A paper by ClosedCopy
an interview with Enrico Castaldello
Interview by Giulia Stanzione, Text by Laura Reinke, Photography by Maximilian Attila Bartsch
For over thirty years, Cinturificio G. & G. has been our specialist for the finest-quality belts. The 7-person Italian belt maker is a real family company: alongside company founder Giulio Gastaldello, his wife Carla Gesuato and their children Alessandra and Enrico all work at Cinturificio G. & G. in Saletto di Vigodarzere near Padua. Each belt is made of fine Italian leather and is crafted almost entirely by hand – from cutting to punching and smoothing. Everyone at the factory shares an incredible love for detail and it shows in the beautiful, durable products they produce.
Enrico Gastaldello has a masterful command of most steps of the process and, unless he happens to be wearing sweatpants, he unfailingly wears a belt. We chatted to him and found out more about the art of making belts.
How do you like working for a small, family-run company?
Enrico: I really enjoy working here; in fact, I’ve never worked anywhere else. One of the big advantages is that I can plan my own working day. We don’t have fixed working hours, which can be good or bad. We work at the weekend or whenever we’re needed. Communication is different when you’re working with your family. With external staff you tend to pay attention to how you’re saying something. My family can sometimes be too direct. What I like best is that we all know each other so well. Our only “external” worker has been here as long as my father – she’s practically a member of the family.
Did you learn your craft at Cinturificio G. & G.?
I have been with the company for 13 years now and I learned my craft from my father and our long-standing employee Mirella. I’m still learning new things every day. In this profession you don’t need a university degree or special knowledge; what you need is an incredible amount of experience. Over the years, you learn to handle the materials, dyes and machines. And when it comes to the fashion aspect, it’s really very simple: style is omething you either have in your blood or not – it’s not something you can learn.
Which stage of production do you like best?
I enjoy the cutting phase most. Our cutting machine has a new technology I love working with. The AutoCAD program lets you create and cut any shape you want – curves, holes and everything else that makes up a belt. This process is also very helpful when you’re designing new belt prototypes, because we can work faster and therefore more cost-effectively than before.
You use vegetable-tanned leather – what makes it special?
Tanning is a process that stabilises the leather, but many conventional tanning agents are harmful for the environment. Vegetable-tanned leather is produced with natural tanning agents, mostly extracts from particular woods or nuts. These substances have no negative impact on the environment, and that makes vegetable-tanned leather much more sustainable.
How can you recognise a high-quality leather belt?
The paint on the edges of the belt should not crack or flake off. You might say that the true quality of a belt only becomes apparent after six months. The older the belt is, the more beautiful it should become. When worn, a high-quality belt becomes softer without losing its beauty. We produce belts that can last 30 years. Of course, they aren’t cheap . . . but high-quality material and good craftsmanship have their price. And by the way: it may sound strange, but I can actually smell the quality of a belt – good leather has a special smell.
What can I do to make my leather belt last and look beautiful for as long as possible?
A high-quality belt remains beautiful for a long time almost without you needing to do anything. I own belts that I have had since I was 16 – and they still look great. But you should avoid water, particularly salt water. Most leather belts are treated with oils, and water can damage this protective layer, meaning that the leather can dry out, crack or discolour.
Do you wear a belt every day?
Yes, always! Unless I happen to be wearing sweatpants. It really bugs me to see men walking around without a belt – there’s something unfinished about their look. For women, it bothers me most to see them wearing high-waisted trousers without a belt: I look at them and think, there’s something missing!
How a belt is made –
step by step
Enrico: When making a classic belt, the starting point is always leather. Together with the Closed accessory designers, we regularly visit leather fairs. We order the selected leathers and they are sent directly to us. By the way, we only use Italian leather, often from Tuscany. The first production step in our factory is to cut the leather to the desired width of the belt using a belt-cutting machine. The measurements usually vary from 1 cm to 10 cm, depending on the style.
In the second step, the leather strips are cut into different lengths according to the belt sizes. At one end, we punch out the tip of the belt in the previously selected shape, at the other end we cut out the part that will later be used to attach the buckle. The holes are also punched.
