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Monica Santini : Interview

Monica Santini portrait
Steve Westlake
22 May 2015

Fifty years after Santini was founded, we discover there is more to the cycling brand than just jerseys and bib shorts.

Cyclist: It’s 50 years since your father Pietro started Santini. How are you marking the occasion?

MS: We have many things going on, for instance we are working with a couple of young artists who we have given a bunch of our old stuff to – pictures and products – and we’ve asked them to come up with some ideas. When we see what they come up with we will use it to create some publicity, perhaps some t-shirts and other products. 

Of course we will have a formal party too, with many of the people that have made these 50 years happen, for instance our best customers and distributors. We’re also creating something more personal for my dad – a video and a book with some really touching interviews. It’s a surprise and he doesn’t know about it, but it’s not a problem if you publish this because he doesn’t speak English!

Cyc: How involved is your father in the company now?

MS: He still comes to the company every day, although he’s not involved in daily operations. He does what he likes to do, basically. He still loves to go to bike races and see the cycling, and we always talk to him when we take a big decision.

Cyc: Your sister is involved in the company too. How do things divide up? 

MS: I’m managing director and my sister Paola is in charge of marketing and communications. We work well together.

Cyc: Santini is one of the major, historic brands in cycling apparel. Are you still growing? 

MS: We produce around 600,000 items roughly a year, counting everything from socks to jerseys. We’re distributed in more than 60 countries right now. There are countries where cycling has traditionally been a very strong sport and these are still our strongest markets. But we’re also seeing a lot of development in countries such as Thailand where we might think, ‘Do you actually ride a bike?’ The Asian market is growing fast, but the UK market is growing fastest. 

Cyc: What’s your view of the British market, from a fashion point of view?

MS: I see that you have fully embraced cycling only in the last few years, but you like it a lot. Your taste is more conservative than other countries – Asia is more colourful for example. In Britain it’s very basic, a lot of black and a little bit of colour here and there, but not a lot. 

Cyc: Do you think we’re too conservative?

MS: Personally, I like very clean designs. There’s a famous Italian designer – Pininfarina – who said that a product is perfect not when you have nothing more to add to it, but when you have nothing to take away from it. Clean lines, clean design… I like that philosophy. Sometimes, however, I wish we could be more daring and that the market would accept it. 

Cyc: Do you design specifically for the UK?

MS: For the UK, no. We design for the European tastes but we do sometimes create different products and make adaptations for other countries. Sometimes it’s a tweak of the colours, sometimes a totally different design. 

Cyc: Where do you get your inspiration from?

MS: We get a lot of feedback from our relationships with pro riders and teams, and use their suggestions to make the garments more advanced. Sometimes, though, the pros want things that are difficult to reproduce for the market, so we might modify it a little because the price of the garment would be too high, they wouldn’t last long enough or they would be too tight or extreme in terms of cut. We’re noticing more and more that our customers are asking for the exact same products that the pros use, but even if you are a serious cyclist it’s very hard to appreciate how different a pro’s physique is. So we also take feedback from a lot of serious riders who are not professional – that’s why we have our own gran fondo team, Santini De Rosa. From these guys we get the consumers’ point of view exactly. 

Cyc: Cycling clothing is very technical and advanced. Are we near the limit? 

MS: I think we’re just at the beginning. I’ve been in the company all my life and working there since 2000. So many things have changed in 15 years, in terms of the patterns and the cuts. There’s so much research going on in fabrics right now – the type of data they can collect and how they can help the body and the skin. I think the textile industry is one where there will be a lot of discoveries in the future. 

Cyc: What are the exciting new technologies?

MS: There are many, but one of the things that we’re working on right now is linked to the fact that cycling is getting bigger and bigger and we feel we have to do something for the environment – 90% of the products we make are man-made fabrics, and these are difficult to dispose of after use. So one of the things we are doing right now is researching ways that we might reuse or recycle used material so that when we put something new on the market we know that we’re also dealing with what the consumer might throw away. 

