Interview with Giovanni Benelli

Giovanni Benelli
Giovanni Benelli

The segment of stretch yarns is a necessity, not an option anymore
The history of Elasten marks the history of stretch fabrics worldwide and the avant-garde structure that distinguishes it both for quality, typology and production capacity making it the largest in the world. In an interview with Fibre2fashion, Giovanni Benelli, Director of Elasten, speaks about the journey of Elasten as a company and throws light on how the market of stretch yarns is poised to grow in the next 5-10 years.

What is the worldwide market size of stretch yarns?

The market of stretch yarns is huge. Actually it is divided in many typologies. Our segment is the most beautiful, intended for the medium high/high market which is obviously the most expensive.

How do you see the market segment of stretch yarns growing in the next 5-10 years both locally and internationally?

The segment of stretch yarns is a necessity, not an option anymore. Thus, even while evolving it will remain a necessity for the next 5/10 years. More sustainable productions will be found but once one tries the comfort of stretch, he cannot go backwards, maybe for some garments in the wardrobe but not for the entirety of lifestyle.

How did your father discover the elasticised linen accidently? Which are your patented products?

My father has always been a hard worker. Since the time I was born till my adolescence, I saw him less than half an hour in a day because he was always working. He reached linen when I was already working in the company and I could see all the studies and trials he did. Thus, we can speak about a discovery achieved after long study, not ‘accidentally’. He applied a new way of thinking which was unusual at that time. Since then we extended this method to so many kinds of yarns.

Our patented products are many. It is actually a family of products including linen, hemp, ramie/nettle and others which we elasticise with various elastic natural or synthetic materials at one or more plies. Our patents are valid in most parts of the world and cover both yarns and deriving fabrics to produce a patented exclusive garment. Hemp and linen are currently the most required material thanks to their natural properties of thermoregulation and anti-bacterial. Besides being the greenest and most sustainable fibre of excellence, hemp and linen in the stretch version are something never seen nor tried.
How did your father discover the elasticised linen accidently? Which are your patented products?

What is the growth story of Elasten?

Elasten has always elasticised any kind of yarns. For a long time it was the exclusive twisting company for fabric maker Milior Prato, a leading company in the production of stretch fabrics in the 90’s/2000/2010. For example you will remember the Prada Luna Rossa team boat competing in the American Cup; its clothing was made with our yarns. Before Elasten, my father owned a spinning mill producing carded yarns and my grandfather together with his own grandfather (5th generation) owned a wool mill producing fabrics with carded wool.

At the end of the 80’s, the carded spinning declined and Elasten was founded thanks to the intuition of various entrepreneurs including my father and it grew into the world’s largest facility of this kind.

Where do you source your raw materials? How agile is your supply chain? What steps do you take to ensure transparency at every stage?

Our suppliers mainly come from Europe and China. Our production processes are completely internal and this guarantees big flexibility. We are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified and we also have GOTS certification as a productive chain segment for some of our customers. We sell our yarns but also work with third parties. Thus we consider ourselves very flexible in terms of working with small and big quantities. The quality control is completely internal to our company and this guarantees quality.

How many third-party customers do you have?

About fifty customers.

Where is the manufacturing facility of Elasten based at?

Italy, Prato, located twenty kilometres far from Florence in the beautiful Tuscany.

What are the innovative elastic techniques you employ to manufacture various types of stretch yarns?

Our different techniques are protected by our international patents and are aimed at enhancing the beauty of the fibre we elasticise playing with its characteristics.

What is the production capacity of your yarns?

2,500 kgs per day.  It depends on which count of yarn we are producing

What are the various applications of your stretch yarns?

Our stretch yarns are intended for woven fabrics, flat and circular knitting, fashion and technical clothing, furnishing, footwear and automotive.
What are the various applications of your stretch yarns?

Who are your competitors in the international market?

It is hard to find competitors. If you want an optimal product which is ‘out of the box’ with certain characteristics and you are willing to spend a little bit more, then we are the sole producers.

Which are the major markets for your products? Which regions you would like to tap in future?

Some time ago we thought that our most ‘obvious’ markets were western countries and US. In the last three years we’ve started knocking at the door of the world best producers located in Pakistan, China, Vietnam, India... who rightly have an increasing need to get beautiful products into their collections, they cannot be oriented to the mass market only anymore but also need to point at medium/high – high market. From our side we have been making many efforts and having a lot of expenses for sampling, travels, exhibitions, but we are slowly seeing our market growing.

