Franco Pene, Gibo

Italian manufacturing company Gibò said it has taken a 60 percent stake in Maglificio Erika, specializing in fine gauge knitwear.

MILAN — Italian manufacturing company Gibò said Thursday it has taken a 60 percent stake in Maglificio Erika, specializing in fine gauge knitwear, for an undisclosed sum. Based in the northeastern region of Veneto, Maglificio Erika produces for such companies as Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan and Prada. Last year, it had sales of $5 million (converted from 4 million euros at current exchange).

“This acquisition is in line with our strategy to complement our manufacturing know-how, as we were not looking to purchase a brand or a strong presence in the market,” said Gibò chairman Franco Pené in a phone interview. “We wanted to fill a gap, since we depended on outsiders to make knitwear for the designer labels we produce,” he said. In addition to its own brand, Gibo, designed by Julie Verhoeven, the company produces and distributes ready-to-wear collections for Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Antonio Berardi, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Paul Smith, among others. Gibò also makes the new men’s line for John Galliano, launched for spring 2004.

“Maglificio Erika is a healthy company that produces everything in-house, with an incredible know-how developed over more than 20 years and in the hands of 80 people — this is what prompted our interest,” said Pené.

Pené said he will not change or interfere with the relationships between Maglificio Erika and the other fashion companies it works with. “We want to help grow and develop this company,” he said.

Unlike some other industry executives, Pené is not optimistic about the economy for 2004, but he believes it is better to invest when times are tough.

“Generally speaking, I don’t believe the worst is over, and that 2004 will actually be the worst year for the textile and apparel industry,” said Pené, citing restrained spring orders for many fashion houses, a difficult fall at retail and a tough 2003 overall, the strong euro and a general feeling of instability that hinders consumer spending. “However, this is one of the many crises the industry has faced, and we must have faith in what we do,” he said.

Gibò, based outside Florence, reported sales of $63.2 million (50 million euros) in 2003, up from $59.4 million (47 million euros) in 2002.

This story first appeared in the January 9, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last year, the company opened Gibo boutiques in London and Milan.

Pené, a partner in Gibò with Onward Kashiyama, is responsible for having launched and built businesses for such avant garde designers as Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen, helping to generate enough interest in them that they would be snapped up by Prada and Gucci, respectively.

“I’ve always believed in creativity as a driving force,” said Pené. The executive’s other mantra is to focus on industrial know-how, to place the brands in the high end of the market, and sign licenses for designer brands and not second lines.