Some of you may have seen Neil’s fantastic report from his trip to Ravarino on the forum. For those who missed it, we’ll be posting it in its entirety here over the coming week.
Part 1: SPW Factory
The trip to Ravarino was so fantastic and there was so much to see and take note of that it will take several posts to cover everything (and there are lots of photos). Inevitably I will have forgotten something or misheard some details so apologies if anything is wrong. The trip effectively spilt into three parts – the SPW HQ in Ravarino on day one and the Tintoria Emiliana dyeing factory in Modena and Stone Island Showroom in Milan on day two. Part 1 covers the trip round the SPW HQ facility in Ravarino.
Our trip began from Gatwick where 14 people made up the group – 6 customers nominated from Beak St, Selfridges, Flannels, Van Mildert and Kafka, 6 from FourMarketing and 2 lads who run independent magazine ‘The Rig Out’, part of the Oi Polloi operation, who were doing a feature and video on the trip. The forum was well represented by Cotinga84 (Graeme), Marina (Rob), SITurner (Stu) and myself.
Arriving in Bologna the SPW bus was waiting for us and it was straight to a restaurant near the SPW HQ for lunch – throughout the 2 days the hospitality and food/drink was utterly magnificent – the Italians certainly know how to enjoy eating and drinking. They also like to take their time over it.
Shortly after we arrived Carlo Rivetti (wearing the long version of the hand painted Camo jacket and the ubiquitous Crocs!) and his son Silvio joined us along with Tommaso Gallini, SPW’s Customer Service Manager. Luckily for me, Carlo sat at my end of the table and I was able to talk to him virtually 1:1 for about an hour – he is fabulous company and hugely passionate about his work and the company. See a separate post for the best bits of the conversation.
If you have seen the recent tour video SPW published then you will have had a glimpse of what most of the afternoon involved. The operation has a very old school feeling to it – it is not hi-tech, sanitised, post-modern facilities but rather old-fashioned, specialist equipment and basic buildings. On the way to the test dyeing area we passed a large biosphere building – this was apparently the original warehouse in the early days and in the morning the staff would take the fabrics outside to dry and bring them in at the end of the day or at the run if it rained! Now used as a general storage area, Carlo intends to revamp the building as an exhibition area when SPW reaches EUR 100m turnover. He didn’t reveal how close they are to reaching that figure, unfortunately.
The test dyeing area was quite extraordinary – the level of research and testing that goes on is exhaustive and minute – thousands of scraps of fabrics are tested and recorded to provide ideas for the Product Development team – as you will see on the video, some of the machines are one-off’s, the most impressive being the one which can successfully dye GoreTex under extreme pressure.
Carlo showed us round the whole facility answering everyone’s questions and taking time to let people wander round and look at all the details. Moving on to another part of the plant we saw a fabric being created on the spinning loom. This is a specialist art and very complex. Carlo bemoaned the fact that he believes inside 5 years time there will be no Italian fabric manufacturing facilities left as very few students are entering the fashion colleges, preferring instead to go into Technology or Aerospace design. He revealed that he had been unsuccessfully searching for someone to learn a particularly complicated skill which involves tying the ability to knot thread inside the spinning machines. Despite a salary on offer of €5000/month (yes, a month!), he had been unable to find anyone to fill the post. More than one of us in the group was hastily doing some maths and wondering how quickly they could learn Italian and tie knots!
It was clear that he feels very disheartened by the Italian govt and Berlusconi, in particular. Whilst it might be unlikely he would be positive about him as he is the owner of AC Milan given his Inter leanings, Carlo felt Berlusconi’s multiple womanising misdemeanours had hugely damaged Italy’s reputation internationally and it was harming all Italian businesses attempts to expand overseas. There is also little apparent support from the govt for small/medium enterprises like SPW – he is quite happy to go it alone as he doesn’t want/need their money but he feels they could be way more supportive in general.
Political rant over, we found ourselves in the Archive. I had been looking forward to this part the most before we arrived but it was actually a little disappointing. It is currently little more than a giant series of cages on two floors with rows of double racked rails. It is very dark and must be very difficult to actually track items down during research. We didn’t arrive at the best time as the CP archive has now gone and the whole unit is in a state of transformation. They are 18 months into photographing and cataloguing on to computer the 40 000 Stone Island pieces they have – a huge undertaking. The intention is to refurbish the Archive into much more of an exhibition style area whilst also offering better access to pieces for the researchers. Even in the small area I wandered round there were some amazing pieces – prototype Shadow items, the Nokia Metal Shell and other weird and wonderful rareties. It would be fantastic to see it when the revamp is complete.
The tour moved on to the sizing and cutting section – we saw one of the machines impressively laser cut a pattern in a few minutes which was almost invisible to the naked eye whilst the machine was in operation. Again, some of the equipment they use is either only used by SPW or one of very few in the world.
A general round up in the Product Design department finished the tour – there was an enormous amount to take in and interesting pieces/designs caught your eye every couple of seconds as we walked round. Early on we saw a wall display of accessories relating to the new Ghost pieces – zips, buttons and badges in each of the colours in the range (white, blue, black (and green for next winter, I think) ). We would see a lot more of Ghost on day 2…
Whilst the Rig Out team did their interview and photo session with Carlo we were allowed a visit to the Factory Shop – and what an Aladdin’s cave it turned out to be!! Open only to staff and their families usually, it is very large and had a huge range of SI, CP, CP Donna and SI/CP kidswear and various accessories in stock with 60% off the standard Italian price. It’s safe to say we all did rather well and very much enjoyed this part of the trip! Only the lack of an extra holdall prevented me from going completely mad but there were some fantastic bargains on offer – a row of Olive Waxed Ice Trench coats were quickly investigated and Graeme snapped one up.
Retail therapy over, we were just about to leave for our hotel when we were all summoned back to the Reception area – assuming it was Carlo wishing to say good-bye we were utterly gobsmacked to each be given a black quilted SI jacket each (I reckon they are about £425 RRP) which he then proceeded to sign. I haven’t seen this piece in the UK in black so it is quite rare and an extremely generous gift. An extraordinary end to an extraordinary visit – and this was only day one.
Despite some of the densest fog I’ve ever seen, the coach driver made it in one piece to our hotel and a quick change round then saw us all whisked off for dinner in another fabulous restaurant in a nearby town (it was too foggy to read the signs so I missed where we actually went). Carlo and Silvio again joined us for the whole evening and were great company. Another great touch saw them deliver a birthday cake to Stu as it was his 21st that very day – he also got a present of a very nice long sleeved polo to go with the new jacket.
We rolled back to the hotel about 1am and everyone actually went straight to bed!