Artisans Of Business: Creating Exquisite Italian Cashmere
One of the best places to seek artisans of business is the region of Florence, Italy—the birthplace of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Filippo Brunelleschi. The area is still brimming with the same artistic, passionate and creative spirit of the past. One local business that exudes these characteristics is Il Borgo Cashmere in Borgo San Lorenzo in the region of Mugello.
Il Borgo is a family-owned business and for three generations it’s been dedicated to producing the finest quality cashmere products. “Our collections combine the natural beauty of cashmere with the preciousness of fine Italian craftsmanship based on a treasured heritage and handcrafted techniques, such as tricot, crochet, tatting, macramé, sewing and trimming, that are not replicable with machines and that give our products the beauty and uniqueness you can see and feel,” says Franco Fredducci, owner of Il Borgo.
Fredducci has mastered how to mix traditional techniques with creative and modern designs. This strategy has served the business well. The company has partnered with major fashion houses to produce embroideries, trimmings and cashmere products. This innovative spirit is also one of the reasons that Il Borgo has been participating in the "Maison d'Exception" event in Paris since 2011. The event recognizes artisanal companies with superior technique and unique products and provides a platform to connect these artisans with fashion brands and designers. I was fortunate to discover Il Borgo while I was in Tuscany, and Fredducci shared his thoughts on craftsmanship, the artistic spirit and the importance of community.
Sourcing high quality materials
One of the hallmarks of producing high-quality artisanal products is sourcing the best materials. Cashmere is one of the most rare and warmest natural fibers in the world. Fredducci explains that cashmere is an opaque, corrugated fiber with a diameter between 14 and 18 microns, which is much finer than Merino wool, which is about 24 microns in diameter. It’s also a better insulator than wool, so it’s warmer and lighter.
If you’re wondering how to tell if you are buying a cashmere product that is worth the high price tag, Fredducci offers some recommendations. First look for a tag that says the product is 100% cashmere. Second, superior cashmere products are made out of two-twisted plies of yarn, so the product will hold its shape better and last longer. Lastly, if you lightly rub the surface together, the fibers should not roll up or shed, often referred to as “pilling,” because in high-quality cashmere the yarn fibers are very long and don’t split.
True artisans are going to work with the finest materials available so they can produce the most outstanding products and uphold the standard of quality that they have spent years or generations establishing. That is why Il Borgo uses cashmere yarn from the best Italian and Scottish mills to knit its designs.
Embracing the artistic spirit
Fredducci creates apparel for men and women that combine the finest quality cashmere with other first class materials like silk, leather and fur. “We love to work with precious threads such as silk, wool, linen and cotton into our cashmere creations,” he says. The blending of materials is what makes Il Borgo unique, fashionable and modern.
That artistic spirit can also be found in the sculptures the company creates to display throughout the region. Fredducci’s expertise of handcrafted knitting techniques is showcased within these incredible sculptures. For example, Il Borgo created a coral reef from cashmere, wood, beads and leather to display at the "Flower Fair,” an event in Borgo San Lorenzo that takes place in May.
Likewise, the company created “Biago,” a life-size astronaut, that it displayed for the Italian MotoGP: Mugello Circuit, a race that attracts roughly 130,000 visitors to the region each year. It’s important to be passionate about your craft and to be wiling to push the boundaries of what you can create. That innovative spirit and passion is what will help you adapt your business to the modern world.
Giving back to the community
Following in the footsteps of his grandmother, Albertina, who established Il Borgo in 1949, is important to Fredducci. “We continue her passion for the highest quality cashmere products and her commitment to the local community,” he says.
The company’s dedication to the Mugello community can be seen in a number of ways. Il Borgo donated hand-knitted cashmere animals to the "Mugello da Fiaba,” a festival devoted to children that takes place in Borgo San Lorenzo in May. “Children—especially the younger ones—learn not only by watching but much more by playing and touching objects with their own hands,” Fredducci says. “We are happy that children can embrace and pamper our creations, learning to appreciate—but also to respect—beautiful things.”
Il Borgo joined a training project funded by the Tuscany Region that provides opportunities for young people to master a craft. “To grow a company you have to invest in people,” Fredducci says. The purpose of the initiative is to create employment opportunities and to ensure that this heritage of excellence does not disappear. The company also opens its doors to International students and academic institutions that want to learn more about the business, manufacturing process, marketing and the fashion industry.
As a result of his efforts to pass down knowledge and expertise, Fredducci received an award during a public ceremony in the Palagio di Parte Guelfa in Florence. The award emphasizes the value of artisans of business who are not only passing down passion and know-how, but also their capacity to innovate and remain current in today’s marketplace.