Barbara and Paolo, two veteran siblings long involved in the denim market, told SPORTSWEAR INTERNATIONAL about their expertise and next career challenges in the indigo world.
How did you start working in the denim business?
Paolo Gnutti: I started working in this market in 1989, while Barbara entered it in 1991.
Barbara Gnutti: Our family has been involved this market since 1972, when our father Romano founded ITV, a specialized denim manufacturer.
Since our childhood denim has been part of our life. I used to create dresses for my Barbie doll with heavy denim leftover pieces–at that time rigorously raw 13-14 oz. and not pretreated–and decorating her tiny house made of shoeboxes, denim carpets and small decor objects…
PG: ...I didn’t make any dress for dolls, but in 1989 I entered in our family company, ITV, and later started working for a yarn-making company in the center of Italy for one year. I was lucky I met great teachers among my father’s most expert managers and workers. They made me acquire vast experiences in different fields as our company was entirely verticalized, including a laundry area where we carried ahead our R&D producing our own samples and collaborating with designers and outside companies. I learnt everything from cotton types, yarns, slubs to garment treatments. I worked there for 25 years without realizing what an education I had received. I only became aware of it when we sold ITV to Lotus, an Egyptian group[*], and I started my own brand PG Denim.
Thanks to this background, differently than many others, I can start creating a fabric from a clear idea of finished product and go back looking for yarn, its slub, thickness and all necessary intrinsic characteristics in order to achieve it. I was truly lucky learning all this way before.
PG: ITV was a particular company as it produced seven million to eight million meters fabrics per year, small quantities when compared with average production of giant denim manufacturers, though large when compared to volumes of the fashion-driven market, and a hybrid that was too hard to be kept alive. In the meantime that important group willing to build a productive structure made us an offer and we sold them the company.
Afterwards Barbara and I started our own single projects, each one always related to this market. I started my own denim company, PG Denim. Although we work separately, it’s a family affair.
Barbara, tell us about you.
BG: I founded my own PR, marketing and communication company Effe-Bi and started to collaborate with leading brands and companies involves with the denim world, though all focused on ethical and sustainable projects. As I grew up in a company that considered respecting the environment and people of primary importance, I remained faithful to my imprinting and now exclusively collaborate with those that share my working philosophy and targets. My clients are: Rudolf Hub 1922, chemical company offering low-impact chemicals; Tonello, company specialized in producing machines for garment finishing and wash; Cadica Group, manufacturer of fashion accessories; Blue of A Kind, jeans brand specialized in upcycling; and The Denim Window, a concept showroom in Amsterdam.
BG: Our sister Marzia also worked for ITV, though now she is involved in totally other fields.
What about PG Denim? What are its shareholders?
PG: I started a partnership with specialized fabric manufacturers Berto that owns 15% and Eurotessile also holding 15%, while I own the remaining 70%. Berto produces PG Denim’s selection and Eurotessile manufactures all white, flat and ready-for-dye fabrics. These partners are independent of each other.
The PG collection is always created from zero and Berto engineers it for me. I don’t take already made Berto or Eurotessile fabrics as it’s right everyone has its own identity and collection.
I start from a mini-capsule. I show it to my clients and then a build an ad hoc collection for them. It’s like customizing a product purposely for them.
Do you work more with flats or denims?
PG: I work equally with both as it all depends upon the season. I might offer 40% flats and 60% denim in one season and do the reverse in the following one.
ITV offered many yarn mixes and was among the first ones to add cashmere, lurex and sophisticated yarns to denim. What about now?
PG: At PG 80% of what I offer is flock, cashmere, silk, wool mixes and other combinations aimed at creating accessible luxury fabrics though always with a denim soul. Then I also offer my basics, mostly authentic, Japan-inspired and very dark indigo denims that mostly count for 20%.
PG: I don’t make collections thinking of price. My customers have to buy a fabric because they like it. In fact when I open my suitcase and show them a basic fabric at €4 they tell me it’s expensive. My more elaborate fabrics cost an average of €12 to €14 and may reach a maximum €24, but when companies buy them they know those items are immediately sold out. That’s why price is not that important when it comes to special articles.
How many fabrics do you offer and which rhythms do follow?
PG: I offer around 15 denims, each with specific characteristics of color, weight, elasticity in order not to overlap with other articles, and can reach 120-140 fashion articles added with different coatings and treatments.
I tend to launch a new capsule every month, though I don’t offer specific seasonal collections. A 9-10 oz. denim can be worn all year long if it’s treated most differently. I sell my flock items–that many consider as winter articles–in similar quotas for winter and summer as they are not so much tied to a sense of warmth, but rather to soft-touch and coolness. To be cool you have to suffer, many designers say. For this a few degrees more or less make no difference.
My clients include Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Zegna, Brunello Cucinelli, Replay, Diesel, Jacob Cohen and Guess. I work also with US brands such as Frame and Amiri, though at slowed-down rhythms because of the Covid emergency.
You recently started a collaboration with Advance Denim (also see here). How important are Asian markets?
PG: Asia is the new future as we can start selling there always more. With Advance we started doing capsules for the Asian and the US markets offering products that are not aimed at Europe. In fact my PG Denim collection is aimed at high-end markets, while Paolo Gnutti products can be sold in the US and Asian markets, though for mass distribution. These fabrics are made in Asia, though have Italian characteristics and image.
PG: Everyone has been speaking about sustainability but it’s most often just talking. The future has to be focused first of all on consuming less and not buying for throwing away–a topic that counts for fashion as for everything else in terms of saving water and resources. For my flocked fabrics, for instance, I use formaldehyde-free glues only that are all certified and have no impact on the environment. Also key is making cool products that can sell well to avoid that they remain unsold on shelves and need to be recycled afterwards. My philosophy is to make unique products that are not launched just for the sake of filling the market. I prefer to offer products people look for and wait for.
I have also signed a one-year agreement with Berto with Polygiene, the Swedish company that produces anti-bacteria and anti-viral protective treatments. All fabrics have to incorporate this property in the future, not because of the pandemic, but because every garment has to protect you forever.
* [Note from the editors, added 26 November, 2020]: ITV-Industria Tessile Del Vomano closed its doors in 2017 (also see here). According to information collected afterwards, the company asked the Tribunal to transform the agreement with creditors it profited from since end 2013 into agreement upon liquidation. ITV could sell the company’s machinery to Lotus Group, an Egyptian garment manufacturer, and the building to Alfagomma, a local hydraulic hose manufacturer, as part of the liquidation plan. The liquidation is now in a closing phase.