Now the edges of the belt are dyed. The aim: a smooth and even result – this requires a great deal of attention. We first apply a liquid to close the pores of the leather. As soon as this has dried, the edges are sanded. The sides of the material are lightly rubbed down. Then the first layer of dye is applied. When it has dried, the second layer follows. If the result is still not satisfactory, the edge is polished again, a third layer is applied. With light-coloured belts this is often necessary – light colours do not penetrate the leather quite as well.
Next, we usually stamp the customer’s logo and “Made in Italy” on the inside of the belt.
In the last step the belts are stitched. The buckle and the loop are fastened. Some belts have additional decorative seams that create a pattern. Depending on the many different designs we make, there can be variations and additional steps.
an interview with Andrea Norido
Interview by Giulia Stanzione, Text by Laura Reinke, Photography by Maximilian Attila Bartsch
Every pair of Closed jeans is 100% Made in Italy – and we mean it! Even the brass buttons and rivets for our jeans are crafted in Italy – in the Cobrax button factory in Padova, to be precise. While high-tech equipment and robots are also used, the 177 employees also complete many production steps by hand under high safety standards. They punch out the individual button components from brass strips, emboss our logo on them, polish and assemble them into a finished button. Most of the buttons are then coated or treated with chemical solutions to achieve specific colours. All brass scraps are collected, melted down and reused. Since 2008, Cobrax has been part of the Riri Group, a leading international manufacturer of zips, (press) buttons, rivets and metal components. We have been working with the company for more than 20 years now – and no Closed jeans would be truly complete without at least one of their beautiful buttons.
Andrea Norido joined Cobrax (then called Micron) in 1986. Back then, the company only had 14 employees. Andrea learned everything from scratch. Today, he manages the printing department – and loves the technical aspect of his job.
What brought you to the company in the 80s?
Andrea: A friend who worked at Cobrax told me about a vacant position. I was studying at the time, but had been looking for a job. Coming from a big family without an ideal financial situation, I knew it was better for me to start working right away. I am the oldest of five siblings and I felt responsible for my family. When I arrived at the company, I had no experience at all – I learned everything I know from scratch and have been with the company ever since.
How has the company changed in the past 35 years?
The company was called Micron when I started and we were a team of 14 people. In 1989, we became part of Cobra (the name changed to Cobrax later) and went from a small artisanal company to an industrial manufactory. Since 2008, we have been part of the Riri Group. Not only the size of the company and the number of employees changed in the last 35 years, but also the technology. The printing department, where I work, saw the biggest changes. The materials and techniques became much more innovative. We now use high-end printing methods. We still complete many of the production steps anually, but in 1986 there were no machines, no electronic devices. All of these changes have accelerated production times.
Do buttons still fascinate you after all this time?
Yes! It’s such a vast world. Before I started to work at Cobrax, I had no idea about the complexity of buttons and the amount of work that goes into them.
What do you like about buttons in particular?
The final result. To me, buttons are little pieces of jewellery. Every single one is beautiful. They are little pieces of art. Buttons fascinate me because I appreciate the research and work behind every single one of them.
How would you describe your working day?
Intense! It is never boring. I start every morning with a meeting with two colleagues who are heads of different departments. Every morning we receive our production schedule. We go through the list together, check orders and tasks, and organise the day by defining priorities and schedule everything. We also manage our team and colleagues, for example, by planning shifts (we have two daily shifts) and finding solutions for issues that come up. Every day can be full of surprises – and that makes my job very exciting!
How many buttons do you finish every day?
It’s all teamwork – we constantly work together and that is why we work so well. The numbers vary, but we finish about 25 orders per day. Every order includes the production of caps (the top part of the button with the brand’s logo) and under parts (the hidden part). In January and February 2021, we produced 35 million pieces (both caps and under parts). Incredible, isn’t it?!
Which part of your job do you like best?
I love the technical aspect – the machines and the complexity behind them. I also love the responsibility that I carry as a department manager and the organisational aspect of my work. I am very happy that I can be a point of reference for my colleagues and that they regard me as an expert. However, you know, that comes with age!
