The majority of NJAL’s designers seem to agree that one of the problems with fashion today is mass production and fast fashion.
One man working at opposite pace, in a field without which clothing could not exist – is fabric designer and manufacturer, Giovanni Bonotto. The grand-son of its founder, Giovanni owns and runs the Northern Italian factory together with his brother Lorenzo. The pair and their team of artisans create fabrics for the likes of leading luxury designer labels, from Dries Van Noten to Saint Laurent Paris to Chanel. Their new manufacturing model, the 'slow factory', re-values the culture of the hand-made: it means producing less, using the highest level of craftsmanship.
Bonotto’s master craftsmen follow the philosophy of 'craftsmanship above all'. Recuperating older machinery, Bonotto’s fabrics are instilled with a sense of integrity and authenticity that could not be achieved using the latest technology. They may lose out to the competition by price, but their true value is in the quality of their Renaissance craftsmanship heritage. Bonotto’s entire production – beyond the Slow Factory – is focused on bringing the craftsmanship and expertise back into textile production that has been lost over the past decades. Read on to be inspired by his appreciation of quality, craftsmanship and expertise.
Tell us about the Bonotto Factory and its unique history.
Bonotto was founded in 1912 as straw hat production unit. Ernest Hemingway ordered his famous straw hat from my great grandfather Luigi for many years.
Then my grandfather Giovanni started traveling for business to NY, London, Paris, where he met Maurice Chevallier and many other artists. My father Luigi started manufacturing fabrics and grew up in the avant-garde of the Sixties and Seventies. His friends included Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Yoko Ono, just to name a few. He became the maecenas of the Fluxus movement and nowadays he is one of the biggest collectors in the world.
What is your role and what do you do within it?
I have been the creative director of Bonotto for 20 years. This means that I invent the fabrics that designers from all over the world come to discover.
You have attracted a lot of attention in the past few years for your revolutionary ‘slow factory’ concept. How did this concept come about?
When Carol Christian Poell became a friend of mine, my life changed. He taught me the culture of hand-crafting and the value of doing things properly. Long chats with the founder of Slow Food, Carlin Petrini, did the rest.
How do you compare your factory to other textile manufacturers in Italy or around the world?
Ten years ago, ten looms made in 1956 in Japan arrived at our factory. The trade union asked us if we had run out of money for new machinery! I explained that the equivalent of ten vintage Rolls Royces had just arrived. Our workers became artisan masters and now we can create fabrics that cannot be technically realized in other factories.
Italian manufacturing is celebrated for retaining its value compared to other Western European fabric and textile producing markets. Why do you think that is?
Italy is still taking advantage of the precious heritage of the Renaissance period, started before 1400, with Giotto, Piero Della Francesca & Leonardo da Vinci. This concept permeates the Italian industrial system. It is in our DNA.
You are the great grandson of Luigi Bonotto, who founded the company; do you think that working in a family oriented company creates a different final product?
No. Sometimes a family dynasty restricts and represents a matter. Ours is a happy example, however we do have discussions about opening to shareholders. This could potentially help us to grow and develop.
How do you approach your work that keeps it new and exciting?
Every morning I wake up happy to work somewhere that is my whole life.
When working with a client, what sort of process is involved and how do you decide who you will deal with?
I try to put on his or her 'hat' to understand the ideas, to translate their dreams to my best ability. Often designers are excited and surprised when they see their ideas become a reality in the fabrics.
Your grandfather was a great collector of art. How has this influenced your approach to the business?
Since I was a child, I lived with masters of contemporary art, and they often looked after me as special babysitters while my parents were at work in our factory. This opportunity allowed me to disarticulate my way of thinking and gave me 'fantasy glasses'.
What would you like to change about the fashion industry?
An overdose of a fashion invested the world (collection, pre collection, cruise, show ...); the problem is that the product has become just another form of communication. As a result, many companies have lost their know-how and competence. Artisan masters have disappeared and lots of managers have grown up in their place. At Bonotto, the masters of texture, filature and dye, cover the strategical roles of the factory.