Whew. I’m exhausted. We just returned from a whirlwind trip to Holland to visit family and friends (gotta love Ryan Air!) returning via Como so that I could select the new scarf collection. Hans, being the good sport that he is accompanied me, it was so much nicer than being alone!
I found so many beautiful fabrics I had a hard time deciding which and how many…honestly, I feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m purchasing scarves.
I always stay in a tiny quiet friendly village along the lake as I find the city of Como to be , well, noisy. I guess I’m totally spoiled living here in the countryside where the only noise at night are owls, nightingales and our cats prowling about.
Lake Como is a beautiful place; glorious villas and charming towns hang on the steep sides of the narrow long deep blue lake.
This week it was grey and rainy in Como, so I didn’t take many photos outdoors, because they all looked like this:
But, I’m in Como to do business so I’m mostly indoors, catching up on the lives of the people I’ve been working with for years, touching, seeing and inhaling beautiful fabrics and doing my best to drive hard bargains.
I’ve always enjoyed bargaining, I consider it an art form…one needs to respect the unspoken rules and the person you’re bargaining with. It’s a seesaw of giving and taking done with knowledge, humor and good will which results in both parties feeling that the final transaction is just and fair.
At each manufacturer I am offered a coffee and a good 45 min or more is spent chatting. Doing business in Italy requires a lot of chatting and developing personal relationships.
The latest stories about families, politics and every day life are exchanged. Then invariably I’m told about this factory and that factory closing. Fabric printers, fabric manufactures, factories that dye fabric, factories that sew, finish, etc closing their doors.
Most of these places are small to medium sized family run businesses that simply cannot compete with the markets’ ever growing love affair with really inexpensive products.
Recently woven silk fabric destined to be printed
In Como, the textile workers are paid a decent wage with wonderful state benefits (like free health care), given a 4-5 week paid yearly holiday, paid sick days and national holidays and so on and so forth. The dyes are EU approved and expensive measures are taken against polluting with waste products. The yarns are spun, dyed and woven here, then cut, sewn and packaged here.
As I’m sure your getting the picture, it’s an expensive process.
Weaving a jacquard silk fabric. See the burgundy fabric on the bottom roll?
I am told stories about how the fabrics are copied by some unscrupulous manufactures abroad…then made with less threads and inferior quality fibers, silk often cut with poly, so they look the same in a photo, but are not the same at all. They are then marketed as being exactly the same as the original quality tie or scarf or whatever.
Hand checking a printed fabric for any flaws
Everyone is worried. There is economic crisis in Europe. All of the places I buy from are amazing businesses that work their tails off trying to stay in business without cutting corners with wages, working conditions or product quality.
I am awed by their perseverance.
Tying silk threads onto the needles. This woman has fingers that literally fly, so nimble!
The designers are amazing too…each manufacture makes new designs of textiles twice a year…these are not factories that churn out oodles of meters of the same fabric year in and year out.
The designers work with the buyers…every buyer is different, and different countries have different tastes…both in style and pattern. For example, right now in much of central Europe, extra large scarves are popular while at the same time in Japan, skinny delicate scarves are popular. I find this all fascinating as I love all sizes and shapes of scarves.
Showing off some new designs
design room and fabric samples. Computer programs are used to see different colors on a pattern. I’ve often sat with the designer, changing colors (a little deeper blue on this part etc…) on a pattern until it is to my liking before an item is off to the printers!
Fortunately in Como, lunch time is still sacred. They take less time than down here in Le Marche, but regardless an hour and a half is still dedicated to that most wonderful time.
A typical working people’s trattoria near one of the factories
So now on to the less exciting business of cataloging, giving identities and writing descriptions. I get what I call square eyeballs from so many hours behind the computer doing this. One of these days I really need to learn how to type properly…I type with 2 fingers on one hand. It’s tedious and my own fault for never learning.
Next week, photographing. I’m not a photographer and I do my best, but I know the photos can be better. I’ve asked my friend Domenico, a professional photographer to give me a hand this time and he graciously accepted. I’m so excited to get some professional help!