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Thread: Geoffrey B. Small

  1. #1181

    Default (continued from previous page)


  2. #1182

    Default Dedicated to Luigi Moretto part 1

    (continued from above)



    IN this game, some people who begin to get to a certain point in their career start putting their time, attention and money into big fancy retail stores, or big fancy houses for themselves, or foundations to make museums for their archives or personal art collections, home furniture collections, or even big fancy hotels in exotic places… as for me, I prefer to spend my time these days designing and building our factories and workrooms.


    Don’t get me wrong, I can understand putting a priority on your stores -retailing your company’s stuff… but personal houses, furniture and hotels are often a sign that the clothing designer is no longer fully interested in being a clothing designer. Which I can get if your knowledge, passion and skill base is really not about the actual making and creating of clothes…


    That’s not our view of the metier though—there is a whole universe of art that can still be done with clothing in my mind, that has still yet to be done at all. Like Auguste Escoffier said about cooking: "Cookery will evolve… as society itself does… without ever ceasing to be an art.”



    Like Escoffier's view on creating food for people to eat, I firmly believe the same
    argument applies to making real clothes for real people to wear in their lives.



    And just like the internet these days, with so much bs, crap and fakery out there, I still believe there is a role for those who can still make real content in whatever medium they are involved in. So while our colleagues and competitors out there are throwing money into building stores to sell their stuff or into other temples and palaces to sell themselves—we are focusing on the actual creation of our clothes… and the tools, materials and technologies to do so with- better and better. As Emmert Wolf wrote, “a man is only as good as his tools.” And after more than 40 years, we are now able to design and build perhaps one of the most important tools of all— the workspace, plant and equipment in which myself and the exceptional people I have the privilege to work with each day are able to create and build our ideas for clothes to new levels of excellence, innovation and beauty.



    But it's a fast changing new world with a new set of rules


    While I have always had a focus on the design of our workplaces, a combination of ongoing changes in safety laws and building codes across the EU, the Coronavirus pandemic, and visits last February and March by both the Venezia VVF Fire safety and SPISAL Health Safety authorities to our workrooms at the Via Spalato in Cavarzere put in motion a new push to relocate our company and reach for a whole new level of facilities to do our work in. Our tiny Italian venture which started over 2 decades ago in the kitchen of our apartment with a Singer home sewing machine and an iron had grown to over 30 people at Via Spalato. Covid distancing rules and safety protocols changed the game overnight basically requiring any company to triple their floorspace dimensions for each employee they intended to keep working on site. Within a month after the virus hit Italy we were reduced to be able to have only 10 out of more than 30 working in our facilities at the same time. New Europe wide fire and safety codes for firms with over 25 persons also required a totally different type of structure and building than the one we were working in. By the end of March 2020, we knew the company had to move its entire operations into a different facility. Rather than lament about these laws, I embraced them— as a company that is built upon the human excellence and long-term building of a world-class organisation— the safety of our people can only be viewed as a number one priority and a fundamental key to success and competitive advantage at all levels of the game. While our competitors always view it is an “expense,” I will continue to argue that putting money into GBS people and the tools and places they do their work in is money in the bank. So we set out to look for our new home to make the best and most advanced handmade clothing in the world today.


    To meet the growing demand worldwide for our unique work, we would now need a large industrial style factory space that would meet and exceed all regulatory safety, fire and environmental codes and norms now and in the years ahead. I felt the regulatory climate was not going to change, but only continue to get stricter. As an artisanal company this was especially challenging and a reality that had to be addressed. The small, tiny type of operations that we had started out with years ago… were no longer going to be legal or allowed to operate in the EU and elsewhere. And perhaps, rightly so. If not performed super carefully and managed very diligently, they could be dangerous. And since those days over 2 decades ago, numerous younger designers and artisanal brands have begun to emulate our story and approach and are now selling their work in many of the same stores as we do. But times are changing fast and I recalled the words of Henry Ford’s autobiography in the early 1900’s that I read when I was a young student discussing that period in history…”the only way for a small business to survive is to get big.” By investing and developing aggressively in a new type of plant and equipment specifically for a new way of making clothes for human beings, our way, I felt we could accomplish 2 major strategic things- 1st assure the continuance of our mission to elevate the art and science of making clothes by hand and at least provide for the building of an organisation to carry forward the metier as far as possible into the 21st century, and 2nd establish ourselves with an extraordinary competitive advantage versus the huge global corporate luxury industrial players that have no artisanal production system rival to our model, and smaller up and coming ones that more and more are operating illegally and outside the legal safety and environmental parameters of making and creating the products they are selling to stores and customers around the world. Far too many times, I have seen the pundits in BoF and other trade media claiming that neither sustainable or artisanal approaches as manufacturing concepts are scalable. They are wrong and I intend to prove them so with our company’s example and track record if no one else’s.


