Canali suits Ryder Cup Europeans (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

The story goes that while on a visit to Ireland in 2004 Ian Woosnam dropped into one of Louis Copeland’s shops, tried on a Canali suit jacket and made the immediate decision to have the company dress the European Ryder Cup team at this weekend’s tournament.

The Welsh golfer is not the only one with such refined tastes, and certainly not in Ireland.

According to the company’s Italian managing director Paolo Canali, the Irish market has become increasingly important to the exclusive Italian menswear company.

‘‘Around 30 per cent of our production is exported to Europe,” he said. ‘‘Over the years Ireland has been ranking higher and higher.”Established in 1934 by Giovanni and Giacomo Canali, the company began to export only in the late 1970s; today 75 per cent of all production goes to customers outside Italy. Canali believes that increased wealth in Ireland has been just one factor behind the ever-growing demand from this country.

“’This applies elsewhere but Ireland is an outstanding example of the effects of higher disposable income as well as increased knowledge. More people are reading magazines and travelling and catching fashion trends quicker,” he said.

He believes that while an increase in personal wealth has made high-fashion available to a bigger audience, the information age has made Irish people far more fashion-aware.

Canali describes what he calls the ‘‘organic’’ growth of the company from its small beginnings to its current status.

He said good clothing sells itself.

For the soft-spoken Canali, word of mouth and brand loyalty are vital to the company’s success.

‘‘The most effective tool we have to convince a customer to buy is for them to wear,” he said. ‘‘Our quality is the best promotion.”

Canali believes that this attitude has become rarer today in a textiles industry no longer comparable to the one in which the company first made its mark.

‘‘Globally the market has changed,” he said. ‘‘For example, there are fewer companies now than before. We are now also quite individual because we source the best possible product.

“All of our range is 100 per cent Italian made and everything is produced in our own factories.

‘‘We serve a niche market.

“We acknowledge that people may buy other labels as a fashion statement or for the price although there is always a group of customers who look for quality,” he said, suggesting that the cost-cutting measures employed by other manufacturers reduces more than just their sale price.

As part of the agreement with the European Ryder Cup team Canali provided five sets of clothing for the more formal traditions of the tournament, including the gala dinner and opening ceremony.

The company has increasingly tried to associate itself with major sporting events in the recent years. It has dressed the US Davis Cup tennis team and has developed a relationship with the American sports network ESPN.

Canali has 11 clothes showrooms around the world, including shops in Paris and Kuwait City. He opened an outlet in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, last week. He would, however, prefer to focus on production rather than retail – the company’s Milan branch, not far from the its headquarters in Sovico, was opened only in 1999 following a decline in multi-brand outlets in the city.

As a family business Canali is keen to work with likeminded organisations. A director of the company, Elisabetta Canali, Paolo’s sister jocosely refers to Louis Copeland as part of their extended family and there is no denying that both have a lot in common.

Both businesses were set up in the first half of the 20th century and are managed by the third generation of their families.

While the fourth generation has become involved in the running of Louis Copeland & Sons, Paolo said the next generation of his business was ‘‘maybe a bit too young right now’’ to get involved in the business.

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