“We Do Everything Here”
Carme Noguera, Naulover CEO, general manager and designer
You get what you pay for. That is the gist of Naulover CEO Carme Noguera’s analysis of the history of the company that she leads and the sector that she works in: fashion.
At the end of the conversation she grants us, Carme Noguera explains that her ties with the textile industry reach back over more than three generations. In 1906, her grandparents had a store in Barcelona’s carrer dels Arcs. They would travel to Paris by train to buy textiles that her grandfather would sell and her grandmother would use to make bespoke women’s clothing. Before that, her great-great-grandparents travelled around the country estates of Catalonia and made clothes for all of the members of the household. “There could be up to fifty people living in one house, and they would spend a month there making clothes for them all. I have been surrounded by this business since I was a little girl,” she says. Carme’s explanations are short and to the point. Personal topics don’t seem to sit very easily with her, but when she does open up, a twinkle forms in her eye. The same twinkle appears when she mentions that her two children are studying fashion and design, a choice that leads you to think that generational change within the family could well continue. With this reflection, along the steadfast gaze one also detects the outline of a smile. Altogether, one can see that, on top of energy and power, this businesswoman has passion – three things she employs in leading the family business project created by her father, José Noguera, in 1957.
Over its five decades of life, Naulover has been witness to decisive chapters in the country’s history and, above all, the evolution of the textile industry. Various financial crises have come and gone, and there was the whammy of the liberalisation of the international textile trade in 2005 which saw new textiles from Asian and emerging countries flood the fashion market at a much lower price. While all this was happening, the company, today led by Carme Noguera, built up a team of 170 people who work at the factory in Mediona, in the Alt Penedès area, 600 sales points in multibrand stores around Spain, a presence in 90 brand stores in shopping centres, and one own physical store and an online store. Naulover has therefore turned its history into an opportunity to shore up its business model which combines design, quality fashion and local production.
We have met here at the Naulover store in the centre of Barcelona. It opened in 2011 – why was your own sales point necessary after five decades in the business?
We needed somewhere where we could show our brand and do it the way we wanted to. We have all of the collection here; we display the pieces the way we think they look best and we can also test new products to see whether they will work or not.
This is the firm’s only dedicated sales point so far. Will there be more?
No. We want to grow by playing to our strengths. Time and experience tell us we have to continue to do what we do best in terms of expanding the business, and that means featuring in department stores.
You were thinking of opening another own store in Madrid in 2011. Why didn’t that go ahead in the end?
El Corte Inglés has 18 stores in Madrid. We have a strong presence through them; our own store wasn’t necessary.
The relationship with El Corte Inglés dates back to Naulover’s beginnings. What does that shared history mean?
The first order we ever got was from El Corte Inglés. We have grown up alongside it and the future involves replicating the brand store model we have, because it works well for us.
You have just opened stores in Andorra and Italy. What countries are next?
We’re looking at department stores we can work with around the world. Examples include Poland, South Korea, Dubai, the Middle East and China. But we also have a great deal of confidence in El Corte Inglés’s international expansion.
Which department store would you most like to work with?
Selfridges, in London.
In addition to the brand stores, you have also expanded in multibrand sales points abroad. Where?
We have them in Russia, Poland, Chile and Mexico. We might have one in Dubai too, shortly.
We have heard you say that you don’t have any competition in Spain. Why is that?
Because of our quality, price, customer profile and, above all, production process. No company does all this in Spain. We do everything here; that’s why Naulover is a brand that, once you’ve tried it, you come back.
Fashion consumers today are used to low prices and throwaway fashion. Naulover proposes an alternative model. How do you explain that to the customer?
We tag all our visual channels with the message “Design, quality, comfort. Made in Barcelona”.
Is that enough to explain that your product, although more expensive, can work out cheaper in the end?
No, our challenge is to get the customer to try the clothes on. Once they’ve done that, they’ll be back for sure.
A couple of decades ago, fashion-sector customers were very aware of what a silk knit was, or wool or jacquard. They are the types of products you make. But that’s no longer the case, is it?
It’s true that our mothers all knew how to sew and frequently handled textiles. They would see a piece of clothing and could tell whether it was well-made or not.
The slow fashion movement defends the value of textile products and fashion made to last. That clearly dovetails with your brand values.
Yes, that is what Naulover does. I believe the old values are on the way back. Customers increasingly expect things to have a longer life. We value ecology and sustainability more, and are appalled by images like those from India (referring to the collapse of the textile factory in Dhaka). We ask ourselves whether it’s really necessary to throw everything out only to turn around and buy it again, or whether it would be better to buy something good which will last.
Speaking about production, to manufacture in Catalonia, as Naulover does at its factory in Mediona, you need not just will but also available suppliers. Do you have them?
Another weaving firm has, in fact, just closed.
What did you do?
The old weaver passed all of the technical files on our thread onto the new one. In other words, he gave all of his know-how to ensure that the thread we use at Naulover, which has a specific composition, can continue to be made.
This situation isn’t a one-off: raw material suppliers for the textile sector are constantly going out of business. How does that impact you?
It’s true, we’re always facing that situation. We hope that, for now, our suppliers will keep their heads above water. In the specific case of our thread, if we can’t find another alternative here, we will have to use the standard thread made in Italy.
What’s the difference between the Naulover thread and the Italian standard one?
Our knits are different and the key is the thread. It is longer and has a number of specific technical characteristics. It is also threaded differently to standard thread.
After you buy the thread, you weave the material, send it out to be dyed and then cut and sew it following your own designs…
We make 1,000 designs every season and only 150 are chosen for the final collection.
In 2005, your sister began another project outside of Naulover and you took over the design of that, too.
That was an eye-opener! I love design. But look, when you talk about designing a collection people think you have to invent something new every season and that’s just not the case. In fact, a collection is a constant evolution of your product.
You have been the Naulover CEO since 2001, but you began in the administrative side of the business and were later in charge of finance.
Yes, it was a natural evolution, not one I planned. I am happier and enjoy my work more every day. Plus, a company is a living thing constantly evolving and growing.
Speaking about finances, what results do you forecast for the close of 2014?
We expect to have grown by about 15% over the previous year and our forecasts suggest similar growth for 2015.
You are the second generation of the family business. Will your children be the third?
[She smiles] They’re studying fashion and design right now, so maybe…
Will Naulover show again at 080 Barcelona from 2 to 6 February?
Yes. We have been there from the start and we will be back again. We already have the collection ready for the catwalk.