Founded in 1989, Petratex presents itself as a platform for digital and sustainable innovation. A definition, as complex as it is inspiring, that transcends the current industrial reality. Specialising in fashion, sport and high technology, the company demonstrated its resilience and adaptability early on. Today, it is a must-have name for over 150 reputable clients worldwide.
Versatile, transparent, sustainable and pioneering. 100% export and 100% digital. Petratex is a leader in technological innovation, a global benchmark in best social practices and an incubator brimming with new ideas. Sérgio Neto, CEO of the company located in Paços de Ferreira, in Northern Portugal, warmly welcomes us “to the real Industry 4.0”!
“Petratex is a company unlike many others. It is a dynamic company, made up of people and processes that are equally dynamic. A company free of bias: conscious and always thinking ahead,” summarises Sérgio Neto. “The manufacturing only represents a small part, because we are much more than producers,” he explains, “We’re not just a company that turns knits into t-shirts or fabric into shirts. We are a solution for the customer.”
A world leader in the high-end fashion, prêt-à-porter fashion and technical clothing segments in a wide range of areas, Petratex is recognised as one of the largest projects in the textile innovation sector on a global scale.
We have many projects under development with international brands, companies and universities, not just in fashion, but also in areas such as health and sport. This is the direction for Petratex, to become a centre for the development of textile products.
“Today things are much more hybrid. In the past, we had factories and brands that were specialised and known for a certain type of product. Today it doesn’t work like that. Brands seek an integrated solution and product innovation. For this, they need different techniques,” comments Sérgio Neto and gives an example: “A traditional brand is not going to stop wanting to have leggings, because the consumer also wants to go to the gym and be well dressed. On the one hand, the technical has moved into luxury. On the other hand, what used to be technical is also starting to want to integrate into fashion”.
This fusion makes Petratex the perfect choice for the most technological clients when it comes to textiles, as it brings together the know-how and skills in both the fashion and the technical and performance areas. “In this way, when clients come to Petratex they can develop the entire collection, because our solutions range from the sourcing of raw materials, through the construction and development of the garment, integrating the most diverse and advanced techniques and processes resulting in the delivery of the finished products, either to the purchasing centre or directly to the final consumer.”
The transition to this new positioning began over 20 years ago: “In 2000, due to the need to change the business model, because the brands had swapped Europe for Asia and within a year, Petratex lost up to 85% of production, despite working with big brands,” recalls the CEO. “It was at that moment that the company showed its resilience and adaptability, by rethink ing its entire strategy, in order to evolve the concept and product. We were the first in the world to make glued, seamless pieces. Firstly, exclusively for a sports brand. Then, little by little, this innovation moved into fashion,” he describes.
In addition to the Nosew® patented technology, there are other innovations: the CAD/CAM software for optimising cutting operations; the in-house textile laboratory that enables raw material to be tested for quality and compliance with legal or certification requirements; the Future Concept Lab to stimulate scientific research and product development; the Textile Library with over 120,000 references from suppliers all over the world and 3D technology. The latter allows the visualisation, in a few hours, of designs with different colours, patterns, sizes, textures, types of fabric and accessories, without the need to produce a prototype. A tool to speed up the creation and development process. But that’s not all.
Believing that if today Petratex sells real clothes, in the future it will be able to sell virtual pieces, Sérgio Neto goes a step further and states that, “Petratex wants to be one of the first companies to sell clothes for the metaverse.”
The textile company CEO reiterates that the company has already started to leave the real world and think of the digital world as a reality by investing in the 3D training of a second team of fashion designers:
In addition to a team of 12 designers who do the conventional development work for clients, we have a second team which is totally dedicated to digital, already working on augmented reality and virtual reality projects.
Petratex’s remarkable and rapid transformation began many years ago with digitisation. “The phase of digitisation is behind us. We started this process about eight years ago and, today, all our processes are already digitised,” Sérgio Neto explains. “Everyone who works at Petratex has a tablet with all the information available. This information is completely open, including the information for our suppliers and customers, who also use these platforms developed by Petratex. Our dream is to be able to reach the end consumer,” the CEO aspires.
“The goal is that the end consumer can also have access to the process as well as to those involved and the status of each piece, and can intervene in real time. We are already developing an on-demand project which, in essence, is exactly that,” he explains. “What happens today is that brands take a risk when investing in a collection, expecting to sell that product, with that print, in those colours. The future that I envision increasingly involves the concepts of customisation and on-demand production. In other words, I make or buy only what I need,” describes Sérgio Neto.
