Interview with Mr. Ettore Lonati

Mr. Ettore Lonati
Mr. Ettore Lonati
Lonati Group
Lonati Group

Born, in Botticino (Brescia) on June, 08 1938, Mr. Ettore Lonati started working in the commercial d

We understand that Lonati SpA has played an important role in the process of development of Italian industry since the end of the World War II. Could you please elaborate on this?

"The history of the Lonati Group is set against the backdrop of post-war industrial development in Italy, and is an excellent example of how, in some sectors, Italian industry has what it takes to become world leader. Francesco Lonati, my father, founded the company in 1945, beginning from scratch, with the production of men’s and children’s sock circular knitting machines. In 1952 he added the women’s stocking machines in the new factory, located at Brescia, which covered approximately 1000 square meters and employed 30 workers, then. In 1956, our company lonati-italyed a machine for producing women’s stocking which supplied the yarn through two feeds. A few years later, Lonati perfected a double cylinder machine for production of men’s socks and in 1969, when the market demanded continuous expansion of industrial plants, Lonati responded by increasing the size of the factory site to 30.000 sq. meters (including 15,000 meters occupied by office blocks) and raising the staff to 300 workers. Around this time, Lonati established an export department to capture overseas markets for this, an efficient sales network of agents and representative around the world was set up. Further, company management was strengthened with the entry into business by me and my brothers, Fausto and Tiberio. Keeping in mind the corporate vision of investing in the future, Lonati introduced electronics circular knitting machines in 1977. Today, the company’s financial performance and strategy of progressive innovation have enabled Lonati to attain leadership in the hosiery machine sector. Lonati SpA is the lead company of the Lonati Group whose forte lies in owning different trade marks in the mechanical, electronic and steel sectors with sound economic track record and attaining world wide leadership in fashion industry machines."

What is the transformation that has occurred through the past 100 years in the circular knitting technology and its end products, especially in case of hosiery textiles?

"One of the most important transformations occurred in the past 100 years in the textile technology has surely been the transition from mechanical technology to the adoption of electronic one. This transition has allowed our company to achieve optimum results that could not be imagined earlier, that ensured consequent reduction of costs, acceleration in production and creation of new opportunities. The new ‘seamless’ process for example, which is used in manufacturing socks and clothes, employs technology akin to manufacturing hosiery items. This turned out to be an astonishing discovery that allowed knitting of ready-made apparel - totally unconventional, a method by itself. Arrival of computer application in the industry is a substantial innovation in all the industrial sectors, and in particular, for the hosiery textile industry. It has helped pave the way to improve work and performance of the machines and allow manufacturers to produce wide range of products in a convenient fashion then that earlier, providing them an opportunity to produce socks that are more fashionable. In fact, during the last 50-70 years, the hosiery textile sector has undergone a sea change and all that has attributed to the success of Italian fashion. The undisputable might and economic significance achieved by the ‘Made in Italy’ campaign obliged all connected with the industries to follow the fashion trends favoring their growth and development to propel themselves in leadership position in several sectors."

Can you throw some light on Machina – Lonati Fashion & Design Institute?

"MACHINA Lonati Fashion and Design Institute is the first school in Italy where vocational training is provided through applied research. It is a post diploma three-year school modeled course leading to the university program. It attracts the best traditions from among the leading European Institutes of design, fashion and marketing. High school or university graduates can join the course, besides offering professionals who want to arm themselves and towards a more complete and updated information enhancing their careers in tune with the constant and latest demands and evolutions in the market places. The courses are unique as far as training technological stylists specialized in the ‘seamless’ technique is concerned. It lays strategic importance on ‘operative’ marketing, linked to the problems of production, of distribution and of the development of the brand recognition related with businesses. It has been able to interpret the true needs of product design through research and project development supported by the technical and technologically rich and updated industrial system. MACHINA Lonati Fashion and Design Institute are the results of synergies between the Adele and Francesco Lonati Foundation (named after its founders of the Industrial Group Lonati) and the Foppa Group Cooperative, which for years, has been operating successfully within our sector and from our country."

What is your company’s market reach and which are the areas that you would like to focus on in the coming years?

"Lonati Group is an established leader in the hosiery machine sector for manufacturing socks and seamless products, as well. It results to be an important reality on world-wide level in the textile-mechanical field thank you to its penetration into the international market covering more than 70% of the total of machines produced in the world. It has a distribution that involves traditional international markets as Europe, North and South America as well as the emergent markets which are quickly growing like China, Turkey, India and Pakistan."

