I’ve been meaning to document my recent trips to Italy. This trip was summer of 2018 where I took Terry Hurst (friend, film photographer, intern – industrial engineering) with me to visit some manufacturers, cloth mills, and the trade show Pitti Uomo in Florence.
The first half of the trip was spent in Florence. I booked an airbnb next to where I thought the trade show was – I assumed it was at the Pitti Palace. We could see the palace from our window. Instead it was a 25 minute walk north to Fortezza da Basso (facepalm). Complaining about having to walk through the most charming city in the world would be a sin though. My rookie mistake turned into an opportunity to see almost the entire city on foot. Florence is like nothing else if you haven’t been.
The second half of the trip was spent in northern Italy, mostly Milan and its surrounding areas. First we took a 3.5 hour drive out to a rural town north of Venice. The drive itself was so calming. After being in a cramped, fast-paced environment, it was so nice to see such an open part of Italy. We drove back the same day to our airbnb in northern Milan. Terry and I searched forever to find a place that was open late to eat and we happened upon the best place, Porter’s Good Stuff. Now, I’m not one for eating American food abroad. Porter’s was a bbq joint with the most amazing brisket sandwich and “chips” which were thick-cut potato chips with a perfect seasononing on them. We went there 3 nights in a row, maybe 4. It was to the point where I knew how to drive to and from there to our apartment without using GPS.
Anyway, I digress. If you know me, you know that in another life I’d be a food blogger. I could write 3 pages on Porter’s alone, not to mention other places we went and the gelato we ate.
By this time it was the weekend so there wasn’t much work to be done. So we took a train into central Milan. We visited the famous Duomo (amazing), and the mall just next to it, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The mall had every luxury brand ever known to man. It was fun to pretend like we could afford things there and test out the nicer colognes and check out the latest products from our favorite brands. That night we ate at Porter’s again…
The next day we drove up to Como to see what the lakes were all about. It’s amazingly beautiful and I recommend visiting. I can’t say much more. We ate at Porter’s again that night on our way home.
Then dreadful Monday came along which was the last full day of the trip. We had visits to cloth mills to visit that day which I was really excited about. The first place we visited was in Como. It was a large tie fabric mill and manufacturer. They make ties for the biggest luxury brands out there. It was a blast searching threw the patterns and archives. Though after visiting, I came to the realization that the company was too big for us, and we were too small for them. They were a rather large corporation that required really high minimums. And truth is, after we visited another mill, we realized that their patterns weren’t that great to begin with (especially compared to the other.
After this visit, we drove out to Biella. I wish we had an entire day in Biella. This is the heart of suit fabric mills. It’s extremely green, up in the mountains with the water from the Swiss Alps running through which supposidly is what makes the fabrics so soft. And unfortunately, we only had time to go to one mill. We visited REDA, a mill that’s been around since the 1800’s and is the most sustainable mill in the world. They don’t waist any wool whatsoever. Any wool that isn’t up to their standards they sell to surrounding mills. They own the entire milling process, even down to owning their own sheep farm in New Zealand. The two people there to give us a tour, Sole and Domenico, were the nicest people and were so stoked that we were visiting. The machinery was unbelievable. The coolest thing to see was watching a plaid pattern come to life. The way they orchestrated each spool of yard to be woven into the correct places was amazing. I wish we had more time to visit there, but we had to run back to Como to make our last work visit.
After Reda, we drove back to Como to visit another fabric mill for ties. They produce some of the most unique silks, wools, and blends out there. They also produce a shirt fabric that costs ten times as much as any shirt fabric I’ve used and it has to be stored in a damp room like cigars. The guy running the show, Giorgio, is the innovation behind it all. The patterns and color combinations were unlike any tie fabrics I’ve seen. I felt like a kid in a candy store looking at the patterns, some used by the most unique tie/accessory brands out there. Their minumums were small and a lot more friendly to small businesses, since they are one themselves. We had to jet because it was towards the end of the work day and Italians do not like to work past the normal work day (who does though, right?). You might be wondering why I don’t have ties, the purpose of visiting was to get started on an online accessory company separate from Magro, but products that I could sell through Magro as well. It’s coming along and I’m excited to share what’s in the works.
