GERONIMO MAGAZINE – INTEVIEW WITH ANDREA BELLETTI
The American dream does exist but luck does not fall from the sky. This is the story of a business pioneer who had a dream that became a vision, and that vision has become a big company: Interjeans.
I met him at his company’s Headquarters in Rovereta, San Marino – in a space structured like a big loft.
Given the fact that we could do a movie on your life, would you like to tell me how your American adventure started back in 1992?
“It all started from my passion for vintage. That year I decided to leave for the States with my scholastic English in
search of real second-hand denim pants, particularly I was looking for Levi’s 501, the first pants made with brass rivets
pockets. The 501 batch number was assigned from Levi’s in order to distinguish them from other productions.
Blue jeans has always represented the American dream with its freedom and adventure myths. It was the working class uniform, inextricably related to the hard work of miners and farmers, and to the romantic myth of cowboys.
By that time there was no Internet nor any of the tools we have today, so I started looking into rag houses – where tons of worn items were stored. In the second-hand industry it’s not the price but gender and quality to determine the value of the item, and I used to selecting specific types and brands that had a potential in the Italian market.
With a yellow Penske truck, which I was used to rent in Dallas or Houston, I went through all the South-West areas where I knew I could find Levi’s 501 with buttons, from Texas to Oklahoma and Arizona till New Mexico. One month was for driving across the States to buy the items and the month after was for selling everything I found in Italy, giving denim a second life.
Warehouse after warehouse, lead after lead, I ended up building a small reality in Santa Ana – California, where I had the help of 25 Mexican people under the guidance of a Sioux Indian, a Chemist who invented a gel formula that was able to remove stains on worn-out denim through the help of a spoon. An unusual partnership, the result of many sliding doors encounters with the incredible people I met by the streets.
I bought denim pants from who gathered them around in their house garage, from 100/200 pairs at a time. Managing 15/16 thousand pairs was such an exhausting work. Final destination were the stores of around 40 clients, met through friends and other various people, who sold second-hand items in their towns in Italy.
After some time, my partner (who is my wife today) joined me, and I hired other people – little by little we kept growing and we started to have more clients every day. We started receiving specific orders, bookings for cult pairs and other type of requests such as hoodies, t-shirts, jackets, specific types of Adidas sneakers.
All of the things that you still couldn’t find in Italy. Since I was in the States, I was able to see and select what I liked and what I thought could work in Italy.
I had also started exporting new rigid Levi’s jeans with original double hem made with a special machine. The 501’s cloth was intentionally not elastic. By that time those jeans were exported with another fit and lenght but the tailor-made hem was a stub that lost value over the time. I was used to bring the jeans at a laundry in Santarcangelo, which was specialised in Levi’s Europe washes. Together with the staff, I studied tratments, even experiments, taking my own used jeans as example.”
I’m not even asking if jeans is your favourite garment…
“Denim is not a common fabric, it is special and fascinating as it is able to tell the story of people and cultures. It still keeps defining trends and streetwear codes with no signs of slowing down. A vintage item is the purchase of life, we should not forget that being second hand also makes it better for the environment, this is something to keep in mind. Wearing a pair of jeans over the time until it’s worn-out is just like measuring time from the bark of the tree. It’s part of you, it molds its shape in function of your phisicality, it tells your story and your memories. Signs and rips show how you wore it and how you lived it. I jealously keep all my altan jeans, they are an appendix for me.”
So details have an almost obsessive relevance.
“Vital for all the jeans experts like me. Vintage market still exists and it is made of period pieces highly sought-after by collectionists with crazy prices. I had the chance to experiment the power of the Premium item through limited edition shoes, during a different yet crazy time period, but this is another story.”
I would like to know.
“Many years ago, at the end of the ‘90s, a vintage Adidas shoe made for Taekwondo was really on trend. During my period in the States I met a guy who had the license for producing them in Korea, where that one was the national sport. So I started importing these special shoe models, nowhere to be found, and that has been an incredible success since it was not a product with a standard distribution.
After that, Stella McCartney designed a boxe shoe for Adidas. I don’t know why or how but I met the person in charge of importing them in Germany and together with him I took several containers of that Tygun shoes in different colors and variants in Italy.”
If feels like the story of the man at the right place at the right time, more than sliding doors.
“It has been 3-4 adrenalinic years, but with a deadline. After the huge success, giants like Adidas realized there was a business potential and they took the licenses back and managed distribution on their own.”
Starting from your passion for second-hand jeans, you are now positioned among the European leaders for casual and sportswear apparel distribution. A consolidated reality, committed to a never-ending research.
“You never stop evolving. When you stop doing that you disappear, that’s the way it works. Here is why we structured ourselves and opened our company in San Marino. Through an accurated selection, we have become importers and partners of many brands to distribute in Italy, making our way inside an uncovered market segment. Nowadays, our portfolio ranges from American brands to Europeans, all with the same common denominator: being eco-compatible, green and possibly recicled. We do care about this ethical element and our intention is to develop new projects in this direction.”
Is America still the main country of reference for your business?
“United States were the dream of all those, me included, who looked into that direction during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I think it’s still like this.