    Just finding the space took almost a year...


    Site location was a huge challenge and took almost a year. With Covid-19 raging and lockdown after lockdown taking place, I felt we had to stay put in the local Cavarzere area in order to keep our core team members working together and reduce complications for them that would be involved with moving to other areas farther away from their homes. And, inspite of all the ongoing changes in safety laws and building codes across the EU and Italy however, new industrial or factory buildings that can meet all the new codes are virtually non-existent today. With a key team of professional people who worked with me diligently during this entire period, we were able to finally realize a leasehold on a factory space in the new industrial zone of Cavarzere Venezia on the Via dell’ Artigianato involving an initial 300 square meters of workspace with future options to expand to 1400 square meters (about 15,000 sq ft). While the building was one of the area’s most recently constructed sites (built in 2004) it still had compromises in relation to current norms and codes that we would have to deal with and resolve over time. And it was not our building. As leaseholders a lot would depend upon achieving consensus and collaboration with the building’s owners. Nevertheless, I set out to start a revolution in factory design in the first 300 square meters in that building. And much of the planning had been underway already since last year…






    N.B. This series is being dedicated to the memory of Mr. Luigi Moretto (inset right), who tragically passed
    away this Thursday, 8 September- and without whom this project would not have been possible.





    (to be continued)

  3. #1183

    Default people and lessons...

    (continued from above)


    B
    Y the end of March 2020, many considerations had to be dealt with for the new space to be able to go forward and allow us to continue our now 40 year-old mission, to survive, operate and grow. First and foremost, we wanted to meet or exceed all existing possible safety and environmental norms, which would have to be tackled one by one as we started to put together a vision for the project… Covid, Fire, General safety, Environmental and then specific efficiencies for our unique handmade processes, production creativity and art- and the employee well-being that was required in achieving it. Never forgetting that the fundamental role of the facility was an artistic one at the highest international levels, my inspiration became Maranello- continuing the Ferrari model which I had been following for over a decade for our company.

    While the mainstay of our team worked with me totally focusing on the survival of the existing Via Spalato operations under the pandemic and lockdown crisis, other key people worked with me during this time on the new project. Avvocato Marco Brasiliani is a tough, smart lawyer who heads a law firm in Rovigo. Years ago, he had worked for one of our team members who referred him to me when we were facing a very tough legal situation and had already gone through a pile of other attorneys who had been ineffective to say the least. Brasiliani however, knew Italian law and was not afraid to fight when it was necessary, and that was the kind of lawyer our firm needed if it was going to grow into a major player in the Italian fashion production industry. He got us through that crisis and step by step, I began to give his firm more and more of our legal work. Indeed, it was Brasiliani who jumped and got things moving as soon as I notified our key people and outside advisors about the authorities inspections and findings in early 2020. In his view, after seeing the reports filed by the authorities on their visits to our facilities, something was wrong with our landlord, as well as the safety advisory consultants we were paying to guide us and oversee these issues for the company. Every company in Italy has to hire one of these firms once it gets beyond a few employees. Brasiliani’s position was that they had been negligent in their obligations, and that our firm should never have been placed into the position we were finding ourselves in. This was all taking place right in the middle of the first huge lockdown for Covid, when companies had to shut down completely and nobody could leave their homes without written authorisation. But nevertheless within a few weeks, he organised a full site visit by a sharp fire safety expert and ex-firefighter named Giuseppe Polmonari of Gardenale Estintori Srl including a review of all of our safety code regulation documentation being overseen by the safety company, which confirmed Brasiliani’s opinion and much of the authorities positions as well to me in black and white. Perhaps I could chalk it up to being an American trying to build a company in a foreign country that is not the easiest to do business in (Italy) or a small company that didn’t know all of the ropes yet… but I have to say I was pretty angry, we had been misled by both our landlord and the company that we had been paying that was officially representing our firm for safety code compliance and now we were paying a huge price and facing challenges for survival because of it.

