By  on February 22, 2002


No beaches, no jet set, no grotto. It's Carpi, not Capri, and while it doesn't have quite the tourist draw of its southern neighbor, its network of laboratories makes it the heart of Italy's knitwear production. And while your typical multibrand conglomerate isn't unheard of, much of Carpi's knitwear flows from mom-and-pop shops. The small town west of Bologna, about 100 miles from Milan, counts a total of 1,800 production companies, for a total of 10,000 workers, but only 13 companies list more than 50 employees.

Gianfranco Ferre, whose company's jersey has always been manufactured by Gruppo Dondi in nearby Fossoli, said Dondi embodies all the qualities that have made the region so key in Italian knitwear production. Ferre noted "the determination and self-sacrifice of these entrepreneurs, their ability to pick up and elaborate on creative inputs to improve their product and know-how, and their ability to blend research and technology with old, traditional skills," adding that their work is "passionate and enthusiastic."

In May, Giorgio Armani will acquire Miss Deanna SpA, a local business that will produce knitwear across the house's collections, starting with spring 2003. "Miss Deanna has one of the best reputations within the knitwear category," said Robert Triefus, corporate vice president and head of worldwide communications for the designer.

Carpi surged in knitwear production in the Sixties and Seventies. The town lapsed somewhat in the early Nineties, hit by lower-priced competition from the Far East, but it recently adapted to a new, global economy by offering more fashion-oriented products and banking on improved service and flexibility. "The companies in the Carpi area develop personalized products and focus on creativity," said Daniela Bigarelli, researcher at R&I Institute, which studies the local industry. "They offer more than one collection per season, reassortments and fractioned deliveries." She said sales for this area amount to $950 million (converted from the lira at current exchange rates).

According to Bigarelli, there are 386 firms that design and work for the final customers, while 1,424 companies are suppliers. "There is a chain of suppliers that is specialized in each phase," she said. Most of the families in the area are employed in this sector and pass on the tradition and the artisanal skills from one generation to the next -- although the youngest often aim for a grander role, like designer.

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