In the new Textile column, I’M Firenze Digest investigates the world of textiles applied to different areas of fashion, art, sustainability and technology, to underline the complex connections that exist between them.
A leader in the Italian textile industry, Manteco is a three-generation business that has traced new ways for sustainable thinking. During a workshop held at Istituto Marangoni Firenze in 2022, the Prato-based textile brand presented the story and the philosophy behind its success to the students of the Master’s Course in Fashion, Art and Textile Innovation.
By Giulia Piceni. Images courtesy of Mattia Trovato, Manteco
THE ORIGIN OF A TUSCAN KNOW-HOW
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And what a hard time the 1940s were in Italy: the peninsula was economically depleted and devastated by the tragedy of the war. Due to the lack of financial support, the limited amounts of raw materials coming from abroad and the lack of domestic sheep pastures, the Italian textile industry was in deep crisis. But there was a place in Southern Italy, Resina (now known as Ercolano) where great quantities of garments and textile goods made of high-quality wool were collected by charitable institutions and later auctioned.
Enzo Anacleto Mantellassi had the incredible intuition to develop a mechanical process in Prato that aimed to create heavy wool blankets by shredding the original fabrics and turning them into wool yarns. The colour range was quite limited due to the few colours used by the army, to whom the initial clothes normally belonged. Also, because they wouldn’t use any chemical products, the process was really inexpensive.
By buying a decadent spinning mill in 1941, Mantellassi declared the beginning of a three-generation business that brought Italian expertise and sustainability into the luxury world in those decades.
Such is the tale narrated to Istituto Marangoni Firenze students of the Master Course in Fashion, Art and Textile Innovation, who had also the chance to go on site and visit the factory in Prato, to discover the sustainable process used by Manteco.
Time has changed and our era has new needs to meet: climate change, pollution, microplastics and nature’s exploitation are just some of the problems that Manteco is striving to counter through an environmentally conscious way of operating. The company has nothing to do with greenwashing and adheres to the principles of the 2030 UN Agenda for sustainable development.
Manteco aims for high-quality products and zero-waste fabrics, achieving this goal by repurposing production scraps too. We can’t deny it: fashion is wasteful, and the only way to make it more sustainable is to encourage a circular economy. 100 billion pieces of clothing are made every year and only 1% of them is recycled globally.
Just to give you a hint of Manteco’s impact on the industry, 15% of repurposed fibres are worked in Prato. Also, to be as sustainable as possible, fabric must not be deteriorated and should have high wear resistance – and Manteco’s textiles surely do. Once the raw materials get to the factory, pieces that are going to be recycled are separated from those that can still be used. The latter goes straight to vintage markets, ready for a new life. This process is called sbambolatura. Once the wool is manually cleaned of all non-wool elements such as zips, patches, and decorations, all the goods are shredded and later blended for the spinning process.
The felts are divided into yarns and the thread is warped and weaved: the result of this process is the creation of a fabric that still needs some finishing before it’s ready to be sold. Manteco’s fabrics are also chemical- and dye-free; with their patented Recype process, Manteco can mix specific percentages of recycled wool and blend them together to create new colours. More than 1000 new wool colours have been created so far and are available in Manteco’s Archive.
IN BETWEEN ART & FASHION
Manteco has collaborated multiple times with both the art and fashion industries by supporting emerging talent or established professionals. The company’s innovative and sustainable model was shown at the Italian Pavilion during the Biennale Architettura 2021 through a wool yarn installation that represented both the three colours of the Italian flag and the three main phases of the MWool process.
The Ligurian photographer Jacopo Benassi narrated the Prato textile district through a visual book titled The Belt, which was followed by an exhibition in Centro d’arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato. The project has been released also thanks to Archivio Manteco, which is not only the brand’s tangible heritage and DNA, but also a huge source of inspiration for many students and designers.
Giulia Piceni is an undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.