CNA Storie: behind the loom, a universal language

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“The loom is the loom”. Because digitalisation renews processes, but the key instrument in embroidery remains that of the past. This mix of tradition and innovation is the trademark of Rilievi, the protagonist of August’s CNA Storie. A Bolognese company, born from the courage and initiative of eight embroiderers, then in their 20s, who took the big step in ‘91. Embroidery remains the core activity of the company, which over these 30 years has expanded its production and services, and boasts among its clients names such as Fendi, Armani, Gucci, D&G, Versace, Moncler… It employs over 150 people in Italy, India and the United States.

The loom is the loom

Michele Galliano, 52, is the managing director and he tells us how and when it all started.

How and when was all this born?

In 1991. A year and a half earlier, the eight founders had taken part in a master’s degree in Italian haute couture organised by CNA Emilia Romagna. This had focused on embroidery techniques, but also provided concrete tools for those who wanted to start a business. The founders, having become embroiderers, began to go back and forth between their small workshop and the atelier of Gianfranco Ferré, who soon noticed them and entrusted them with their first works. From there they expanded their horizons to the area around Milan, and the world of Versace, D&G, Armani…

Training on the job and attention to detail: this was the imprinting

What then was the strong point that allowed them to emerge from a small workshop to arrive at such important names?

Training on the job and attention to detail: this was the imprinting. Right from the start we found ourselves having to deal with a differentiation in production. And it was then that we went to India where we were able to set up a solid system and identify supplies with selected partners who guaranteed us the same quality standards. But when, in 2004, I met Simona, one of the founders, who would later become my wife, she told me about the organisational difficulties they were having due to their growth in scale, and I realised that they were lacking in strategic and organisational tools. I then decided to offer my contribution as a consultant. I’d had the opportunity to work with various fashion companies; I knew the dynamics involved in building up collections. In 2013 I joined the company. 

To what extent did the decision to take production abroad affect the strategies of the company?

Faced with the growth in volumes, we chose to differentiate our production: no longer simply embroidery, but the creation of the finished product. The company hired pattern makers, people specialised in the procurement of fabrics, and so on. In short, we integrated a part of the process, which previously had been managed directly by the customer.

Was this a successful choice?

We’d found a good balance between the two types of business, but then the crisis came along. CNA held a focus group and, on that occasion, Prof. Stefano Micelli spoke to us about the concept of “global craftspeople”. We realised that the market polarisation we’d known up to that point no longer existed. Strengthening our direct presence in India was a priority and we established a supply chain that was entirely internal. The path to obtain SA 8000 certification (the first standard for socially acceptable practices in the workplace, ed.) dates back to that time.

What was your overall project?

A direct control of the chain, the addition of services that went beyond simply carrying out embroidery and the need to create a geographical continuity: we started from Italy and went to India, and then to New York where we set up a commercial branch. Today there are more opportunities than before, but to grasp them you need considerable financial and organisational resources and the ability to relate at the level of our interlocutors. The global craftsman works in every direction to create value-added services which include logistics, certification, compliance…

What is the universal language of these global craftspeople?

Their hands. We transfer our workshop all over the world: when there are fashion shows we bring the embroiderers to the ateliers. There they interact designers, pattern makers, seamstresses and various other figures from a wide range of countries: it’s an interesting melting pot. It’s in contexts like this that this universal language is born.

You have the great responsibility of safeguarding an endangered profession. Processes such as bobbin lace work, today, are in danger of disappearing…

We tell young people that this profession opens up a thousand paths and can provide immense gratification. It’s a very dynamic sector because the technology goes hand in hand with the tradition and allows you to travel the world. In the hands of the embroiderers there’s a great responsibility in production and a high degree of customisation.

What does it mean to reach your objective?

Reinventing ourselves, on average, every 5-6 years. If you’ve done things properly, you throw the ball forward when the parabola is about to start decreasing. To do this you need a great knowledge of the market and an extraordinary ability to read the situation. It’s necessary to know how to interpret the visions of the gurus of global strategy to analyse the megatrends and know how to adapt them to reality. In short: you need to create your own version of the future. And work on that. Not without lots and lots of difficulties, and tirelessly.


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