Readers have asked in the past what it’s like developing new clothing, what helps and hinders, what the challenges are. One piece of advice a friend gave me a while ago was to visit the factory more than you think - that even a one-day, flying visit is equivalent to 100 emails.
That’s certainly been borne out by my experience. There are the physical things you pick up on, like the fact there are three more weights of interlining than you realised - just because you never thought to ask. Or you see a new material made up, rather than a swatch, and notice the beautiful way it drapes: suddenly the benefit of that weight is revealed.
But there are subtler ones too. For example, it wasn’t until we’d been at the workshop where we have our shirts made, in Naples, for about two hours that we thought to bring up why communication of shipments makes such a difference.
Most brands work more in seasons than PS. They order products to arrive in July to go on sale in September, with weeks of leeway. And just as importantly, their customers have no idea what products are going to arrive or when.
We’ve tried to bring readers closer to the product - setting out in articles what’s coming up. This makes it more of a problem when a workshop decides not to send the cut lengths of cloth with a shipment of finished shirts, perhaps for a good reason like it puts the shipment over a weight threshold.
It might delay the cloth for a month, until the next shipment, and in the meantime readers that are expecting it in September are wondering what’s going on. Do you send an email to the waiting list, or is that overkill? Do you do a broader announcement, or does that annoy everyone else?
We’d brought this up with Luca Avitabile and the rest of his team before, over Zoom. It had even been discussed when Luca visited London, for his trunk shows. But it wasn’t until we were actually together on the ground, talking to Luca’s assistant and the manager of the workshop, all at the same time, that everyone made themselves understood.
Sometimes it’s about putting yourself in another person’s shoes, to work out why something doesn’t make sense to them. Which in this case was because we’re different to every other retailer.
The workshop shown in these images is the one Luca uses for his production - a small, bright but nondescript building outside the centre of Naples, with around a dozen people working in it.
All the cutting, sampling and basic sewing is done here, plus some handwork. A lot of the finishing, like hand-sewn buttonholes, as in much of the world, is done by workers at home.
It’s the handwork that separates Neapolitan shirts from most of those made in Europe, and why people come here. The buttonholes attract the attention and are easier to communicate, but it’s the functional details like attaching a collar in the round, or easing a larger sleevehead into a smaller armhole, that make the real difference.
Actually, Lucas (who runs the support side of the PS Shop) still gets emails from customers saying there is a mistake with their shirt, because there is a hand-sewn bar tack half way down the front.
This isn’t a mistake - it secures the top of the section of the placket which is machine sewn (for strength) from one which is hand sewn (for movement). He did actually ask me to mention that, so I’m glad I’ve had an excuse to.
One of the things Luca and I did when we visited the workshop, was refine the new Friday Polos that were released recently.
It’s always fun seeing different people try them on and give their feedback. Luca, who’s probably a size smaller than me; Lucas, who is two sizes bigger; and even Jamie, who took these photographs, joined in with the odd jibe from the sidelines.
I’ve found good product design benefits from the clear vision of a single person - about colour, about shape, about style - but also the input of multiple people on cut, sizing and size splits. And indeed data, which Lucas has quite a lot of now.
Our conversation about communication continued into the evening, when we all went out for pizza and beer (always what I have a hunger for in Naples). How can we make life easier for Anthony (who runs our warehouse); how that can avoid the occasional mistake; what feedback we get from readers, which we wouldn’t think to share on a time-boxed Zoom call.
It was very productive, though cut short by the fact Napoli were playing on the TV, and winning. (The local football team - or ‘soccer’ team to our American friends.)
The conversation became increasingly broken up as goals were scored or chances went begging. People moved from the edges of the restaurant to get closer to the TV, hung high in a corner. Jamie, who had the misfortune to be sitting with a column between him and the game, shifted round.
Napoli won, there was much cheering and air punching, and then an almost eerie lull. Everyone except us knew what was coming. Suddenly the restaurant was flooded with noise as cars roared back from the game, fans screaming from the open windows, horns honking.
I love Naples.