What about your free time?
I love swimming, but unfortunately, because of Covid the swimming pools are all closed. I miss it so much! Water is my element and I feel the best when I am swimming. Before lockdown I was in good shape – I swam 60 lengths in 45 minutes – that’s not bad! Until I can swim again, I keep fit with long walks and bike rides … but I can’t wait to be back in the water!
How a button is made –
step by step
Andrea: We put in a moulding command into our moulding machine – it includes the diameter of the button, the brand name to be embossed on it, the date and other specifications. The command ensures that all components of the buttons are finished around the same time to ensure a seamless production. For every Closed button, five parts are required: nail, cap, shank, inside core and another cap.
One of our operators prepares the equipment for the moulding of the buttons according to the processing note, which includes all relevant specifications for each client.
The operator moves on to the press machine. Brass is used for all the buttons. The machines cut the brass into strips first, then the buttons components are cut. Only a few pieces are pressed at first. These samples are subjected to quality control and then, if they comply with the client’s specifications and our high quality standards, we proceed with the moulding of the buttons.
The moulding of the pieces with the machine starts. While the buttons are moulded, the results are constantly controlled by one of our inspectors who uses magnifying glasses for this step.
After the moulding is completed, the components of the buttons are subject to another quality control. The inspector also makes sure that the number of components is exactly right for the subsequent production phases.
The components are de-oiled in centrifuges and transferred to the next department.
The button components are washed with special washing machines to get rid of any production residues. After that, the pieces are smoothened.
A galvanic treatment follows if the buttons are to be a different colour than the natural brass. The chemical reaction changes the colour of the material.
The different components are finally assembled – the button comes together!
After a final quality control the finished buttons are packed and shipped.
an interview with Carla Roque
Interview and text by Laura Reinke, Photography by Maximilian Attila Bartsch
Our leather bags are made in Portugal, exclusively by our long-standing production partner, Daro’s. The family business with 187 employees has been manufacturing our bags and leather acces sories since 2013. The company’s headquarters in São Pedro da Cova near Porto may look futuristic, but everything here is about traditional craftsmanship: many steps of the production process are done by hand. Daro’s uses vegetable tanned leather – which means it has been treated using low-impact processes that are gentler on the precious material and on the environ ment. The results are long-lasting, high-quality bags that become even more beautiful with time.
The company was founded in 1972. Shortly after the birth of her daughter Carla, Celeste Oliveira Soares set up her own leather goods business. Her husband David Roque joined in 1981 (Daro’s is a play on the letters of both names). Carla manages the company today, while her brother Paulo is in charge of material purchasing and finances. The third generation, granddaughter Ines, also started at the company a while ago.
We spoke to Carla, who joined her parents’ company 32 years ago, to tell us about a typical day at Daro’s – and to show us how a Closed leather bag is made step by step.
What are your daily tasks?
Carla: I am in charge of the commercial department. As I have been at Daro’s for so many years, I have gained experience in every step of making a bag, from start to finish. You could say I am in every department of the company a little bit, wherever I am needed. My daily tasks include running the commercial department to make sure I have a very good overview of the orders and production process. Every day, I solve many, many challenges that we face, for example, with the leather that arrives from the tanneries. I have to make sure that we receive leather of the highest possible quality for our bags and it’s not always easy to work with
How would you describe your typical working day?
Busy, busy but very fulfilling!
Which part of your job do you like best?
I enjoy the creative process the most – and seeing how a sketch turns into a beautiful bag is my favourite part. It still fascinates me after all these years how much handwork is involved.
What is special about working at Daro’s?
I think the family atmosphere amongst all the staff is very special. Also, the people who work here are really special and hard to find, because this kind of work demands a lot of skilled handwork.
How many leather bags are finished at Daro’s every day?
It depends on the style, but we can finish up around 150 leather bags per day. Many steps of the production are completed by hand so our daily quantities are not on an industrial scale.
How would you describe São Pedro da Cova?
São Pedro da Cova is a typical small village in the surroundings of the bigger city Porto. You have the feeling you know all the people and all the people know you. If you like nature then São Pedro da Cova is a great place for you!
