By  on May 24, 2007

MILAN — Denim is a family business for the Bardelles.

Tato Bardelle dressed countless young teenagers with his hip Americanino and Outsider jeans in the Eighties here. Now his son, Nicola, is edging himself into the business with his Jacob Cohen brand.

Despite the different times they launched their brands, the Bardelles share a common philosophy for valuing quality and longevity over selling large volumes. Father and son profess to have started their businesses entirely ignorant of the industry and out of necessity.

Tato Bardelle, 63, began delivering jeans while driving an ambulance, later launching his business from a ballroom employing his wife's small production laboratory.

Nicola, 40, has had the breadth of his father's expertise from which to draw. Tato was among the first to employ outside manufacturing labs in the late Seventies. At the time, most firms had hundreds of employees cutting and sewing in-house, in addition to a design staff to provide seasonal flashes to freshen up the product offering in stores.

Starting in 1977, Tato went from working with 20 factories to 200 in about five years, indirectly employing almost 5,000 people, producing 30,000 pieces per week and stocking almost 875,000 yards of fabric in its warehouse.

"When I started out, there was nothing and no idea of any kind of industrial culture, structure or business plan," said Tato. "Jeans were basic four-pocket pants, but customers would still tear them off your hands. You would write the orders and then find ways to carry them out."

From 1976 to 1982, Tato went from producing 50,000 to 6.5 million pieces.

Today, there is a strong connection between the comprehensive web of manufacturers, laundries and laboratories in the Veneto region that have made the area one of Italy's main denim hubs. Tato Bardelle's name is often mentioned as a reference point in conversations while visiting the district.

"Tato Bardelle was a pioneer here, with a strong business sense, and [he] created a huge industry, giving work to a lot of people in an area that was depressed before," said Giovanni Petrin, general manager at Veneto-based Martelli, which treats and washes denim for brands such as Diesel, Meltin' Pot, Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana.

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