By the reckoning of fast fashion – a model that offers a rapid turnover of very current styles at very affordable, almost disposable prices – Slowear sounds positively old-fashioned, which is one thing a clothing company can ill afford to be. However, the Italian clothing group is, as its name suggests, in no hurry to deliver radical changes of style to drive sales.
‘Slowear seemed like the right summation of our philosophy, even if it’s an odd word,’ says the group’s co-founder Roberto Compagno, whose Venice-based Incotex family clothing business, established by his father, began trading in 1951. ‘We’re against fast fashion in the way the slow food movement is against fast food. That idea was pretty exotic just 10 years ago and a lot of people in the industry thought we were pretty strange guys. Now it’s more widely understood.’
In keeping with a niche consumerism that demands sustainability and cradle-to-grave design in other products, Slowear aims to bring the same standard to clothing. Compagno believes that, just as a growing interest in provenance is being applied to foodstuffs, it will also be applied to clothing, especially as the fashion consumer’s understanding of manufacturing, margins and build quality improves, in large part thanks to the internet.
To this end, the company has an unusual structure. The original Incotex business began by making military uniforms before specialising in trousers, ‘and over time there was really nothing we could do with trousers that we hadn’t done, so we started to apply the same idea to other products’, says Compagno. A spate of acquisitions saw it take under its umbrella other little-known but best-in-class specialists, including Glanshirt in shirts, Montedoro in outerwear and Zanone in knitwear, and launch a new clothing line, Archivio, based around fabrics from the Incotex archive.
These ‘slower brands’, as Compagno calls them, still remain, sold both wholesale and behind the fascias of a growing number of Officina Slowear stores. A second Paris store opened recently, as did one in Padua, with many more shops in the offing, including one in New York. Slowear is picking up speed.
Then there is its approach to design. Rather than create seasonal collections, it launches new products regularly, but as and when it sees fit: when, in short, its technical department – which absorbs 5% of turnover in research and development – has created something new. It has an impressive track record in this. Among its proprietary fabrics are Chinolino, a cotton/linen blend that retains the breathability of the latter and the softness of the former, or Incochino, a yarn-dyed gabardine with a three-way construction that took five years to develop. There is also Flexwool, Ice Cotton and Shade Cashmere – all of which are high-tech without looking it.
The company can also lay claim to a pioneering garment-dyeing technique – applying dye to the finished garment rather than making it up from dyed fabric. Production is meticulous, too: each Glanshirt shirt, for instance, is washed three times using a process that does not distress the fabric but gives it a lived-in feel.
‘There are plenty of stories of old Italian companies still doing it now as they did decades or centuries ago,’ says Compagno. ‘But that’s really not us. We use the most technically advanced machinery on the market with the intention of pushing innovation to make the best products. Our thinking is that if you get the fit and proportions right, these are clothes that will still work and still look modern in 50 years. Ours is an approach that, I think, is forward-looking. Making poor quality or insanely expensive products just doesn’t seem right for the times now. Consumers want to take a more personal approach to finding products that are right for them. The recession has meant they care less about brand. They want innovation and quality at a reasonable price.’
That applies to the shopping experience as well. As if to underline the company’s value-for-money philosophy, interiors budgets are kept tight: there’s no marble or expensive glass. That, as Compagno notes, just wouldn’t be right for a brand that is championing substance over flashiness, longevity of use over fashion’s fleetingness. ‘In recent years fashion, almost by definition, hasn’t looked to quality because there has been no point,’ he says. ‘The fashion is over before you know it. But that approach is changing. And brands will have to change, too.’