The second El Dorado is Japan, alter ego of the USA for the textile industry. Japanese people pay attention to what happens in America and they refine it with craft techniques until every detail is perfect. They bought old and abandoned frames from Americans and they made Japanese denim out of them, and today that is the best denim you can find, speaking of quality”.
What about the other European brands?
“We have Swedish brands, a lot of British ones and each of them has its own positioning in this sector we have
balanced with an 80% male and 20% female weight. They all have their stories, features and DNAs. Products have all a
precise place, such as Lyle & Scott, a knitwear brand born in Scotland in 1874, one of the very rare such as Burberry, Aston Martin and Belstaf that can boast having the Duke of Edimburgh seal: the Golden Eagle.
Heritage is a really important element. The storytelling behind a brand increases its value, the story linked to the past is a fundamental experience since history is future, what has happened in the past will also happen in the future, while trendy projects periodically transit in our world without leaving any trace. We decided to strenghten long-term parterships.”
From your perspective, where is the sportswear industry going?
“It’s difficult to forecast right now, with what’s happening in the world from pandemic to Ukraine war. They represent
global and unseen disruptions which are delaying processes, increasing transport prices and challenging producers.
Only the most structured and solid companies can make it up to objective difficulties in this very moment. Everything
is late, trasports are rising and even dyeing brings higher costs due to energy costs’ rise.
To give you an example, our long-lasting brand American Apparel, a carry-over basics brand which was a pioneer in introducing recycled materials (it was one of the first brands which used Pepsi plastic bottles to reconvert them into organic cotton), is struggling in finding raw materials to create their products. We received our last delivery back in August 2021 and we are still waiting for them to start production again.
If you ask me which way all this goes, I can only say solid companies will be able to go ahead despite the difficulties and history, the strenght of brands lies in their values.”
With Superdry, you are directly experiencing pure retail. What are your impressions on this business?
“In the past, I always tried to stay away from retail, I preferred to look for clients myself rather than waiting for them
to enter stores. Then I changed my mind when I started collaborating with this huge group with more than 700 point
of sales in the world.
Superdry is a British streetwear brand, born in 1985 from a trip in Tokyo in front of an Asahi beer, which was defined “Super Dry” (here is where the name of the brand comes from). The brand mixes American vintage style with Japanese heritage developed in graphics and strong colors.
They have pushed us to open stores in our market. We started with Rome, then Riccione, Florence and many other franchising stores have opened since then. After seeing this project was bringing good results, I thought: we have other brands which are not competitors with Superdry, actually they complete the offer, why don’t we create a new hub for casualwear?
That’s how Be Standard stores were born in 2010, then shaped into corners, concessions and shop-in-shops through the franchising formula.”
Interjeans is turning 30 this year…
“Yes indeed, 30 years of history are starting to become a wealth of experience. From one side, we feel the strong desire to celebrate this goal, retrace our story and proudly think back at all that we have accomplished. On the other side instead, we are ready to face future challenges, that we are approaching with the serenity given by our matured experience and with the willingness of getting in the game. 30 years of activity means a lot, we do not consider it a destination point but a fundamental stage of a story that still has to be written!”
And there’s more. You also found the time to found LaBrands, with your partner Elia Guidi.
“Yes, the headquarters are on the same building as Interjeans, at ground floor. In 2019 we saw that there was nothing similar for kids in the market and we thought of creating a project entirely dedicated to kidswear distribution, from new born to teenager. The very first brands we introduced were the ones we had for the adult line. Starting from Levi’s, we added Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, then Puma and Polo Ralph Lauren accessories. Today, LaBrands distributes its brands in 1100 point of sales all over Italy. Interjeans and LaBrands are both very demanding activities. In our logistic warehouses we handle +2 million garments.”
Are there any differences between Italian and other European markets?
“Everything is more difficult in Italy, it’s a ditch. Clients need to be conquered one at a time, it takes a very long time to develop a network but then it lasts for long. Just to make it clearer: in Germany, if you sell your garments through 20 appointments, you ensure your distribution to cover more than 800 stores, since they are so many chain stores over there. Everything is much more simple and less stressful, from burocracy to administration. In Italy instead, we are different in every way, we have many little realities to handle in their peculiarity and we have 4 seasons to balance and adjust with correct deliveries. But this is also the good part. It’s hard to do business in Italy without brokers. That’s where we come into the story.”
What are your next plans?
“We will always be evolving since this is our nature and we will never get tired of discovering new things to develop.
Denim is our core, we started from there and we have specialised in that fabric. What’s sure is that we will dedicate
more space to woman line, which is a sector with different dynamics in time periods, needs and values, compared to
Man is constant and repetitive when he is attached to a brand, he identifies in its values and marry it. Woman instead follows trends: one day she loves a brand, the day after she is attracted by another. She’s not loyal to fashion and she gets much more influenced. With some brands we are starting foreign distribution. We are always on the go, our guys keep traveling and me as well – I keep going back and forth to the States, Asia and UK. That’s where trends are born. At the moment, we are committed to consolidating the brands that we already have, which are a lot, otherwise the risk is to implode.”
This 53 intense-lived years old guy spreads a lot of energy. He also has 2 daughters, the first one has 15 years old and she is studying at Artistic Lyceum. “She is an artist, she cuts and sew since she was a little girl” – said Andrea proudly. The other one, which is 13, would like to study foreign languages. New generations are growing.