CIM Italy, 2022 a record year

CIM Italy’s success lies in its ability to work well and across all fashion sectors. The greatest satisfaction of Stefano Innocenti is that he has created a healthy and collaborative work environment

Stefano Innocenti with Angela Galbussera, design department

The history of CIM Italy has roots from the 1970s, but it was in 2008 – after a few changes in ownership – that the Cernusco Lombardone (LC) – company specializing in the production and marketing of small metal accessories acquired the entrepreneurial connotation able to establish its success on international markets. It was a challenge undertaken and carried out by Stefano Innocenti, a former executive and business consultant, who for 15 years has been the owner of the company that is a partner to the main luxury fashion houses and is expanding rapidly from a technological and creative point of view.
Stefano Innocenti, sustainable development is the talk from everyone. What are your plans and ideas in this regard?
“Given that sustainability is, in my opinion, a complex creature in a global context characterized by a growing population in terms of numbers and life expectancy, I think it is right to ask ourselves about the environment and resources, and that everyone should do their part in this regard. We have always been sustainable: 70 percent of the brass we buy and use is recycled, we almost completely recycle waste production, using recycled plastics upon request. From time to time we discuss together with our main suppliers and customers whether to replace galvanic processes with more environmentally friendly coatings, such as PVD treatment. All materials and manufacturing unavoidably respect the specifications of luxury customers, and our production chain is very careful about the placing of products to avoid possible contamination. We are continually focused on researching new and less impactful materials (bioplastics obtained from milk, crop woods) however, we have to reckon with industry: solutions exist, but they are available at costly prices. Moreover, there is still a lot of work to be done before reaching those technical and functional standards on which the big fashion houses are not willing to compromise.
Regarding the energy part, we are not an energy-intensive company: our consumption of electricity and gas is quite marginal. We have switched to a free supply contract, which has benefited us in the most difficult times. In the transition between 2022 and 2023 we have not seen particularly significant increases, although of course we are also affected by the growth of precious and raw materials.”
Let’s talk about turnover. What is the secret to containing the decline in a tightening market?
“This year we reached a record of about 9 million euros, the best turnover in the history of CIM, that is, in 50 years. Our secret – the result of experience gained and continuous confrontation with market needs – resides today in working transversally across all sectors, apparel, footwear and leather accessories, maintaining a balance that allows us to diversify risks. While attentive to fashion trends, we are also a company that can provide a continuous product, and this makes for an interesting business mix.
What I say to Vincenzo and Angela, two people of great depth, is, ‘Let’s not care’ about fashion, let’s go our own way and try not to comfort ourselves to what we see around, on trends. Let’s try to be free thinkers.’ Without neglecting, of course, the positive conditioning that comes from customer input. We have to look and gather ideas, but then try to take a different step, to always come up with something new and very independent.”
Renovating spaces to ensure better performance of services offered: what is your challenge?
“We are only at the beginning of the internal renovation, the next step regards the areas dedicated to the atelier and graphic design offices, and in 2024 we will enter on the second floor where we plan to build a small test and analysis laboratory for internal use. We have realized that the more we beautify and make the work environment functional, the more we elevate the quality of our workmanship. We are increasingly focused on near- absolute perfection, trying to have fun without losing focus on projects. The mechanical and physical testing laboratory will allow us to be increasingly careful and equipped in not running into possible complications in the transition from prototype to production.”
How much do you invest in research and development?
“Every year we invest in research, machinery and technology between 7 and 10 percent of turnover. With foresight we face the generational and workforce changeover, which is an objective and complex problem throughout the Italian fabric of small and medium- sized businesses, not only in fashion. I am very focused, and far in advance, on employee turnover. This means training, mentoring, continuous courses at 360 degrees from sales to marketing, to quality. In the first months of 2023, three new employees are expected to work alongside our skilled professionals to acquire their expertise, who will retire in three years’ time. A sacrifice for the company’s income statement because it means expecting extra staff, and lower margins at the end of the year. However, if luxury brands are very concerned about the loss of quality in the supply chain, this is the objective, to be as ready in three years as we are today. Otherwise, the risk is that the company will lose value, because we are a company founded on the value and savoir faire of people, beyond the technology we can buy.”
What are your thoughts on the next edition of Lineapelle?
“We will be launching a new unprecedented rivet, compared to previous years we will not present any big novelties because we have a lot ‘stored away’. It’s not for nothing that 2022 was the year of records: from January 1 to December 31 we worked exceptionally and with our heads down, busy on projects in the world of art, interior design, merchandising, and completely outside our field.
As an entrepreneur, what makes you happiest?
First of all, seeing our items created for an important maison at the latest haute couture shows in Paris.
Beyond the economic results, which of course are important and on which I am quite careful, the greatest pride as an entrepreneur is to have transformed a company, from low quality relationships, placed in the shadows, with a complicated office for otherwise simple affairs and highly bureaucratized, into a positive and serene working environment, where one works in an elastic and flexible way and where every request is taken as a challenge. I think the circularity of life-work satisfaction is an outstanding motivator. I really believe in this perhaps somewhat holistic view of the world of work. It is my mantra, not rhetoric.

