June 22, 2021

How 200 years of slow fashion run fast

6 min read

Brothers Mario and Carlo Colombo, owners of the Italian textile factory Tessitura La Colombina as the fourth generation, are running their company from the 1800s keeping faith to the same care for quality and craftsmanship, caring for today’s fashion needs and desire to transfer their knowledge to the next generation.

Can you tell us briefly about your company?
Our story is tied to a thread. All began in 1895 when our grand-grandfather, Angelo Colombo, started first working as director of a spinning mill in Lombardy, in Northern Italy, and after that he opened his own mill. Then Mario Colombo, our grandfather, built a large silk factory with 120 spinners, in Badoere, near Treviso, in Veneto region, which became operative by the 1940s.

In order to face a crisis of those years caused by the invention of nylon and the competition with Asian cocoon silk growers, our family decided to transform itself from “yarn producers” into “yarn users” and in 1948 they bought 1800s hand looms and started producing wool fabrics and accessories.

Our father Giuseppe Colombo, Mario’s son, started working in the company in the 1960s when the company became a specialist in producing machine-knitted wool accessories like scarves, shawls, ponchos and laces, and in the 1990s he created the brand Nicki Colombo further increasing the quality and design of its products.

From left: Mario and Carlo Colombo, owners, Tessitura La Colombina

Photo: Valentina Iaccarino

From left: Mario and Carlo Colombo, owners, Tessitura La Colombina

At the beginning of the 2000s, we, as the fourth generation of the family, entered the company. In 2002, Mario came and created new synergies for the Nicky Colombo brand, and in 2012, Carlo joined and renovated the 19th century hand-looms that had not been used since the 1990s actualizing them to “handloom 2.0” with small updates. This way he brought back to life Tessitura La Colombina by producing niche accessories and handwoven customized textiles made with Made in Italy high-quality natural fibers such as cashmere, silk and precious wools.

We like to say we have a 720° expertise: Mario is 360° specialized in modern knitting production and Carlo is the 360° weaving expert. It’s the richness of two souls that are united together.

What are you bestsellers? Woven fabrics or knitwear?
Our knitwear brand Nicky Colombo counts on a longer history, and knitwear counts for the majority of our sales. Though weaving is in our DNA, even if it was stopped for the last 30 years.

Is every productive step at Tessitura La Colombina handmade?
Everything is handmade here in terms of weaving. The warper here belongs to the beginning of the 1900s and was originally moved with the craft produced by a boiler from a steam locomotive. Moreover, our 14 octagonal handlooms belong to our past history. For preparing our warp we use up to 7,000 yarns, all passed by hand. Only mounting them takes two days and half.

Warp preparation

Photo: Tessitura La Colombina

Warp preparation

What fabrics do you produce?
We like to produce fabrics that cannot be woven with mechanical weaving machines. We prefer those that can be produced by changing the structure of the weave every time we want. Furthermore, we produce different fabrics, preferring the natural ones.

We also produce denim, and especially selvedge denim, a plus that belongs to our background. With our looms we can produce fabrics that are 160 cm or 100 cm high, but also 75 cm ones as vintage-denim addicted want…

We use indigo-dyed cotton, but will also use hemp, as it was done in the past. We also want to use paper weft. For this we are in touch with a Japanese company specialized in producing paper yarns since 1600.

How many fabrics do you offer now?
We are working on Carlo’s project “Biblioteca del Tessuto” (“Fabric Library”) through which we want to take fabrics from our archives and start including always new articles as part of our regular offer, a continual and incremental collection that could be always woven in the future, going beyond the concept of seasonal collection. The starting selection of the “library” includes about 20 fabrics, but each of them can be produced in more variants, plus we can change material, design and other aspects. Our “slow factory” allows us to offer a highly-customizable selection of fabrics.

A scarf made by Tessitura La Colombina

A scarf made by Tessitura La Colombina

How long does it take before a fabric is delivered?
It depends on various factors, including the amount of the production our clients require. It may take an average of two or three weeks, but also five days if the yarns are in-house and the warp is already mounted on the loom. In fact, for some basic fabrics, we may use the same warp program sequence to weave different yarns and patterns.

Plus it all varies from fabric to fabric. It might take an average of one meter per hour, but also two meters per hour, or 40 cm per hour, for most elaborate or special ones that use ribbons or strips of fabrics.

We produce 3,500 meters of fabric per year thanks to our three weavers’ work. We wish we could use all of our 14 historical wood handlooms in the future.

What about your prices?
They are adequate for a 100% Made in Italy handmade work. They may vary between €70-€80 per meter and €400 for more complex fabrics. It also depends upon the material as, for instance, cashmere costs €169 per kilo, so only the material for a meter of fabric costs €89-€90. Then consider that the finishing process causes the shrinking of the fabric, therefore to obtain 2.25 meters of fabric you have to weave 2.8 meters.

Did you get any eco-friendly certification?
We as a company are not certified. The cashmere and wool yarns we use are GOTS certified. They are by Cariaggi, a guarantee that the combing of the cashmere goats and the yarn production are done sustainably.

A fabric sketch and sample from the company's archive

Photo: Tessitura La Colombina

A fabric sketch and sample from the company’s archive

What other projects are you working on?
Custom-made, natural fibers and special projects are our craft. That gives us the opportunity to encounter designers’ special needs. Though we also set up a hand weaving school and a company museum as we like the idea we can transfer competences.

As part of our aims, we will launch our first capsule of apparel La Colombina using our own handmade fabrics in fall 2021. It is a perfect complement for our already existing knitwear collection Nicki Colombo.

Exclusively for US designer Geoffrey B Small, we develop special fabrics. We are also starting a co-branding with the Italian sustainable brand Eticlò with Tessitura La Colombina, and, with Cooperativa di Cortina, for our knitwear brand Nicki Colombo. As part of this we have also started a project meant to give new worth to autochthonous Italian wools for producing modern style clothing items and accessories.

We collaborate on sustainable projects with IUAV, a Venice University also focused on fashion, for developing Zero-Waste and sustainable collections, and we also found ways for recycling weaving waste when using cellulosic fibers like hemp and cotton for producing special paper.

We have started hand weaving courses through a partnership with the Veneto Region. Through these courses, we aim to teach how to design, develop and produce a fabric.

Within the enhancing of our heritage as a historic company, we have started restoring an area of our factory in order to host a museum area that shows a part of our company’s past.

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