How a bag is made –
step by step
Carla: It all starts with a design specification by Closed. We have a very close collaboration with the accessory designers and always exchange lots of ideas to create the best possible product together. At first, we select the leather and colour we would like to use for the bag. We mostly use cowhide and all the leather we use is vegetable tanned. We have to make sure that the respective skin is big enough for the design to avoid seams. As you can imagine, one skin is never like the other, so it is a challenge to find not only the right leather but also the right skin in terms of the size.
We then choose all the small components for the bag that will be needed in addition to the leather, for example clasps and zips, mostly made of metal. They need to be high-quality and made to last, and, of course, they have to visually harmonise with the leather.
When we have picked all the parts, we start to work on the pattern of the bag. In this stage, we develop the final shape of the bag using three-dimensional card patterns. This helps us to check if the dimensions are right and we can try alternatives without having to waste leather.
When we have a final pattern, the next step is to cut the leather for the parts of the bag. For newly developed bags, the leather is cut by hand to create the first leather samples. (The samples are used by Closed to present the new bag styles to customers during the order campaign.) When the bags go into regular production later on, the leather is cut on a cutting machine. Either way, we try to cut the leather in the most efficient way to avoid waste.
The next step is flattening the leather parts so that they have an even thickness. The edges of the leather pieces are flattened a little bit more for the seams.
The raw edges of the leather parts that will be on the inside of the bag are painted by hand.
The Closed logo is embossed on the bag.
In the next department, the bag is assembled. The trims (buttons, zips, straps, etc.) are placed, the interlining and lining are attached and the individual parts are sewn together. Most of the work is done by hand.
The bag is lined with twill fabric, sometimes including a zip pocket on the inside, and the last seams are sewn.
Now, the raw edges of the visible parts of the bag are painted by hand. After the first layer of paint has dried, the process is repeated several times to make sure the colour is opaque. When the last layer of paint has dried, the edges are polished by hand.
The last step is the inspection line, where every bag is controlled to check every small detail, before they are carefully packed and shipped to Closed.
an interview with Elvira Fatjo
Interview and text by Laura Reinke, Photography by Maximilian Attila Bartsch
The La Doma tannery in Spain treats the high-quality lambskin for our shearling coats and jackets. Tanning is a traditional technique that requires a lot of knowledge – the more so when it comes to double-sided lambskin, La Doma’s speciality. The company has two divisions: the skins are prepared and tanned in Barbastro, then dyed and finished in Centelles near Barcelona.
Founded in 1985, La Doma has continually grown. The headquarters in Centelles grew, too, with the addition of several extensions, which explain the building’s unique character with many staircases and corridors that can feel like a labyrinth. Peter Colomer, who comes from a family of tanners, manages the company with 164 em ployees.
La Doma combines tradition and innovation: the tannery uses eco-friendly, water-saving techniques and has a repair shop to fix rather than replace machines. When La Doma has finished the skins, they are shipped to our shearling expert Otto in Turkey who creates our garments with them. By the way, all the lambskins La Doma processes are by-products of the food industry.
We talked to Elvira Fatjo, creative director and Peter’s wife, about her work. She joined La Doma 24 years ago.
How would you describe your tasks as a creative director of La Doma?
Elvira: I am in charge of the seasonal collections that we design twice a year to present new colours and finishes to our customers. All year around, my focus is on the dyeing process, where I check that the colours come out as desired. We develop and test our dyes with a team of chemists. It is the hardest part of our work because it depends on the individual lambskin how it is going to react to the dye – especially for double-sided shearling,
our speciality, as the fur side reacts differently from the leather side. I also check all incoming skins as well as our finished skins before they leave La Doma to make sure their quality is excellent. I am involved in almost every department, and when I arrive in the mornings, it often takes me quite some time to reach my desk – everybody has questions or wants to show me something. I really enjoy exchanging ideas with the team and learn something new every day!
Do you also have a background in chemistry?
