We have been working with a Portuguese weaving mill and a shirt manufacturer for around one and a half year. The cooperation with the Portuguese suppliers has already taken me to Portugal several times. The last visit dated back already one year. It was time to meet them again. With this blog entry I would like to share with you some impressions of my last week's trip to Portugal.
Porto as gateway to the textile region of Portugal
The textile economy of Portugal is mainly located in the more industrialized north of the country. The starting point for my supplier visits is usually Porto. Around Porto, Braga and Guimarães there are countless companies that operate in various forms in the fashion or textile industry. Porto, the eponymous city of the country, has many attractions to offer. It is popular with tourists and is known for its romantic narrow streets, colorful houses, the São Bento train station or the wine cellars that line the Douro River. On the street corners you can see young students dressed in black robes making music with Portuguese guitars or performing their rituals of reception for their student groups. One inevitably thinks of Harry Potter. And indeed, J.K. Rowling stayed in Porto for a while and was inspired by the city for the stories of the world-famous sorcerer's apprentice.
Since the beginning of CARPASUS, we have been successfully working together with an Austrian weaver and a shirt manufacturer in Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, we were aware that we needed to add more partners to achieve greater flexibility in the design of our collections. The construction of the supply chain in Portugal took some time. The search for new production partners is not always easy. Quality, price, communication and values must be right. We traveled to Portugal for the first time in spring 2017 on the recommendation of the Portuguese Foreign Trade Chamber in Germany in order to find new partners. The country is trying to attract foreign companies and investors. After the economic crisis, which culminated in the country being bailed out of bankruptcy by the International Monetary Fund and the EU with EUR 78bn, Portugal seems to be recovering again. We keep hearing about other brands, which are also increasingly producing in Portugal.
Visit to the Shirt Factory
First I met with our shirt manufacturer Marfel. The company with about 240 employees is located in Felgueiras. The city is best known for shoe production. Nevertheless, Marfel is one of the biggest employers there. The company produces only shirts and blouses and is thus a specialist in this field. Marfel has been involved in three of our latest collections so far. Currently all our casual shirts come from this production. The meeting was about giving feedback on the shirts already delivered for this spring and summer, discussing the planning for the coming fall and, of course, the new designs for spring and summer 2020. The next fairs, where the spring and summer trends for the next year are presented, are already approaching. CARPASUS does not follow trends as strongly as other fashion labels, which is not least due to the timelessness of our product. Nonetheless, we also want to bring in new designs, colors and materials to our collections on a regular basis. We are very excited to show you the new shirts for fall. You will love them.
Guimarães, meeting at the weaving mill Somelos
After the meeting at Marfel, the visit to the weaving mill Somelos followed. When we started looking for possible weaving mills in Portugal, we soon found what we needed. Somelos is known worldwide and is one of the best weaving factories in Portugal. In addition to a weaving mill, the company also runs a spinning mill. The company is located in Guimarães, a small town about 50 km from Porto. The city is considered the cradle of the Portuguese nation. Portugal's first king Alfonso I. was apparently born in the historic castle of Guimarães. The town has received UNESCO World Heritage status and attracts many tourists for its history and its pretty architecture.
Somelos employs about 550 people, has existed since 1958 and produces about 6 million meters of fabric every year. This amount would be enough for the production of about 4 million of our shirts! The production of organic fabrics still accounts for only about 5%. As hardly any weaving mill has organic cotton fabrics in stock, we have to design and weave fabric designs just for our purposes. This often leads to the challenge of being able to handle the minimum quantities while at the same time creating appealing designs. Last week's visit included completing the fabric orders for the Fall / Winter 2019 collection and identifying the sample fabrics for the Spring 2020 collection.
More transparency of our production line
Since the beginning of our cooperation, we have been trying to get as much information as possible about the origin of the used organic cotton. Initially, the fabrics from the Somelos weaving mill were "only" made from GOTS certified organic cotton. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard and is a respected standard for the processing of organic cotton. Usually, when using GOTS yarns nly the country of origin of the raw materials can be traced. It is more difficult to get the information, which organization has cultivated the organic cotton.
This is different with the yarns of the Swiss company Remei AG. Based in Rotkreuz, Remei trades with organic yarns and runs its own organic cotton projects in Tanzania and India with the bioRe® organizations. Anyone who already knows CARPASUS is aware that our Classic Shirts are made primarily from this organic cotton. The organic cotton from Remei is also cultivated according to the GOTS standard. In addition, the cotton farmers receive a fair-trade premium and a purchase guarantee. Moreover, the bioRe® Foundation supports infrastructure projects in the areas of education, nutrition, health and agriculture. Of importance to us; we know from which projects the organic cotton comes. This organic cotton bears the label bioRe® sustainable cotton.
The incorporation of a new yarn supplier is always associated with process changes and adjustments to the loom settings for the weaving mill. Meanwhile, we were able to convince Somelos to process Remei’s yarns even for our small quantities. We are very happy about this. Currently, we use substances from bioRe® and GOTS yarns and will probably continue to do so in the future. For example, the Oxford shirts are made from GOTS yarns. Most Classic and Flannel shirts, on the other hand, are made from bioRe® yarns. I would like to report on the reasons why we rely on both standards and organic cotton qualities in another blog post.
From raw cotton to fine yarn
Our contact person from Somelos, Rosa Maria Marques, and I quickly got through with our meeting and could use the time to visit the nearby spinning mill Mundifios. It was my first visit to this spinning mill. The portuguese mill spins almost exclusively organic yarns made of different materials (wool, linen, cotton), but also trades in organic yarns and conventional yarns that are spun elsewhere. Part of our used GOTS yarn comes from Mundifios. They are in turn used for fabric production by Somelos.
One of the company owners, Paulo Fernandes, took me around his business. It is always impressive to see how these fine yarns are spun from bales of raw cotton. By the way, as with Mundifios, a lot of Swiss machinery and know-how is often involved in this process. The spinning mill is equipped with Rieter and Saurer spinning machines. Mundifios promised to provide more information on the origin of GOTS organic cotton. That should enable us to create even more transparency about our supply chains
The trip to Portugal was definitely worth it. The contact and the relationship with our suppliers is very important to us. Possibility to improve our cooperation or the product often stay closed through the mere exchange of mails and phone calls. Face-to-face conversations are much more helpful. Of course, the visits also allow you to enjoy the Portuguese way of life for a few days, to fill the Pastéis de Nata reservoirs and to get to know new places. After the supplier visits I took some time off to explore the wine-growing area of the Douro Valley before returning to Switzerland. Portugal, até breve!