Thursday, June 11, 2015

From Wool to Carbon: Santini Celbrates 50 Years

Yesterday Santini (Santini Maglificio Sportivo, "SMS")celebrated its 50th anniversary; 50th anniversary video above.

This is how Santini sees the history, from their beginnings, of product development in cycling apparel:

THE 60’s/70’s – WOOL AND EMBROIDERY - Until the mid seventies cycling clothing was little different to the apparel used in the pre-war period, items worn by champions such as Coppi and Bartali. In this period the standard textile of choice were wool blends, (50% wool and 50% acrylic). Both the shorts and jerseys were developed using these materials. The application of these textiles, obviously had numerous limits; seventies wool was not a perfect match for the sport clothing sector, was complicated to work with and not a perfectly hygienic solution.

The textiles were usually supplied only in solid colours and creative elaboration was limited to very basic geometric inserts of alternative dyed wool fabric. Add to that the complication and cost of the manufacturing process and you had a product that was genuinely time consuming and difficult to make. Additionally up until this point the jerseys still came with shirt style collars and buttoned pockets both front and back. At that time too, the shorts (also made from a wool blend fabric) were not provided with braces and came supplied with a chamois made from real leather - to maintain the flexibility of the chamois, especially after washing and drying, it was necessary to constantly treat it with emollient in order to soften it.

But the real difficulty was related to the customisation of jerseys adding sponsors names and logos - the text and graphics were embroidered directly onto the garments by skilled workers. Generally speaking, one worker could only finish a maximum of four or five jerseys in one day. As an attempt to speed up the application of logos and text, at times letters and images were cut out from separate fabric pieces and sewn onto the garments.

THE 70’s/80’s – “SILK” AND ZIPS - With the arrival of synthetic fabrics like acrylic and other ‘silk-like’ textiles in the mid-70’s, it was the beginning of the end for use of wool fabrics in cycling apparel production. A new era was starting which promised must faster productions times and a higher output capacity of product. The production process became more streamlined and automated, leading to an overall better regulation of quality. As such Santini placed itself at the avant-garde of these change and embraced the future; the choice of fabric colours grew and button closures on apparel made way for the zip. However still, in some cases sponsor’s names and logos were still embroidered on the garments. Furthermore it became common for shorts to be developed using interlocked synthetic fabrics better styled and designed to a rider’s needs and often packaged more attractively.

THE 80’s/90’s – THE SYNTHETIC CHAMOIS AND FLOCKING - In the eighties the use of the leather chamois for bib shorts fell out of popularity, not least because it was deemed not acceptable to actually hunt the Chamois deer for the use of its hide in apparel production. So experimentation began on finding new diverse materials to replace it, often these synthetic fabrics were worked on to promote softness and in some instances materials like rubber were used as inserts in the products. The most notable advancements in textile production saw the introduction of the Lycra yarn into various polyester materials - enabling an incredible degree of elasticity in fabrics that previously had not been achievable.

Professional cycling saw a huge increase in popularity, an increasing amount of companies used the sport as a means to promote themselves. This often meant accurately reproducing specific colours and logos, which before, when applied by hand to garments, resulted in a time consuming process. So towards the end of the 80’s a new and more rapid solution is born: flocking. A process whereby many small fibre particles are applied to the surface of the garment and bonded in place with a special hot adhesive in the shape design of the required logo or sentence of text. The final result produced a velvety finish to the graphic that looked good but was very intolerant to washing and general wear. As such, at the same time screen printed graphics were an alternative mode of reproducing logos and images on apparel - a process whereby insoluble ink is directly applied onto the actual item.

THE 90’S – POLYESTER FABRICS AND THE GEL CHAMOIS - The 1990’s saw a true revolution in cycling apparel; with Santini introducing new textile trends and methods of production to the cycling world. Years of development in the textile industry saw the launch of new, highly advanced polyester fabrics that were resistant to very high temperatures; paving the way for high quality sublimation printing on sportswear - a process were ink is diffused into the actual yarn of the fabric at temperatures greater than 200 degrees, which from a design standpoint enabled total customisation of the apparel, rapidly increasing produc tion time while also reducing costs. Meanwhile other advancements in textile manufacturing saw fabrics become more aerodynamic and much greater attention was put on the actual construction of the apparel. Bib short design became far more advanced not least in the development of the chamois - a variant with gel inserts was launched at this point, helping to absorb variations and improving comfort in the saddle.

THE 2000’S, HYBRID FIBRES AND NANO TECHNOLOGY - Research into new polyester textiles greatly progressed, combining other exotic materials into specially made yarns, such as carbon fibre strands, to create lighter, more durable and comfortable fabrics while stile controlling the percentage of polyester to preserve colour fastness. Huge developments in the realm of cutting and seeing were introduced to accomodate these new advanced materials - some of which were manufactured with specific textured surfaces to promote aerodynamic efficiency or other various fabrics that incorporated elements of high visibility while cycling in low light conditions. In some of the very last collections from this period certain fabrics were developed using nano-technology - creating apparel with antiallergic, anti-UV, water resistant and cooling or heating properties such as the Acquazero, BeCool and BeHot ranges of garments. Certainly this period saw Santini drive forward to accommodate the high technical demands of the modern cyclist.

Even after 50 years of evolution side by side with cycling the research hasn't stopped; today Santini produce more than 3,000 pieces per day, exporting 80% of this production outside of Italy. The company is investing constantly in research for techniques and innovative developments in collaboration with world-class athletes, constantly striving to improve its range of clothing in order dress the cyclists of the future.

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