Besides these concepts, the entrepreneur notes two other consumer trends:
About 12 years ago, we started a clothing repair project with Patagonia and now other clients are doing the same. This is because some brands are already beginning to give a lifetime guarantee on items, allowing the end consumer to send the used item to be repaired or altered according to their requirements. Whereas in the past it was fashionable for people to have new pieces, today it is fashionable to have a conscious attitude and say that they have had a piece for several years.
In parallel with this concept, he also sees a significant growth in garment rental, a new trend that “may make high-end clothing accessible to a greater number of people”.
More specifically on the subject of sustainability, the textile leader starts by talking about the social dimension and emphasises, “Petratex’s success depends first and foremost on the team.” Sérgio Neto talks about the more than 550 “dreamers” that make up this “sustainable intelligence platform”. As he puts it, “Human capital is the most important thing within a company and that is where you should constantly be investing.” He adds, “More than a place to develop products, Petratex is a place to develop people professionally, actively contributing to their personal fulfilment, recognition, well-being and safety.”
Environmental sustainability is about not changing eco-systems. It is the same thing when it comes to innovation and people. In a company, people should never feel exploited and must always feel integrated and valued. We must take advantage of the talents of each person, without changing their eco-system. If we do, then let it have a positive impact — he explains and continues — I talk to all people individually, regardless of their role, I want to know what their personal and professional goals are and then help them to evolve, whether through training or joint reflection on new ideas.
“There is an idea that people in administrative roles make decisions to the detriment of the people who work in production,” he continues. “We wanted to break down that barrier to ensure that all people are equally important and can be part of the decision-making core of the project in which they are involved.” Likewise, the digitisation of processes has also had a positive impact in this area. Sérgio Neto shows us on his device how, “In practice, if a seamstress detects any error, she can take the tablet and give her opinion: comment, contribute, suggest improvements and even block the piece in production”.
This topic leads the conversation to the concept of transparency and the Petratex CEO has a well-defined vision:
Business transparency has to be increased in the textile industry, from cotton planting to product delivery. We just only be interested in showing the consumer that we use organic cotton. We have to ensure that the people who were part of the process have decent work conditions and were not exploited, we need to show the garment’s carbon footprint, where and by whom it was made. The consumer of the future will need this total transparency to feel conscious about wearing a product.
It is the opposite of what happened two decades ago. “Currently we are witnessing a great transition of production from Asia to Europe, because it is closer to the clients and because of the considerable reduction of the transport footprint,” informs the CEO of Petratex. Given the growing demand, he also anticipates that there will be a shortage of textile producers in Europe. Always visionary, the textile company from Paços de Ferreira successfully implemented the same work dynamics at their clothing manufacturing factories in Tunisia. “In 2001, there was the need for competitive prices. Today, more than prices, there is a need for specialised labour,” he explains.
In environmental terms, Petratex also stands out for its exemplary practices. The glass-enclosed building, completely surrounded by nature, was designed to make the most of natural light and create conditions of tranquillity and comfort for all workers and customers.
In 2020, the industrial unit recorded a 42% reduction in energy consumption and a 66% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 2015. In addition to the solar panels that supply between 60% and 70% of the factory’s energy, the company uses biomass to produce thermal energy and has a water treatment plant. All consumption is permanently monitored and optimised.
In conclusion, Sérgio Neto reflects on the future, addressing his final remarks to all those involved in the textile industry.
Over the last few years, our mindsets have completely changed, so I do not believe that we will return to the concepts of textiles that we had before. The younger generations are much more informed, aware and sensitive to pollution and they see clothing as the environmental crisis ugly duckling. It is urgent to change this concept!
For the CEO of Petratex, the way forward is to do more customisation and on-demand production. Sérgio Neto says, “Textile industries will be closer to brands, the quantities will be smaller and, consequently, we will have to be much more versatile to adapt and rethink all processes.
There must also be a real sense of partnership and mutual help. In the same way, we cannot close our eyes to the digital world. It is already a reality! We have to attract new people to this sector and revitalise the image of textiles and the ‘Made in Portugal’ brand, projecting our know-how to the whole world. ♦
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