What kind of capacity expansion are you planning in future?

We think we can expand widely as the customers we target to have huge productive capacity even though we are aware that one kilogram of our yarn is ten times more expensive than one kilogram they habitually use. We would never like to move our productive headquarters to a low-price country. We strongly care about our domestic productive chain that we are proud of.

Thus, we offer the possibility to our customers of buying the license to produce our items inside their companies providing them with possible studies on new projects.

How do you keep a track of textile market trends and other related information?

Our sales department is small but we travel, listen to our partners, customers, suppliers  as we are always driven by our curiosity towards new trends and in this way we manage to get an idea of what can be carried out and what isn’t worth. Our sampling machine is always running, even at Christmas or New Year’s eve.
I try to understand the market needs. I try to make some samples of yarns meeting such requirement. Then my father, me and the rest of the team follow the production process.

Which new technologies are you investing in?

We’re investing in our patents and in our sales structure. The first is our point of strength. The second is our weakness but as we have improved it a little bit, we can already see the positive results. We need to learn.

Sustainability and circularity are the buzz words today. How do you incorporate this in your works?

We’ve always worked with carded regenerated yarns as recycled carded yarns were born in Prato and, as I said before, my father owned a carded spinning mill. Another vision of sustainability is ethics in work and kilometre zero, which we trust a lot and Italy in general is a great messenger of that.

This means that our patents are a way to keep work inside our country and in the meantime bring foreign companies do the same so that we do not move the goods too much from one side of the world to another. We try to import materials from near countries and are Oeko- Tex certified. We don’t do any dyeing process.

What percentage of sustainability and circularity do your yarns and fabrics promise?

We use more than 50 per cent of recycled yarns and the yarns we elasticise, thus of our customers’ property, are over 50 per cent recycled.

The products we sell have a small recycling percentage, about 10 per cent. Their sustainability level is nearly 90 per cent since we sell mainly linen and hemp and similar materials. They’re currently the most sustainable in the market. 

Linen is a fibre which is European by history and tradition. The entire process of production takes place in Europe, limiting the transportation impact and encouraging the employment of those communities that traditionally have been dedicated to the processing of this special fibre. Linen, hemp and ramie/nettle are sustainable and environmentally friendly: they produce no waste since all parts are used. Linen does not need watering, since it is the alternation of sun and rain typical of the regions of Western Europe that cares for its growth.

Nature, composition and architecture of the fibres give these materials excellent properties:  maximum resistance, high capacity to absorb humidity, insulating and thermo-regulating properties, non-allergenic characteristics.

Linen mainly comes from Europe where it was born, hemp and ramie/nettle usually come from China where production has recently been industrialised.

All the processes necessary to bring natural fibres together with innovative stretch fibres are made in Italy in our company.

The result from using our yarns is a fabric able to confer a pleasant sensation of freshness and naturalness combined with modern comfort that accompanies one who wears it the whole day without giving away the elegance as it follows the body's contour perfectly. Out of this reason, we created the trademark élin identifying these special products.

How has the yarn and fabric market of Italy got affected due to the recent coronavirus outbreak? What are the long-term implications?

Coronavirus outbreak has deeply affected the market. We are still working these days but we are experiencing a drastic slowdown which will very probably lead us to stop shortly. And it is also a matter of preventing infection within the internal staff.

Long-term implications depend on when the markets will go up again. For example, China may shortly re-open shops, thus luxury or medium/high level brands may start ordering again. Other countries will follow. It is a very uncertain period; I think nobody is able to give a reply now.

In my opinion Covid-19 will bring more ethics to work and may bring the willingness to buy goods in a more sustainable way from near countries or maybe within the internal market for internal consumption. It would be a desirable scenario.
How has the yarn and fabric market of Italy got affected due to the recent coronavirus outbreak? What are the long-term implications?

What are your growth expectations from the company for the next two fiscals?

Following coronavirus outbreak, it is not possible, at least for us, to foresee the effect and reply to this question. We humbly prefer to cross our fingers, wearing gloves and masks ofcourse. (PC)
Published on: 24/03/2020

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