Sustainability is in vogue

How a traditional manufacturer is mastering the pandemic: Walter Colombo from Iluna in conversation with Jamie Heather from KARL MAYER

Iluna is a traditional European manufacturing company in the lace sector that has been setting trends in the industry for over 50 years. Already the founder, Luigi Annovazzi, started in 1969 with an epoch-making idea. The entrepreneur wanted to produce preformed bra cups. A short time later, he launched the first moulded cup model, and established his company as a leading supplier in this field. In the mid-1980s, Iluna became the first producer in Europe to start manufacturing elastic lace. In addition, over the years a production and trading network was established with associated companies in Poland, China and the USA. Today, Iluna employs around 300 people worldwide. In its factories, 80 KARL MAYER warp knitting machines are running and producing high-quality textiles: elastic and rigid lace, microfiber articles, tulle and much more. The chic warp-knitted fabrics go into the lingerie, corsetry and swimwear sectors. In addition, Iluna is one of the largest hosiery and seamless garment manufacturers. On their journey to success, the traditional company has overcome many crises. KARL MAYER's lace specialist Jamie Heather wanted to know how Iluna is dealing with the current corona pandemic and how it will continue to be successful in the future, and interviewed  Walter Colombo, R&D Manager at Iluna.

JH: Corona is keeping companies around the world in suspense. What measures and strategies does Iluna use to cope with the challenges of this crisis?

WC: Since the very first day of the pandemic Iluna has adopted meticulous precautions in the workplace and provided to the team protective equipment and also asked them to maintain adequate distancing. The pandemic has prevented the possibility of physical movement making it necessary to have an active digital presence on social media channels, our website and online meetings. These remote methods represent a leap into the future. In a way, it is closely related to sustainability and less travel and greater use of digital channels will continue to be used, even after the pandemic.

JH: Do you also use online possibilities to launch your new collections and to develop new sales channels?

WC: Yes, the collections are presented through a busy calendar of online meetings during which Iluna and its agents show a presentation of trends and products that are also visible by registering on our website where, with various levels of authorization, Customers can access the collections and then sample and buy. Furthermore, we are preparing a restyling of our website with a new, more contemporary simplified look and also a more user-friendly interface for our e-shop.

JH: Is there a new approach to how designs or products are made?

WC: We have invested our time with a different approach to research and development : we are improving our product offer by focusing more and more on sustainability and stylistic innovation. Sustainability is in the details. The company achieves this everyday with Iluna Lab, a cutting-edge research and development centre where laces are conceived and engineered to become sustainable ingredients for the contemporary wardrobe. With our Iluna Lab, we are pioneers and trailblazers in the sustainability trend. Our smart values are attested by the STeP - Sustainable Textile Production by OEKO-TEX® certification for our sustainable approach. We are also the first lace producer to have gained the GRS - Global Recycled Standard for transformed products, and whose products are all certified according to OEKO-TEX® Standard 100. We are on the right track with this orientation. The trend towards sustainable products has been growing for several seasons. It was accelerated significantly by the Corona pandemic.

JH: What product offers do you have that address the trend of sustainability and recycling ?

WC: Currently 70% of our production is made of sustainable materials. We offer two cutting edge sustainable collections, the Green Label and BIOLINE.

Strictly Made in Italy starting from recycled ingredients, the Green Label collection is certified Global Recycled Standard (GRS). Its two key ingredients are the Q-NOVA® by Fulgar polyamide 6.6 fiber, obtained precisely from pre-consumer raw materials, and the premium recycled stretch yarn ROICA™ EF. The high-performing and sustainable yarn is part of the ROICA Eco-Smart™ family made from more than 50% pre-consumer recycled content. This season, the Green Label expands with the world's first 100% GRS certified flocked article: an exclusive development opening up new possibilities for brands and retailers, which is entirely made from recycled materials and allows infinite printing possibilities by offering a highly customizable solution.

The BIOLINE embraces Circular Economy and features the AMNI SOUL ECO® polyamide 6.6 yarn. The fiber is biodegradable in anaerobic conditions and degrades in around 5 years after being disposed of. BIOLINE is also made with the ROICA™ V550 premium sustainable stretch yarn that, once discarded, smartly breaks down without releasing harmful substances into the environment, according to Hohenstein Environment Compatibility Certification. ROICA™ V550 comes also with the Gold Level Material Health Certificate.

Iluna was one of the very first lace manufacturers to use the stretch solutions from the ROICA Eco-Smart™ family. We decided to gradually convert our entire production of elastic laces accordingly.

Furthermore, our textile articles are dyed with environmentally friendly natural dyes. This year Illuna also unveils an exceptional range of natural dyes made with vegetable dyestuff and a colour chart featuring 14 shades - which is constantly expanding. All the dyes are GOTS certified, and their colorfastness meets the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 requirements.

JH: Besides the material, the look is important. For the post-Corona era, many here await a new dawn in the fashion sector. What designs do you have in store for the post-Corona period?

WC: We present a carefree and fresh collection, a summer breeze like a sign of rebirth after a strong period of resilience. Our collection is unexpected and positive and with responsible values for all those who want to make fashion smarter.

JH: Will there be any opportunities for completely new markets, such as lace for men's underwear? Has Iluna been active in this sector?

WC: We have already developed and produced articles for men’s underwear lines, and we work regularly with respective customers who are interested in such articles. The demands on know-how and technology are similar to lingerie production. However, the designs are different, less floral and romantic, more aggressive.

Iluna's creative patterns are traditionally realized on KARL MAYER machines. The interview concluded with a discussion of the cooperation between the two long-standing partners. The first machine was ordered in 1986. This was followed by a period of cooperation in which Iluna also acted as a counterpart in developments, testing new machines. Since the 1990s, this involvement has declined, but Walter Colombo stresses that his company is still very keen to work with KARL MAYER to launch innovations for lace production. Asked about his wishes for further optimizations, Walter Colombo replied "improvements in pattern changing downtime". Pattern changes should be very easy and set-up times should be reduced in order to be able to produce even small yardages economically - requirements that KARL MAYER is already focusing on, says Jamie Heather before thanking Walter Colombo for the interview.

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