No, I have a university degree in philosophy and used to be involved in editorial work, making books for children before I started at La Doma. It may seem different, but there are many similarities – it is about working with a team, making sure to get the colours and details right and creating a beautiful product together. The creative part is what I like most about my job now, although I also appreciate the structured parts of it.
La Doma only treats lambskin. What is it like to work with this material?
Each skin comes from an animal and it is very important to us to treat our material respectfully. We are very careful with it and only dye a few skins in a small drum at first to get the colour right before we continue with the big batch. Every skin is different because they all come from different animals. We always aim to make the outcome as similar as possible, but it is never 100 per cent the same. If the colour is not perfect, it is possible to re-dye skins from a light colour to a darker one, but not the other way around. We would never waste skins that turned out too dark, we put them in our stock instead. We also use remains for Christmas presents for our staff so they can have something beautiful made of the materials we all work with every day. Every year I come up with something new, such as slippers or pillows.
How do you put the collection of colours and finishings together every season?
I start with an idea that excites me – from art to music, architecture, history and society. I also look at trend books with new colours. Our last collection was influenced by protest art, which I think reflects society’s worries during the pandemic very well. I looked into artists from Goya to Banksy to come up with new colours. We then create swatches and put them in a lookbook, which was designed to reflect protest art. Depending on my inspiration, it could also have the shape of an architecture plan or a novel. We send our lookbooks to our customers to inspire them with our new colours and finishings.
What would you say is the most special thing about working at La Doma?
The people. Many of them have been with the company for decades and still get excited when we find a new finishing. We have around 160 team members who are between 20 and 60 years old. So many different perspectives! It was much more common to work in tanneries in Spain, but now only a few are left and the tradition could easily get lost. It is great to see our young people appreciating the natural material we work with. My husband and I enjoy sharing our knowledge with the younger generation and love to learn from them. With their help, we can innovate some of our processes and make them more sustainable.
How important is sustainability at La Doma?
There is no way around it. Even though we work in a very traditional profession, it can still go hand in hand with innovative sustainable technologies. One example is our modern drums that do not require water but natural gas. This new idea for a traditional process saves a lot of water. There is also something very sustainable about our material – it is so precious and long-lasting. A shearling jacket or a leather garment is usually something that is worn for many years and could easily be passed on to the next generation. It is not sustainable to create products that will only last a short time – and I think people are more in touch with this idea now.
The tanning and dyeing process –
step by step
Elvira: The first steps are not completed here, but in our tanning division in Barbastro, three hours from here. The raw skins arrive there, mostly from sheep from the Spanish peninsula, but also from Greece, Italy or Iceland, and are cleaned, prepared and treated to make them durable. Depending on the origin, the skins are very different: Icelandic sheep have thicker wool, because it is colder there.
Together with our customers like Closed, we select the skins, colours and finishes for their products. The customers either pick a colour from our seasonal collection or send us individual ones. Closed’s shearling coats and jackets are made by the factory Otto in Turkey – so we are also in touch with them to discuss details. When we start producing, Closed and Otto both receive one finished skin per desired style for approval.
For every new colour, our chemists create a new recipe – every possible colour is created with blue, red and yellow. At first we conduct a colour test. Then we prepare the lot so it is ready for the tanning drums. The wool side is dyed first, the suede side follows. We have tanning drums in many sizes – they hold 5 to 1,000 skins. The drums run for between 25 and 36 hours and we need to add dyestuff at certain points during this time, always depending on the individual recipe. This is why we work in three shifts.
We take the skins out of the drums to dry them – we have a hanging system all around the factory. It takes between 12 and 24 hours for them to air-dry.
We check the dry skins to make sure the quality is excellent.
In our finishing department, the skins’ surfaces are treated with different machines to make them soft again, as they are very hard after drying. The wool is shortened and ironed, while the suede side gets a coating finish (this affects the colour which needs to be taken into account when creating the recipe). Individual finishes are applied according to the customers’ wishes – for example, we cut the wool to a specific length or even put prints on the skins.
We then perform final quality control. The skins are subsequently packed and shipped (in Closed’s case to Otto). Step 1 to 7 can take up to three weeks.