WHERE THE SEAMLESS REVOLUTION BEGAN
Byline: Jackie Cooperman
BRESCIA, Italy — Walking visitors through the humming Santoni knitting machines factory, marketing manager Florenzo Sandonini gloats, “Did you see this?” holding up a white seamless undergarment. “It has nine separate kinds of sewing, and it all comes from the same machine.”
That garment is something of a symbol for the boom in Santoni’s sales. In the past decade, the company has become the world leader in seamless knitting machinery, spinning out sportswear, eveningwear, underwear, children’s wear and medical wear with notable speed.
Santoni’s sales for 2000 are about $150 million, and Sandonini said he expected next year’s sales to increase by about 30 percent.
“The situation in the last two years has been very hot. The market is going extremely well,” he said, touring the factory that was founded in 1919 to produce hosiery.
In 1998, Santoni sold 800 of its seamless sewing machines. In 1999, that figure jumped to 2,000 machines, and so far this year, it has sold 2,500.
“Twelve years ago, our American and Israeli clients started asking for more knitwear,” Sandonini recalled, walking past mannequins outfitted in leotards, bicycle pants and a crocheted evening dress. “So, we transformed our sock machines and made them produce underwear and women’s wear.”
Last year, spurred by the increasing market demand for seamless wear and advanced technology, the company created the Santoni School, a professional training center. The school offers designers, fashion schools and new clients direct experience in the Santoni factory. They learn the latest design programs on computers, tour the laboratories and machinery and peruse the Santoni shop, where garment samples are neatly arranged on mahogany shelves. There is a library, a classroom and a prototype room, where students test fibers and weaves.
“We use the training department to teach about the machinery. Designers learn about the boarding machines, dyeing and sewing,” said Sandonini. “People want to understand what kind of technology is growing now in seamless.”
That technology includes machines for single jersey garments, which currently account for 95 percent of the seamless market, and for double jersey, a category Sandonini said is growing.
“Most of our customers now use the SM8-Top machinery and, at the end of the year, we’ll have the Top 2, which is the sister of SM8-Top but it has better performance,” Sandonini explained. “By the summer, we’ll have Top 3, which is best for haute wear garments and big sizes.”
Double jersey is becoming increasingly important, Sandonini said.
“The SM9 machine is for double jersey, and is fantastic for making garments in the gross gauge. It uses mostly silk and cotton and natural fibers,” he said, noting it is aimed at the ready-to-wear and underwear markets. The machines, Sandonini said, are highly versatile.
“You can use any kind of yarn in this machinery: microfiber, cotton, mixed microfiber and cotton, acrylic, wool, silk,” he said. “We’ve tried more than 45 different yarns in these machines and have been very successful.”
One of the newest products Santoni is developing is an advanced bra, with engineered knit-in control to replace traditional underwire.
“We have a new knit-in construction concept that our machines are making specifically for the bras,” Sandonini said. “With this new concept, you don’t use the underwire because you create the new knit-in structure and construction to support and replace the underwire.”
Sandonini said he expected the new bras to be on the market by next summer.
“It’s completely ready-to-wear off of the machinery,” Sandonini said. “We put the filament in the machinery and the bra is ready. It’s really fantastic.”
The range of seamless clothes is growing, Sandonini said. Women’s innerwear remains the leading category for Santoni, accounting for about 85 percent of overall production. But, Sandonini said, “The situation is also going well in the other segments of the market. Mostly now, people want seamless in the [rtw] market, and in sportswear and activewear.”
Sandonini said he was seeing growth in men’s wear and children’s wear, as well.
Trade shows remain fundamentally important to the company, Sandonini said.
“We use this strategy to show our machines and technology in special fashion shows like the one at the Lyon, Mode City show. We have to support this culture and make people aware of the technology,” Sandonini said. “We use the shows to present the product and to create a meeting point in our booth.”
Santoni has been teaming up with producers like Dupont to showcase their wares, setting up booths together at trade shows and working to develop mutually beneficial technology.
“We have very advanced research and development,” Sandonini said. “We’re also really focused on co-marketing.”
For example, Sandonini said, he used Premier Vision as an occasion to promote Santoni alongside Du Pont.
“We are very happy to participate in co-marketing with other fiber manufactures, for example in Premier Vision,” Santoni said, adding that the Miami swimwear show and the Ispo sportswear exhibition were also important venues.
“Trade shows are very important because we’re creating the relationship with our partners: fiber manufacturers and other accessory machinery manufacturers,” he said. “We need to grow together this way to expand our customers and convince more customers to take the seamlesswear approach.”
In addition to presenting at the shows, Santoni has begun using its own headquarters as an industry meeting point. Last June, the company organized its first conference, called Seamless Day. The events included seminars and a fashion show featuring rtw, swimwear, sportswear, men’s and women’s underwear and children’s wear.
“We invited all the manufacturers of fibers and filaments, all of our customers in Italy, and some from Europe, some from the United States and South America,” Sandonini said. “We also invited the other companies who manufacture the accessory machinery for Santoni: sewing machinery, dyeing machinery, boarding machinery.”
More than 700 people attended the one-day event, Sandonini said, adding that the company may hold another one in late December or early January.
Now that Santoni has achieved success, the challenge is to keep the demand growing, Sandonini said, through marketing efforts.
“It doesn’t make sense just to sell the machine,” Sandonini said. “We’re selling the concept.”