Partners with leading luxury fashion houses

A manufacturing reality with a special vocation for the logic of service and customization. Sophia Piotti, Director of Sales, and Angela Galbussera of the Design Office explain how and for whom the company works

Sophia Piotti

Sophia Piotti, Sales Director

CIM is a Made-in-Italy company specializing in the production of small metal accessories for fashion and luxury, with a vertical service for the application of components on garments and accessories supplied by the client: two major areas that respectively share 50% of the entire turnover. The in-house Design Office collaborates with haute couture to create custom designs. Today the company partners with the most important Italian, French and British fashion houses.
What is your core business?
“We are historically recognized for the creation and application of brass stapled studs. Over the years we have been able to integrate our skills in the field of small metal accessories as well as nylon and ABS, sectors for which we are now considered extremely valid and competitive producers and suppliers on the national and European markets: our product catalog embraces something like 12 books of proposals related to rivets, eyelets and anything else intended to meet the demands of the main European luxury houses. We are also evaluating the possibility of entering the Far East market, where numerous international brands are relocating their production, without, however, renouncing the quality of material from the old continent.”
Do you also manage contract work activities?
“Contract work is an equally important component of our business as it accounts for about 50 percent of company turnover. This is where the value of craftsmanship and manual work finds its greatest expression.
There are two major streams within the work account. On the one side we have focused on stapled and small accessories in general, not only on the production of the material itself, but also on their application. We have the latest generation of machines, equipped with a vision control system for quality control.
On the other hand, the application of thermo-adhesive materials – from rhinestones to foils – is an increasingly important sector, about which we have gathered great knowledge and have built a good reputation.”
What is the optimal process in choosing a rhinestone?
“We support the client in evaluating the most suitable rhinestone for the type of project commissioned: Swarovski and Preciosa if it is red carpet. But we collaborate with equally reliable historical partners and guarantee the quality of the product we import.”
Do you also guarantee its hold?
“We are able to guarantee 100 percent the quality of the rhinestone, but not how the rhinestone will hold on the fabric because of the infinite number of variables that can be encountered. Our job is to test its hold with the customer, for example, through wash tests that tell us whether the fabric in question is more or less suitable for the application of foils or rhinestones. If not suitable, we try to propose alternatives to the initial design.”
Do you offer an in-house prototyping service?
“Prototyping is the most important phase for us and is in-house. Production, on the other hand, is almost completely entrusted to our external laboratories, all of which are located within a three-kilometer radius and are an integral part of CIM, as they employ personnel chosen and trained in-house. Each of them works exclusively with the same machinery and parameters we use so that the end result does not change. However, it is not just a matter of setting up a machine; ours is a complex activity that requires much more skill, craftsmanship and sensitivity than one would think. The exchange of information between prototyping and production involves the need for a constant presence of our production manager at the partner workshops and vice versa. Indeed, the handover between prototyping and production involves close and synergistic collaboration so that time and errors are reduced. Internal communication is crucial, we try to conduct teamwork to arrive together at a solution to the problem, because we care about offering the customer the best possible product: we know who we work for and we know the target price of the store, so it is our duty to ensure optimal service.
Prototyping requires a very fast turnaround time, offering to transform the style idea into something concrete. For this very purpose we are expanding, both in terms of personnel and machinery, to provide an even faster and better response.”
You recently approached the art world through your involvement in the creation of a mega installation for the Venice Biennale, hosted at the Louis Vuitton contemporary art exhibition space. How much attention do you devote to this area?
“This is our first experience. We were contacted by an architectural firm in Cologne that is involved in the creation of works by the artist Khatarina Grosse (Freiburg, 1961, ed.), who is famous for her large-scale representations where color plays a leading role. The idea was to make metal mesh panels that would join, into a single large-scale mosaic to be installed on an entire wall, an image proposed by the German avant-garde artist. An excellent understanding was immediately established between us and the client, who was looking for someone like CIM who could develop an absolutely specific and reliable digital printing technique on metal mesh. Thus, the solution we implemented to initially meet some fashion requests turned into a work of art. The project was well liked and the collaboration has moved forward. It was an adventure that allowed us to broaden our horizons to new business potential, such as the merchandising arena, which is of extreme interest in terms of visibility and economics. Last year we collaborated on visual design projects, covering, for example, the satin panels used to set up the Christmas shop windows of a well-known brand all over the world with sparkling red rhinestones, in reference to the occasion and the latest runway collection. A truly theatrical result!”
After the long period marked by the pandemic, inflation, high utility bills and geopolitical turmoil undermine the climate of confidence, curbing the demand for goods. What is the impact of such critical issues on your company?
“The instability of recent years has put many companies with relocated production in the position of reviewing their supply policies and stepping back to Europe. For us this has meant a really important increase in demand, we really have a lot of work, so we are structuring ourselves to try to manage everything as best we can, expressing the utmost professionalism in every respect. Mr. Innocenti has invested a lot in machinery and technology in the last few years, and this makes us faster, more responsive to requests and allows us to keep pace more than our Italian competitors. We are bringing in new people to train especially in prototyping. Training in the lab environment is a long process that requires a lot of patience and sensitivity. There is no such thing as a “ready-made and finished” solution; in the case of CIM, we are talking about true craftsmanship: each project involves the time of a dedicated person to check garment by garment, for painstaking quality control that puts us in a relatively unique position.
What is your big challenge in terms of product sustainability?
“We can supply all materials in Ecobrass, and most of the proposals in the catalog are made from recycled brass. We are always able to offer an environmentally sustainable alternative, however, it is difficult for this to be effectively taken up by the market because it is in fact still economically unsustainable. We use only certified materials (Reach, Oeko-Tex®) and in the case of custom production or special finishes we know how to meet the specific requirements related to the specifications of the individual brand. The customer dictates the rules and we assure him that those rules are followed. We have also devised innovative solutions that enable compliance with customer-imposed specifications with a focus on price.”
Do you consider yourselves a competitive company in the Italian market?
“We are a very cost-conscious company, that is, to remain competitive. Being Made-in-Italy does not justify not paying attention to our own positioning in the market compared to our competitors. The technologies developed also in terms of electroplating allow us to be particularly competitive in relation to specifications, and this is a key component for us.”