That same day I reached out via Facebook to an old friend of mine who I had known while living in Madrid, Carlos. He was from Milan and I was hoping he was still around there. He was just accross the border of Switzerland in a small mountain town near Lugano. We drove up there to eat dinner with his beautiful family. In order to drive on the highway/freeway in Switzerland you have to pay a heavy fee to put a sticker on your window so he advised to just take the surface streets. I’m glad we did because it was so much more scenic on that route. His town was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. When you see pictures or movies of Switzerland, it’s actually like that. They lived in a modest home on the mountainside. While there, he took us to his “quiet place” so to speak. We walkted through someone’s gate and up a steep hill with tall, thick grass. It was on a hillside overlooking the lake in Lugano. Again, it was like nothing else. Being from Arizona, I couldn’t believe how green it is there. We sat and just enjoyed the moment, then hiked back down and drove back to his home to eat (the food was amazing – but I’ll save you from my food blogging for another day).
Extras & Takeaways
There were a couple other places we visited along the way from city to city. From Florence to Milan we went out of our way to “smell the roses”. We briefely stopped at Pisa for 30 minutes (which is all you need). I’ll never forget as we walk around the corner and see the leaning tower, Terry started laughing, and he couldn’t stop. I wish I was filming.
After that, we drove our way up the coast to Cinque Terre and picked one town to explore, Manarola.
Slow it down.
One big takeaway for me was what “Made in Italy” means. Everything moves a little slower there. People value their time with family and friends. They value their time with food, meals can last hours there (my kind of lunch break ;)). What I found was, instead of trying to pump out high volume at just “adequate” quality, they prefer to do low volume, with the most exceptional quality. They don’t worry about reaching all the customers in the world. They are highly specialized in the field they work in, and focus on that alone. They know when to say no to potential customers, and that’s important. It’s not about fast fasion. It’s about providing the best. To me, that’s winning. I try to model how I do business after this lifestyle. Maybe I don’t design as many suits as the big guy, but I put a lot more in to each suit – quality, time, and attention.
Don’t be so serious.
The other thing I noticed is that the Italian people were very happy in general. The workers were happy, the employers were happy, and everyone we dealt with seemed to be genuinely happy. People didn’t seem so caught up in the rat race. They showed up, put in their best work, and then went home and lived their lives. It was a reminder to me to find the enjoyment in what I do again. As a business owner, it’s easy to get tense and feel like every minute I need to be making money. I started this business out of passion, not for money. When I remember that, I begin to enjoy it again. I can’t believe what I do for “work”. I’m extremely grateful to all my customers who have supported this work so that I can continue in these passions. It’s been five years now since I started but it feels like it was a week ago that I started because I love going in to work. This trip was a good reminder to not take who I am and what I do too seriously. Suiting is often viewed as very serious (Just think of a dude standing next to a lamborgini in white pants and pink jacket and very serious face). It doesn’t need to be. It can be fun. Wearing a suit shouldn’t change who you are when you wear it.
One of the biggest takeaways from this trip was to learn to stop and live in the moment. Terry is the best at this. At any given moment, he’s just stoked. Stoked to be there, wherever there is. Like Pisa, I was stressed about the parking situation (long story), but when he started laughing at the Tower of Pisa, I forgot about any stress and became aware of and appreciated where I was. Throughout the trip I couldn’t get him to stop taking photos. He doesn’t take photos to show off “look at me, I’m in Italy”, but rather he can’t help but to stop and capture moments. Whatever that moment is. Follow his photography here. You’ll especially love his work if you’re from Arizona. He captures AZ different than anyone I know and it’s awesome. Most of these images were taken by him.