring added value to the end product.
What features does a provider to companies in this sector need to have? What do the luxury firms ask from anyone who wants to work with them? And, most importantly, what is it about our local companies that have caught their eye? Different Catalan manufacturers give us their views.
“I wanted to remove the sign of manufacturer as most of my clients are partners, technology partners. They delegate a product and we take on the responsibility for it through to the end. It means they can effectively forget about it, you might say,” says the head of Parrillus, Josep Puig, explaining his relationship with the high-end firms he works with. His company is located in Llacuna and was founded by his father, Salvador Puig, 35 years ago. Parrillus carries out the entire production process behind an article of clothing. “It comes in as thread and leaves as finished goods in their bags,” Puig says.
If there is one thing that distinguishes the relationship between providers and high-end firms it is the processes that guarantee quality. Most of the companies we spoke to for this report agreed that the firms they work for seek full control over the quality of the production process. One example is Curtidos Badia. Its manager and third-generation of the family firm, Xavi Badia, says it is essential to have the entire production process under control. “A company forfeits the ability to work with these clients when it fails to ensure the process levels. We work with a natural product and unless everything is controlled it is very difficult to provide regularity and ensure that we apply the best clean technologies,” he says.
So keen are luxury brands to ensure that the production process is controlled that, as Josep Puig says, for the first two years of working with a new client, the label’s teams travel to his factory to check how everything is done. “They demand a serious approach and a very high degree of rigour. Everything must be done inhouse”.
Competition from international markets led Curtidos Badia and Parrillus to position themselves in a more expensive consumer segment than they were used to. The same thing happened to Dobert, a company that specialises in high-quality fabrics and which operates out of Sant Quirze del Vallès, near Sabadell. Manager Xavier Bombardo agrees with the other business leaders interviewed that the regulations imposed by these types of companies are very strict and they demand their providers adapt to them to deliver the results and types of product they want. “Many of our clients provide us with their regulations written up in a manual and we have to follow them. There are others we sign exclusivity agreements with because they have fabrics no other label does and it gives them peace of mind,” Bombardo says.
Dobert’s case is similar to the others already mentioned because it has also integrated the entire manufacturing process. This company, which was founded in 1963 and employs 140 people, boasts a customised offering in accordance with the needs of each of its clients, which include Carolina Herrera, rag & bone, Tory Burch and IRO, as well as famous Spanish labels of the likes of Bimba y Lola, Purificación García and Uterqüe. “Design is at the heart of our business and we work on the basis of demand rather than supply. That means we can listen to our clients, we travel the world to check out different trends and we consult with fashion experts. We then analyse all of this information and summarise it to make our collections,” the Dobert CEO explains.
Translating trends, feelings and creative lines in a clothing product is also the principal task of Parrillus. “Many firms have ideas and we turn them into sweaters, for example. The methodology we apply depends on each firm, but we do more than reproduce prototypes. We know the trends, we go to the fairs, we know what people are going to be wearing and we design the clothes. High-end firms want us to show them something different and when you stop doing that they stop calling. We work with camel wool and cashmere, combining fibres and loads more. That’s what makes them want to keep working with us.”
In order to stand out, all of the companies have invested in the most sophisticated machinery. Parrillus did so from the start. Back when Salvador Puig founded the company, he bought one of the few Shima Seiki cutting-edge knitting machines available in Europe. “It was a highly evolved model which allowed us to forge a position at the avant-garde of the flat knitting world in Spain. My father bought it from a catalogue. It was risky but it allowed us to later attract a different type of clientele,” today’s manager recalls.
Research and innovation play a key role in the relationship between high-end brands and Catalan manufacturers. Curtidos Badia, for example, works closely with the A3 in Leather Innovation chair at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, an initiative fostered by Igualada City Council to carry out research into leather processing. “We opened a new factory three months ago, targeted at R&D, and our goal is to do as much research as possible for the ongoing improvement of our products,” Xavi Badia says.
One of the attractions of Curtidos Badia is unquestionably its know-how in the tanning sector. The company is part of the Igualada leather cluster of 28 firms that together post annual sales of €170 million and which, the group’s managers say, “is one of the oldest tannery hubs in Europe, with 700 years of history.” Spokesperson Marc Rius says that if the big fashion companies opt for Igualada leather “it is for the optimal selection of material first-hand, the regularity of the tanned leather and the absence of flaws.” This, he says, “guarantees the performance of an exceptional cut”. So much so that Curtidos Badia’s products compete directly with the two biggest markets in the tanning industry, Italy and France. “The former has companies with a high capacity for fashion and the latter boasts vast knowledge in relation to quality. We have a mix of the Italian creative flair and the French savoir-faire and, because we are located in Catalonia, are particularly attractive and even strategic for Italian and French customers,” Badia says. The result is that while in 1997 the company exported only 2% of production, today the figure has shot up to 85%.
It is clear that internationalisation is what enables the companies to have enough customers to uphold the quality standards of their manufacturing processes. As Xavier Bombardo says, many of them are convinced that “the future of the textile sector in Catalonia is clearly related to fashion-sector companies in the mid- and high-end range”.