Do you think hosiery and seamless production will move to Asia thanks to the technology provided by European companies like yours which will offer strong competition in global markets?

"I think that one of the reasons that will move or have already partially moved the hosiery and seamless production towards Asia has been the technology provided by European companies, but surely not the only one. I believe it has been an unavoidable evolution due to the growing process of these countries whose economies have developed for several historical and economical circumstances. In this new market Lonati is facing the competition from local textile machine producers that profits from very low costs, specifically on labor costs. Nevertheless, we have been able to maintain our market quotas and technological leadership despite many of the Chinese socks producers having attained high standards of quality."

How big do you estimate the market size of your industry?

Big enough to maintain the leadership in our sector with a production, only for Lonati SpA, for more than 7000 machines a year with 20 different models, and a distribution channel all over the world; both in traditional markets as well in all developing countries.

What are the growth areas that your company would like to specifically focus upon in the coming years?

"Our strategy for growth in the medium term is to focus on strengthening our presence in the developing markets such as Turkey, India, Pakistan, may be Russia, obviously China (and Asia where is it possible), and all those developing countries that will appear on the worldwide market that are growing and approaching interesting economic realities. Quite surprisingly, Central American countries are becoming fascinating market for the socks manufacturers, specially the USA ones, and again for the low costs of salaries or wages. Moreover, these growth areas do not represent only heightened possibilities to find new customers but as they are growing in all fields sectors we will have to fight, as we are already doing, against new competitors."

On the global level, how do you rate your company’s prospects vis-à-vis competition?

On the global level, I can say that wherever possible, we will possibly sell our machines there. This is what the market demands today from those who want to be competitive and posses enough strength to maintain and retain their market share. The changes that took place in the international markets had obliged everybody to work according to the market’s requirements. It is more important to focus in the best way and at the lowest possible costs. That’s what we are aiming at, now!

Do you foresee the need to open new manufacturing facilities or overseas collaborations to get wider market access?

"Considering that Lonati SpA has been the leader in its sector for long, I can say that for the moment we can keep the production in Italy without the need to open new manufacturing facility abroad. Besides, our Group has already begun production of machines in China; in fact Santoni, one of our partners, has set up a mill in Shanghai, last year. We wish to analyze how everything works in order to understand how several advantages that China offers on the production front."

What according to you are the challenges faced by your industry and how can they be overcome in the post quota era?

"To arrive at a flexible market, evolution is fundamental to retain leadership that has been achieved during the past years. Thanks to our experience and attainment of high technological acumen that today, we have and most of all thanks to our winning strategies that are always committed to updating our processes and innovating continuously. A winning strategy that will influence on our future line of action is the reduction of costs obtained through careful management analysis in order to determine vital sectors must be reorganized. Quality itself assumes significance as the best one enhances the product’s intrinsic value. This it is possible thanks to a careful planning that involves all areas of our production processes. Another way is to protect our intellectual property rights (in China, for example) is by registering trade marks and patents in order to defend against piracy of intellectual property which is another crucial issue. We working on this since we have enter the Chinese market, but the main stumbling block is the Chinese legislation that seems to possess several escape routes for counterfeiters to gain grounds. Customer care is very important, and make sure that they feel supported at every step; right from purchase of machine till the production of socks at their factory. This has always been on of our motto and with due credit to our excellent and efficient network of Agents and Distributors across the world."

What kind of future do you envisage for the Seamless Technology?

"Currently, our Group has its presence in 72 countries and it is able to satisfy 97 percent of the world demand of seamless wear machines. At the same time, it continuously strives for success in all the apparel sectors (like underwear, sportswear, beachwear, outerwear and medical wear). Introduction of the SEAMLESS product has revolutionized the global production process. These machines give direct way to the realization of finished products ready to be shipped in to commercial distribution channels, and reduce to the bare standards required, the usual steps to be taken in the production process. This in other words means significant saving of industrial inputs, investments and working costs. Technological development consists of fusion of two fields: hosiery one and knitting technology. The challenge for SANTONI is assuring the market a technology that is able to fulfill demands of the dynamic fashion industry. All these considerations allow us to hope for a brilliant future backed by the fact that the seamless concept has spread all over the world at a lightening speed. Within just three years, seamless underwear products crossed 9 percent by 2001 from among the total global production in this segment, compared with the forecast of 2 percent achieved in 1998, registering an exponential growth of 18 percent in 2003. Growth forecast for 2007 shows increase by over 35 percent in this segment."
Published on: 22/05/2006

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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