NEW YORK — Roberto Berardi and his four-year-old trim and label company EU Design LLC take pride in what many people overlook on a garment.

However, as trims play a stronger role in women’s apparel today, Berardi’s hard work is beginning to pay off, as EU Design emerges as a leader in what many consider a dwindling niche market.

When Berardi’s former employer decided to close his company — it was called Italian Trimmings at the time — and return to Italy in 1999, the 32-year-old Berardi took over and renamed it EU Design. Besides changing the name, Berardi altered the business model by reducing the number of companies he represented.

"We had been working with too many factories," said Berardi. "I wanted to find a few reliable factories that we could develop the U.S. market for. The selection was based on the size of the Italian suppliers, their quality and their ability to work with American clients in terms of service."

So Berardi narrowed his partnerships to two main label manufacturers, a zipper company and a high-end button maker, resulting in a range of trim and label offerings for a variety of end-use markets. He also represents a specialty trim resource and works with several factories for sportswear trims, including grosgrain, jacquard tapes and other cordings.

One of the biggest challenges Berardi said he faces with Italian suppliers is that they don’t completely understand the efficiency demands from U.S. companies. Delivering on time is a top priority for U.S. brands and in turn for EU Design, he said.

"They’re really great," said Marc by Marc Jacobs trim manager Nesli Danisman. "They do a lot of different things out of Italy and they are a great sourcer out of Hong Kong. They also find all these mom-and-pop shops with hard-to-find trims."

Danisman said Marc by Marc Jacobs tends to develop its own trims, since it is such an important element of the line’s aesthetic.

"A lot of companies aren’t as trim-obsessed as we are," said Danisman. "I’ve been working with him for two years and he’s one of my main sources, probably about 25 percent, which is a lot."EU Design is the official distributor for label makers Dualplast and Texcontrol. For Brescia, Italy-based Meras, a zipper manufacturer, EU handles the U.S., Canadian and South American sales. EU also represents Passamaneria Italiana, which makes specialty trims in such materials as mohair, leather and lace.

San Vendemiano, Italy-based Dualplast manufactures rubber to create labels often seen on activewear, outdoor and surf apparel — this includes embossed, raised and printed plastic labels. They also specialize in micro-injected rubber labels. Meanwhile, Texcontrol SpA — owned by Gruppo Olimpias of the Benetton family investment arm Edizione Holding — specializes in woven labels, plastic patches and printed labels.

"Basically the companies that I represent need somebody here to understand the market, offer the right products for this market and serve as a communicator," said Berardi. "And during production, the U.S. companies need someone close to them they can call and communicate with, as well."

In November, EU Design landed Bergamo, Italy-based button manufacturer Gritti Bottoni, after that company bought a majority stake in Ocean, one of EU’s suppliers. Gritti Bottoni specializes in mother-of-pearl, leather, horn, corozo and polyester buttons. Ocean focuses on technical hardware for athletic and skiwear.

Since most of EU’s U.S. clients manufacture in the Far East, Berardi opened a Hong Kong office primarily for logistics in June 2000. However, since some of the Italian mills that Berardi represents here ask him to source labels for a client looking for a cheaper price, the Hong Kong office also serves as a sourcing office.

He also offers this service to certain U.S. customers when the Italian-made version is too expensive, said Berardi.

"We work with Asian factories only when clients want to buy cheaper quality, but we always give the Italian mills a chance to compete," said Berardi. "It’s better that we knock ourselves off than have somebody else do it."

He also coordinates packaging and promotional items, from underwear bags to key chains, out of the Hong Kong office, which represented 35 percent of EU’s business in 2002.

Rather than an office in the Garment District, EU Design is on East 22nd Street near Park Avenue South. The space is shared by a small group of creative entrepreneurs that lease space from Berardi. They include Vega P. Architecture, contemporary photo agency JGroup Photo and funky T-shirt line Serina Conciglia. Arli Cashmere, a line of cashmere baby clothes that Berardi owns and produces in Rome, is also sold out of the space.In addition to Berardi, EU Design also employs Paola Moore-Pagano, who handles logistics, and an in-house graphic designer, Yoko Ozu, who works primarily with smaller accounts on label and hangtag design.

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