Over one million pieces of clothing are created at Calvelex each year, which then make their way to the best fashion boutiques in the world. This company, located in the heart of the textile and clothing industry in the north of the country, was founded by brothers César and Marco Araújo who continue the tradition of rigour and attention to detail that has always characterised Portuguese tailoring, confirming Calvelex’s status as a reference of quality in the production of high quality women’s clothing. Throughout its 30 years of operation, Calvelex has continued to grow and believe in a promising future.
The team has grown from 20 employees who were part of the initial project to more than 700, who make up a workforce divided into three production units and two distribution centres. César Araújo, co–founder of Calvelex and president of ANIVEC – National Association of Clothing, Manufacturing and Fashion Industries, accompanies us on a guided tour of the industrial unit where it all began.
My grandfather was a tailor, my father is a tailor too, and I represent the third generation in the business. You can call me the ‘tailor of modern times’.
EM: The son and grandson of tailors, César’s involvement in the textile and clothing industry was a natural progression, as was the foundation of Calvelex. How did the business start and how has it evolved to the present day?
CA: I’ve been passionate about the textile and clothing industry since I was a young boy. My grandfather was a tailor, my father is a tailor too and I represent the third generation in the business. You can call me the ‘tailor of modern times’. Therefore the decision to start Calvelex with my brother back in 1985 was a very natural move. Even when people thought that the textile and clothing industry was doomed, I never stopped believing in our ability and know–how. In the beginning we were a group of only 20 people, today we number more than 700 and we have the capacity to offer the customer a vertical service, spanning from the fabric to the finished piece.
EM: That vertical organisation is one of the advantages of your industrial unit. In an increasingly fast and competitive market, how important is this approach?
CA: Nowadays, the customer arrives at Calvelex with a problem and leaves with a solution. When the customer comes to us, we analyse what he wants and we give him expert advice. We help him in the selection of fabric, the development of the product, we produce all the necessary prototypes and at the end, we introduce the fitting that we consider appropriate for that specific market.
In addition to the sourcing, production and distribution services, we also have departments of innovation and development, which continuously develop new products and new trends.
EM: An international focus has always been one of Calvelex’s foundations. What is your production capacity and what percentage of that production do you intend to export?
CA: We are a company focused on tailoring, specialising in the development of women’s clothing products, such as coats, overcoats, skirts, trousers and dresses. Calvelex produces more than a million pieces a year. We export 100% of our production to more than 40 countries and to the best fashion brands in the world. If the label of a famous high–quality brand says ‘Made in Portugal’, it is very likely that the piece was made by us.
Fortunately, we lost the prejudice and the sense of inferiority that we had in relation to our industry. We began believing in ourselves.
EM: There are more and more brands being created in our factories. Do you consider that the label ‘Made in Portugal’ is effectively emerging due to the quality, flexibility and know–how that characterises our industry?
CA: Today ‘Made in Portugal’ is a reference, because we can really excel and prove that we are capable of doing the best in the world. Fortunately, we lost the prejudice and the sense of inferiority that we had in relation to our industry. We began believing in ourselves. From there, a positive vibe settled. This positive change not only happened among the industry, but also within the entire Portuguese population. Our culture, Fado, tourism, gastronomy all contributed to capturing international attention.
EM: What are the factors that differentiate Calvelex from the other textile and manufacturing industries?
CA: Over the last few years Calvelex, has been able to stimulate and support the fashion industry, managing to anticipate trends. Today, we can proudly say that our clients look to Calvelex as a strategic partner in the development of the product that they are marketing. In addition to being able to give new ideas and innovate in the development of the product, what differentiates us is that we completely manage supply and logistics from our distribution centres all the way to the point of sale of our customers all over the world. We have offices in Dublin, London and Amsterdam and also in New York soon, because I believe we should be in permanent contact with the customer, in order to more effectively solve any problems that may arise.
EM: Calvelex is known to have the largest fabric library in the world. Do you consider this to be one of the main elements contributing to the external demand?
CA: Fifteen years ago, we created the largest library of fabric in the world. To this day, we have been able to catalogue 20,000 references and around 7,500 of those are on our site Fabrics4Fashion.com. There is a very special phenomenon in this library, which we call ‘the seed’: when fashion designers want to create a product or a collection, they usually need to buy around 50 or 100 yards of fabric to do so. But here, we allow them to buy only 1 meter if that is all that is desired, therefore we support them to take the first steps so that, in the future, they will remember Calvelex not only as a producer, but also as a partner.
EM: In addition to the approach to young designers through Fabrics4Fashion, how does Calvelex try to get closer to the new generations?
CA: We have programs with some schools and universities, through which we bring their students to our factories so they can understand what we do and also so we can pass on some of our passion to them. I use the word “passion” because I always love what we do! Everything done at Calvelex, by our team and by myself is always done with a lot of passion! If we do not open our doors and help young people—the people who want to join our industry in the future—we cannot later complain that we do not have the human resources to grow our businesses.
The clothing industry has contributed to the establishment of the population in the interior of the country, to female emancipation and to family stability.
EM: Calvelex human resources are a key part of the whole process. What is your social responsibility policy and how important is Calvelex in local development?
CA: The clothing industry has contributed to the establishment of the population in the interior of the country, to female emancipation and to family stability. We only have to go back 30–40 years and there were virtually no jobs for women in Portugal. When producers began taking their first steps, this availability of female labour was channelled into our industry. It was at that time that women began to create their financial independence, because they no longer had to be supported by husbands or parents and women were able to have autonomy and emancipate themselves. I am very fortunate to have a motivated team who are passionate about the Calvelex project, to whom I can delegate tasks. There is a very familiar relationship between us all. But for this to be possible, I try to create policies and activities so that people feel good here and also in a way that attracts younger people to us. In fact, one of our current areas of focus is to reduce the average age of our workers.
EM: As president of ANIVEC, what opportunities and challenges do you forecast for the future of Portuguese textile and clothing industries?
CA: When I took over the presidency of ANIVEC, I felt the need to change the mentality of the business owners. They were still very reserved about their own business, lacked the motivation to share knowledge and discuss problems. Portugal, because of its size, cannot operate alone. The message I want to give is that we have to look at the industry as a whole, make long–term plans and operate as a group, with the goal of growing together. ♥
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