With more than 100 years of experience in making fabric for the clothing industry, Tecidos Santanense today boasts highly advanced textile factories and supplies many leading brands both in its native Brazil and abroad. Reuben Ford discovers how Santanense’s products and business are made to last.
Santanense was founded in Arraial de Sant’Ana (now Itaúna) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1891. At this time, the majority of fabrics used for making clothes were imported. Production began in 1895, when 120 employees were responsible for 40,000 meters of textiles every month. Slavery was being replaced by paid labo during this period in Brazil, and the first fabric produced was symbolically named ‘Independência’ (independence).
World War II marked a significant change in the development of the company. The war greatly restricted imports to Brazil, and subsequently the country was forced to satisfy its own demand for textiles. This provided Santanense greater opportunity and marked a substantial growth phase. The company concentrated on improving and perfecting its operational techniques, investing in technology and employees, including skilled managerial staff.
From 1950 onwards, Santanense grew through both acquisitions and new business opportunities. Small companies, which had been operating in the same sector, were purchased and in addition, Santanense invested in areas linked to its business, such as the generation of electricity to power the factories. Today, for example, 35 percent of the power used by the company’s facilities is produced by Santanense itself.
By 1990 the emphasis had shifted from infrastructural growth to quality standards. The company’s technology was reviewed and systems and procedures analyzed. Ten years later these changes were developed further in a project that targeted improved customer services, the added value of an efficient after sales service for all clients. As Commercial and Marketing Director Rogério Gonçalves explains: “We began offering more than high-quality textiles, creating greater value by offering solutions to the specific needs of clients, rather than just focusing on sales.”
SPORTSWEAR, WORKWEAR AND DENIM
Today, Santanense is recognized as one of the best and most profitable producers of textiles in Latin America. The company focuses on the clothing industry, employing 2000 staff and manufacturing five million meters of fabric every month, divided among three areas: colored and printed fabrics for sportswear, textiles for workwear and denim.
The sportswear sector accounts for 40 percent of business, and has the largest number of clients of all the divisions, including C&A and Renner in Brazil, as well as clients overseas, such as Suburbia (Mexico) and H&M (Germany). The fabric is sold to apparel companies that supply the best retail chain stores in the world, as well as to labels like Diesel and Zara. Workwear is also responsible for 40 percent of Santanense’s revenue. The company supplies the fabric used for the uniforms at Petrobras and Vale do Rio Doce, in addition to a number of other steel and metalwork companies around the world. The remaining 20 percent comes from the sale of denim.
As well as important clients in the domestic market, Santanense exports to the rest of Latin America and to Europe. The company also exports indirectly to the USA through sales of fabrics to the clothes manufacturers who supply the American market. In total, 15 percent of revenue is generated by the external market.
Santanense currently has five locations in Minas Gerais state, including main offices in Belo Horizonte, the state capital. The largest production facility is still on the original site in Itaúna, which manufactures the fabrics through spinning and weaving techniques. The company has a second factory in Pará de Minas, and a denim manufacturer in Montes Claros. A fourth facility in Itaúna specializes in various finishes for the textiles. Here the fabric is dyed and/or printed. The unit also carries out processes for flameretardant, anti-static and anti-bacterial treatments.
The highly effective, protective finishes available at Santanense are just one of the results of the company’s extensive research, expertise and experience in the industry. “Our research and development department is divided into two areas: technological solutions and market trends,” explains Gonçalves. Technological research analyzes not only specific treatments for textiles, but also the best fibers and compositions of fabrics for the market as well as the most up to date technology available.
For the sportswear fabrics, Santanense studies the international market for the latest trends and fashions. Professionals from the company travel all over the world to discover new shapes, forms and patterns, and also attend trade fairs in Europe and USA. “Santanense is considered a trend setter – we were invited to participate in the most important and exclusive textile fair of the world, Premier Vision, in Paris, and have been doing so for five years,” says Gonçalves.
INVESTING IN TECHNOLOGY
While research and development represents a significant portion of the company’s expenditure, Santanense’s largest investment is undoubtedly in technology. Although a centenarian in the industry, it prides itself on the latest production machinery imported from Europe, especially from Italy, where the textiles industry is among the best in the world. The weaving equipment used for the manufacture of the fabric is standard within the industry. The differential at Santanense is the finishing technology, which greatly increases the productivity, quality, and versatility of the processes and products. In the weaving process the company uses air jet machines, which are faster and more effective than traditional methods. Considerable investment is also directed at chemical treatments and dyes for the textiles.
All of Santanense’s fabrics use cotton as a base, mixed with components such as lycra or polyester. “We use the best possible fibers and materials, and our dyes have the best technology available,” says Gonçalves. The company’s suppliers of raw materials are mainly multinational producers.
“Our emphasis is on quality and profitability. We are not interested in growing for the sake of statistics,” continues the commercial and marketing director. Despite modest intentions, Santanense recorded annual revenue of $170 million in 2008. In the beginning, the company’s growth had been organic, followed by growth through the acquisitions and finally from the initiation of exports 20 years ago. On average, Santanense has grown by 10 percent per annum, including 13 percent in 2008.
In recent years the Brazilian textiles industry has been affected by low-cost imports from China and Pakistan. Continued investment in technology and all-round quality has been Santanense’s strategy, including the introduction of more customized, specialist textiles, and a broader product range for market niches. From the moment of ordering to the time of delivery, the company’s clients can rest assured that the fabrics will be of the highest standards.
“This is why we are still growing and still profitable, despite competition; our customers rely on the complete package that we offer, of excellent service and quality,” explains Gonçalves. The market is certainly reacting well, as Santanense is one of the largest in its sector in South America and the industry leader in the sports and workwear fabric lines.
“Product quality is an obligation for us. The most important reasons for our success are innovation and diversification,” continues Gonçalves. As well as partnerships with suppliers, Santanense is ISO: 9001 and ISO: 14001 certified. The company also participates in environmental protection programs, such as the preservation of Brazil’s forests, treatment of waste and controlled gas emissions. Santanense is more than just a textiles factory. It aims to provide a complete service to its clients, adding value to their work uniforms, sportswear and jeans. For well over 100 years the company has grown steadily and successfully as a trusted brand. Today, through heavy investment and innovation Santanense proves the success of its simple, central strategy, as Gonçalves concludes: “We are not interested in being the biggest, but in being the best.”