    As Jensen Huang founder of NVIDIA says “part of being an entrepreneur is that you are always having to learn something new.” In my case, I can say that I remember starting out forty years ago to study and learn about design, and then very soon, I realised that if you were really serious about design—you needed to be able to control your production. So I set out to learn production, and because there was no industry where I was, I ended up having to teach myself on my own how to sew and make clothes, so that no matter who or how I ended up producing my designs with—I would know every single operation and stitch that would need to be involved and be able to control every aspect of it. That meant becoming a competent tailor, and it took me 10 years (actually it’s still continuing to this day but that is another story). During that time, I also began to realise that knowing about production also wasn’t enough, you needed to learn about business- the hard reality is that you can’t produce what you can’t pay for. So I studied business. And once you start that, you need to study law as well. Because you can’t win the game if you don’t know the rules. That was my formation in the first 20 years of my career in America. Then I went to Italy and very quickly had to learn more new things.

    My Italian licensee that had signed me to produce and distribute GBS from Italy in 2000 soon informed me that in Italy you had to learn about taxes, because they were so high and so tough they could wipe you out. It wasn’t enough to design something, get it sold, produce and deliver it successfully with a profit—you had to watch the taxes too. In fact, every single decision you make would need to be made in consideration of its tax effect, and you would have to know what those effects would be before you even think of going ahead. For an American, this is another world of managing where tax rates can run as high as 75 percent of income. And I continue to argue with business folks that on a dollar for dollar basis, a CEO of a company in Italy has to be 5 times as sharp as one in the U.S. to make the same numbers. The level of the game is so much tougher. But there are some very good and real social reasons for all those taxes. Italy has national health care and education for everyone-and it works. It also has a lot of real employee and worker protections including safety, long term job security, paid vacations, sick and maternity leave, severance pay and retirement pensions that most U.S. employees can only dream about. You get what you pay for. No tax... no social service or net. Do or die and best of luck- you are on your own. In Italy, you pay taxes and you do get things for it, and in my opinion it is still one of the best places in the world to be an employee, if you get a full-time permanent position work contract with a viable company. Apart from world war 3 happening you got it made- to have a family and a life. You can get a mortgage with your pay stub, your health care is covered, your kid’s schools all the way through university as well, more time off than any US worker would imagine and a guaranteed retirement pension when you’re done. And that brings me to what I had to learn next. In Italy, once I learned about taxes, I had to learn about employing people. And that was big step, because for the first 10 years here, everybody I knew who ran a business told me not to hire anyone. Subcontract everything. Don’t even think about it. It’s too tough and too dangerous financially to have employees. But the problem for me was that subcontracting wasn’t cutting it… particularly for the level of design work I was aiming to go for and the market I would have to be targeting to buy it.





    The financial crash of 2008 marked a turning point in the world in many ways, and a paradigm shift in the fashion industry where the growing disappearance of the world’s middle-class had been wiping out the majority of independent fashion operators from designers, to producers, brands, and stores. A growing chasm between high and low had been forcing anyone in the game to have to choose to work for a small but steadily growing number of very rich people or an even faster growing number of less and less well off people never before seen in history. There was no middle anymore. And what was left was getting taken over by huge financial corporations and coming down very simply to H&M, Zara and Uniqlo vs. LVMH, Kering and Hermes. For many reasons, GBS had to go for the upper market, there was absolutely no choice. And I knew we could do it. But not by subcontracting. It was going to have to be total 100% control of every aspect of material, process and design to create a product that would be a giant-killer. And that meant in-house vertical integration production—and the hiring and development of our own people to create our designs, and build a long term human organisation. Being in Italy, for me the clear model was the late Enzo Ferrari, and the company he founded and built. Ferrari has a ton of employees, and so, I decided to go against the grain, and after ten years of working tiny and subbing out— I set out to learn my next chapter in entrepreneur school—becoming an Italian employer: hiring, maintaining and surviving with employees in Italy. We hired our first real employee in 2013. By 2016 we had 20 and by 2020 we had more than 30 on our payroll, over 75% of them with full-lifetime contracts each one carefully and diligently trained and developed in a unique in-house philosophy and methodology, and our work was achieving unprecedented milestones for its levels of excellence and gaining the attention and patronage of the world’s most discerning designer clothing clientele. But the legal and financial ramifications were scary to say the least, and the personal liability of the employer would astound any US employer if they saw what I faced if anything went wrong. I knew and learned the hard way why everyone back then was telling me not to do what I was now doing. But I had no choice if I was going to compete with the biggest luxury names in the world for the patronage of the limited numbers of the members of a new ruling class. I had to build the best or die and that meant having and developing the best team of human beings I could find in the world to do it—whatever it would take.


    (to be continued)

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