Cyc: When you create new clothing, do you look for the right fabric technology, or does the technology dictate the garment?

MS: Both ways. If you start from a need, then you try to find something [a suitable fabric] on the market that you can use – or you modify it a little. Sometimes it happens the other way around, for example with our Acquazero garments. The Acquazero treatment wasn’t developed by us but it was presented to us by the company that researched and created it, and we thought it was such a good idea that we produced a whole range of products around it. It makes the fabric water resistant without changing the breatheability or the elasticity at all. 

Cyc: What’s a reasonable price for cycling apparel? For example, is €300 too much for a pair of bibshorts? 

MS: Being involved in production and knowing the exact cost of producing something, I can tell you that there is a limit to what I myself would pay for something because I can recognise when the money I’m spending is worth it in terms of good materials and good products, and what is only ‘blah blah blah…’. Our pricing is the result of the philosophy that comes from my dad. He always wanted to offer the right price for our products. We could make them more expensive and probably the people would still buy them, but for my father if the product is fairly priced it’s good for the customers. 

Cyc: There are a lot of new brands in the market? Do you think there are too many?

MS: The fact that we have so many brands lately – many more than 10 years go – means that cycling is growing as an industry and that’s a positive thing. On the other hand, some brands are justthere because cycling is growing and sometimes there is no knowledge of what they are doing – it’s more about marketing, and that’s sad in many ways, because I always want to buy what’s worth buying.

Monica Santini portrait

Cyc: Are there brands you admire?

MS: [Laughs] It’s a tricky question for me to answer… I honestly admire those brands, without naming names, that actually put research and innovation into their products. I do not admire those that are, in my opinion, stealing the money of their consumers, selling smoke more than they are selling products. 

Cyc: Santini has a long history with the Giro d’Italia, and sponsoring the jerseys. How important is your relationship with the race?

MS: It’s very important. The Giro is the biggest race in Italy and one of the biggest races in the world, and in my opinion it’s one of the best in terms of the landscape and the competition in the race. It’s always very exciting to watch the Giro d’Italia, often more so than other races. That’s the reason that we like to be connected with such a race – it shows a lot about our background because we really are a racing brand. The fact that we are still together after 20 years shows that the relationship is felt the same way from both sides. 

Cyc: It was important to your father that you made the products in Italy. Will this continue?

MS: If that continues forever I cannot say because there are things that are difficult to predict. But we have a very, very low turnover of staff, and have workers that have been with us for 40 years. That means there is a very strong commitment to the company. It would be easy for us to just say we want to save costs and move somewhere else and lay people off here, but this is a family company and we don’t want to look only at the last number on the balance sheet, but also what makes us what we are. I like the fact that a lot of families are working and living thanks to the work we give them, and that gives me much more satisfaction than extra money or anything else. 

Cyc: Replica jerseys – do you think it’s OK for normal riders to wear them? 

MS: The only one that I think is a little bit difficult to wear is the World Champion’s. The rainbow jersey is one that you really need guts to go around in, at least on the bike. The others, why not? 

Cyc: How do you decide which jerseys from you rpro-sponsored teams to produce as replicas? 

MS: Sometimes it’s tricky. Many times we’ve said, ‘That team’s jersey looks so cool – let’s use it in the collection,’ and then you take away the logos and it doesn’t look cool any more. Once with the Liquigas team we made an incredible design – it had lines going down on the chest and the Liquigas logo. We tried to tweak it and change it for the market, but without the sponsors’ names it just didn’t work. 

Cyc: Do you ride much?

MS: I ride, but not competitively, just because I like riding. Normally I don’t ride in winter though because I don’t like the cold! I don’t ski either – I’m more of a beach person. My daughter is 10 and we’re just starting to take her out on rides with us. She has this super-crazy little race bike – she’s beautiful on it. Her grandfather is very proud of that.

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