The CIM Italy Style Office: Vincenzo Grasso and Angela Galbussera

Outside the lines, but also “servers of fashion.” Driven to innovate and the ability to please, giving substance to the client’s ideas and intuitions. Here is the role of creative people

Vincenzo Grasso, head of the design department

“Rhinestones have always existed, before the birth of Swarovski people were grinding glass and crystal by hand. Today the market pulls towards rhinestones: looking for light in the dark times,” begins Vincenzo Grasso, head of the Design Office, an eclectic character with a respectable resume in the world of fashion, of which he lived through the golden age of the 1980s. Fifteen of those were spent by Gai Mattiolo in managing sample collections for haute couture shows, then experience in Paris at Karl Lagerfeld’s, the return to Rome and finally the move to Milan, the city of fashion and business, where he has lived for nine years. “I maintain relations with the style offices, where I have cultivated long-standing friendships; the real creative is Angela,” Vincenzo smiles. “Machines solve many challenges, but a minimum of craftsmanship and inventive liveliness is necessary at the base of everything. The luxury market has taken a new leap, despite uncertain economic and consumer conditions. The job of us creatives is to push very particular proposals, to provide insight to our clients’ design departments so that they treasure it and transfer it to their own lines according to their own vision. Customers appreciate us because we are a serious and proactive supplier, aware at the same time of the need to adhere to constraints.”

Angela Galbussera guides us on a tour of the workplaces by going into detail about the creative process. “The new collections we present at the fair each season are our calling card for the designer who is constantly looking for sources of inspiration for the next fashion shows,” Angela explains. “ Embossing and thermoadhesives are the two hearts that beat in unison where we experiment each time with new types of processing or new mixes of processing. We try not only to offer solutions from a stylistic point of view, but also to give answers to needs of a technical nature, specific to the context in which we work. We test new materials and create new shapes, taking care of making the molds and all the tools useful for the application phase on fabric or leather. Our goal,” Angela continues, “is to cover every line, from ready-to-wear to haute couture, keeping the focus on elegance. In recent years we have also included a more sporty part in the books because fusion is the existing trend and a source of inspiration. We take the liberty of making suggestions, but without getting in over our heads or being presumptuous. We stand in our place, supporting and helping the client in the choice. The task of the Design Office is to make the designer’s idea concrete: we strive to respect the standards required by the brand, offering a solution that is technically applicable and economically feasible, and therefore can be included in the collection.”

Quality control: Roberta Marchesi and Laura Tironi

There are those who check garment by garment: if a stud is ruined, if an applique does not follow the straight line of the fabric, if a rhinestone is missing, they intervene by hand. A reality you don’t expect. Extremely fascinating

Quality control manager Roberta Marchesi (on the right) with Laura Tironi

To identify and remedy the defect, action is taken by sight and by hand. Roberta was just over 15 years old when she started working at CIM Italy and today she is the quality control manager. “Our work is learned as we go along, but we never stop learning.” Experience first in production, then in prototyping, then in sample making has led her over the years to a role of great responsibility, which requires a lot of patience and precision. “The moment we find the defect we try to remedy it manually, in case it is not possible, the part will be found to be faulty and will be sent back to production.”
As we visit the quality control department, Roberta is checking that the “legs” of the stapled studs applied to the fabric are closed and folded back on themselves properly, while Laura, a new support, makes sure with the tip of her fingernail that one rhinestone after another does not come off. “The feedback is done by sample or on each individual piece depending on how the product was processed,” Roberta concludes. “Each procedure is its own.”

The Sagitta machinery in one of the workspaces

Prototyping department

Metallic mesh warehouse

The work of Khatarina Grosse at the Venice Biennale