This article has been published in Journal de Nîmes 14: The Azzurri Issue.
An interview with Manuel Canova, Co-owner of the factory and founder of high-end denim label IMJIT Manufactus.
The best way to describe the extraordinary factory in where all Italian Tenue de Nîmes jeans are designed and produced is by admitting it is not really a factory. I look at our facility as a laboratory, a boiler room where jeans are designed, developed and made in one single space. It is the only factory I ever stepped foot in, that actually makes haute couture for Parisian and British designers as well as jeans for companies such as Tenue de Nîmes. It’s a constant clash of cultures as well as expertise and that to me makes our Tenue de Nîmes factory so unique. But our Tenue de Nîmes factory in Italy would not be the same without the lifework of denim ’scientist’ Manuel Canova and his mother Loretta.
The laboratory of the Canova family was established in the 1980s, during the true denim Eldorado in the Veneto area thanks to emerging denim brands like Diesel and Replay. But also brands such as Armani and Dolce & Gabbana made the Venice area their playground for world domination.
"Veneto was the valley of denim during that time. When my mother founded the company, Diesel was a company that housed only six employees.” Despite this modest amount of people Diesel started their operations with, it was the start of an Italian denim era.
The story goes that factories in the 90s did not even wait for denim orders to come in: They just produced as much as they could because they new the demand was endless anyway.
"During the 1990s my mother was producing 1000 jeans per day”. A lot has changed since then.
Today, the focus for the Canova family is on niche brands and products that actually 'add something to the world'. Take it slow, make something beautiful is what makes every day an exciting day for the Canova family and their team.
"I started assisting my parents in the factory at the age of 14. In the beginning I only got to do the simple things like making belt-loops and applying rivets. Every single holiday, or free afternoon I spent at the factory”. Manuel literally grew up between piles of jeans.
He started his career in knitwear business before he joined his mother in the family company that has been manufacturing jeans in Italy since the 1980s. His employer back then worked for brands like Maison Martin Margiela and Borgonuovo, a made by order line from Armani who make special wool garments in for instance cashmere for their VIP clientele.
“My experience in the knitwear business made me understand that true luxury - although I don’t really like that word - could be translated into denim too. A price was built by the history of the product and the standards it was made by. My time before attending the company feels like a Master's Degree to me, it was my personal University”.
When I asked Manuel about the analogy between couture and high-end jeans in one space he answered that high fashion is very important to understand.
“In order to create a really great product, you have to capture millimetres, not kilometres. You need to be perfect on a very limited space.”
“In my lab I love to combine working for couture brands and denim labels side by side. Jeans and couture are much more similar than one would think. People tend to underestimate denim design. There is the fit, the touch, a look and sometimes a wash too. When you work on a classic jacket though, you just cut and you sew. Jeans consist of a complex chain of steps that can all make or break the perfect jean.”
"If I touch silk today, and tomorrow denim we can approach them both in a different way the next time. Because we know both.”
In Manuel’s world the similarity between couture and denim is the research that goes behind it.
"I believe a great jean never looses its value. That can of course be said about couture too. The ideal concept in my mind is to create denim within the standards of couture. That is the future of denim in my opinion. I look for the technical development of denim and design. Think of a great time-piece: It is the movement, the image and spirit around it. Old cars have that too I think. How many products actually get better by age? I know denim does.”
Manuel’s facility is so much more than a place where they make what people ask them to make. They co-create.
"We are an a-typical company because we don’t create product. The best way to explain is to say that we create concepts. We take a lot of risk like that, but in my opinion the safe way kills your brain. I have no interest in being part of the mass market. I want to grow with the portfolio I believe in. But in an organic way. I want to create special things for people with the same point of view. Mass market product to me is ‘cold’ product. When you touch one of my jeans for one second you acknowledge the passion behind it."
So as Manuel never really was interested in the question of numbers, he not once asked us a minimum order quantity from which he knew we could not swallow it. Manuel has been, since day one, interested in the philosophy behind our Tenue de Nîmes brand. In his opinion: The rest will follow naturally.
“Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with making a company bigger, but we need to maintain the level of quality at all times. I derive great inspiration from the car industry. Take Ferrari, it's big - but still something special.”
“It's interesting to mix our knowlegde with the wants and taste of the designers we work with. Blending their taste with our expertise is really amazing. Their brands are like my children. I take a lot of risk with them. I'm in this to create a ’new history’. The world is full of brands, full of jeans, full of everything. But what is pure in the market? It is product made with passion, it's knowledge. We don’t want to make the same every single day. That’s why we make so much different things in our lab. I love that our masters get to grow their expertise every day. It’s like a continuous research."
“It's the mix of concepts that creates something unique. It brings unusual inspiration. It is not normal, I'm aware of that, but to me it's the way to do it”.
"Well made products are true sustainability to me. Sustainability is about not making shit. It kills the world. It's the future to everything: Not too much stuff, good stuff. Have a good family. Enjoy good and honest food. That’s what sustainability is all about. I like my workers to have a good life. I wouldn't want myself to become rich by stealing their free time. I believe that I'm not here to make their lives hard in order to accomplish my dreams. I prefer to work hard myself. Walk that extra mile. This is what our family is all about. We are a Catholic community. We take care of each other and the people around us. It's how we were brought up in this part of Italy."
When you walk around in this country there is beauty and taste everywhere. Think of the red marble side walks in Padova, when you walk over it you might not even see it. These things are in our DNA. In Italy people also like to work with their hands. Italian’s tend to invest in good things like food. We have four seasons and we can therefore create a variety of things during the whole year. Everybody in this region grows vegetables in their garden. They grow tomatoes and radicchio. It’s that respect to nature that inspires people."
After the crisis a lot of craftsmanship disappeared but the Italians seem to have the mentality and the strength to look for new ways.
“The future of this business can never be in the hands of the big chains. How is it possible that we think there is free will behind a t-shirt that costs €5,- in the store? You don’t help the system by buying such things. It is killing families you know. Big groups make money thanks to pricing. But did they make something noteworthy?”
Instead Manuel makes that one special product you take with you on a journey around the world. He is transmitting values and keeping the spirit of great products alive.
“I want to make something vibrant for the customers. I want to be proud of my products. I prefer to create a few things, but create real value. Something hard to replicate, like a Lamborghini”.