José Maria Garcia-Planas

...Artextil's third genereation of innovators and entrepreneurs

by Mariel Reed
Artextil S.A. is one of Spain’s textile legacies. After the Spanish Civil War, the factory was Spain’s largest producer of worsted wool. Founded in 1931 and re-opened in 1939, the factory was built to sustain an industry as well as happy lives for its employees. Although textile production has moved East, out of Spain, vestiges of a functional town and business built by José Maria Garcia-Planas' grandfather remain. Artextil thrives with its high-profile client list and through experimentation with new and traditional fabrics. Garcia-Planas discovered a way to transform the business and make it applicable to today’s market, he seized the opportunity by creating a consultancy service with one of the most comprehensive fashion archives in the world. The factory, in all its glory is still used today by Garcia-Planas’ clients.

Can you please explain the history of Artextil S.A. and how your family got in to textile production?
My grandfather Josep Garcia-Planas was the textile designer at a local worsted wool weaver in Sabadell. In 1931, he founded his own mill but when the Spanish Civil War started in 1936, he had to escape with my grandmother and their children for political reasons.

During this period they resided in Alassio, Italy. My grandfather endeavoured in the Italian worsted wool industry and spent his money buying wool. He aimed to have enough wool to restart his business and when the war was over, he came back to Spain in 1939 with the biggest volume of raw materials in the country.

He quickly reached his production capacity and kept the entire town employed. During the post-war period he consolidated his industry and this allowed him to fulfil his dream: to build a totally integrated factory and village for his workers. He granted each employee a nice house with a garden and built a sports complex as well as a church and schools for the workers’ children.

My father then expanded the industry outside of Spain. In 1952, he built a worsted plant in Venezuela to approach the American market. The third generation—my brother Joan and I—decided to stop our industrial activities and concentrate our business on design and strategic consultancy.

For our readers who have never been to Sabadell, how has this town been instrumental in Catalan textile production? What are some problems the town has faced?
Sabadell was THE Spanish worsted town, just like Biella is in Italy or Huddersfield was in England. Unfortunately, the industry has nearly disappeared, as has most of the textile industry in Spain.

The Artextil headquarters are extremely impressive with modernist architecture as a home to a piece of fashion history. Tell us more about this building, how it was used and its future?
My grandfather’s creative sensibility is clearly expressed in the modernist building. He asked a young local architect, Santiago Casulleras, to design a building inspired in the modernist Bauhaus movement. Everything about this building speaks of elegance and history.

Architecture is my main inspiration. This is my real culture: the culture of the raw material, travelling around the world searching for fabrics. Animal or vegetable fibres are the most exciting part of my work. I am sourcing silk in China, cashmere in Mongolia, wool in the Australian island of Tasmania, alpaca in Peru and cotton in Egypt. I am also fascinated by the aesthetics in every country I visit. India is possibly the most inspirational country.

Actually, and rather unfortunately, it seems that it is all about colour in fashion nowadays. I am more interested in light rather than in colour; in the touch rather than the colour. I am much more interested in architecture than in decoration.

With an intelligent and timely move away from production towards consulting, tell us more about the current business. How have you changed your approach to textiles? What are some fabrics and blends you have been researching for your clients recently?
We decided to stop our industrial activity because we were not competitive anymore and it was becoming hard to survive. Creativity was becoming too expensive and difficult to manage in a country like Spain, where there was neither an industrial creative background, nor a demanding creative market.

At this stage, I started to get many offers from worldwide textile weavers asking us to consult for them. Our customers from the past were the ones pushing many Italian weavers to hire the design studio and have us consult for them because they could not find our signature or design skills anywhere in the market anymore.

I do not consider myself a ‘fashion’ designer. I am much more familiar with recreating the history rather than creating new fibres, which is totally a Japanese speciality. I consider myself an “artisan”, interested in the real value of the raw materials.

My last successful experiment was with the wool of an elderly sheep. The wool from a mature animal has much more body and memory. This is much more powerful.

Your office, which looks like a small fashion history museum, tells many stories. Do you have any you’d like to share with our audience, specifically designers just starting out in the industry?
My office is my small world, full of memories. Small things are present, like my first briefcase, used in 1977 when my father sent me to Hong Kong to sell fabrics to the Chinese tailors. I have specially designed cufflinks, which Paul Smith gave to me, a coat that belonged to the Duke of Windsor, a photo with Carlos Santana having lunch in Sausalito, or a photo taken from my hang glider in Death Valley National Park in California at 5,000 metres high.

One with more personal value is a perfume in a small bottle, which, I created after entering a tailor’s shop on Savile Row in 1990. I smelt the same scent that I smelt when I was a child. On Saturdays, I would go to the mill with my grandfather to jump on the wool fleeces. Wool, at that time was washed with ‘Marsiglia Soap’ and when I entered the tailor’s I was really shocked because I was filled with memories of my grandfather. The tailor told me about this special soap that I finally found, and by mixing it with wool, I got this scent, which I named ‘Memories’.

Those small memories make my work life more pleasant. Those who inspire me are also present in my office with big photos of Picasso, Yves Saint Laurent, and Audrey Hepburn, and most importantly, my wife and three children.

You now travel around the world consulting for some of the largest textile producers, how has textile production changed? Would you say that international access to markets has been beneficial or detrimental and how does that affect your business currently?

Unfortunately, the fashion industry exists mainly in the stock market. This clearly affects the European textile industry. It is all about making money and profits, although there is a niche for “haute couture” and real creativity, this is only necessary for the big financial groups to keep the great names as an ‘aspirational market ‘ but make more money on other lines: perfumes, accessories, diffusion lines etc.

The protagonist is no longer the ‘couturier’, but the CEO or the financial adviser, who takes advantage of proper marketing strategies to make sure the profits keep increasing.

Fashion can be seen as a mirror of the current economic and social climates. Many interesting emerging fashion capitals and many textile regions are suffering from high street fashion produced in cheap labour providing countries. Where does Spain sit?
Spain is where a new fashion distribution system was born. The number one worldwide fashion retail chain, Inditex, was born in Spain and keeps its headquarters here. Inditex group has created a path that other Spanish retail chains are following. Mango is clear example.

What is Spain’s future in the fashion industry? How has the migration of production affected this?
The textile industry is nearly dead in Spain and I honestly see no way to recover. The textile industry is a clear, unavoidable cost and will migrate from Europe to other areas where labour is cheaper. There will be a niche for specialized creative units for sure, but this will be concentrated in Italy, where there is still a number of small industries surviving in a real industrial cluster.

At the recent panel discussion where you shared your thoughts along side NJAL founder Stefan Siegel, you criticised younger generations for not having the will power to change things and leave their comfort zone. How much do you think drive, determination and will power are important to succeed for young designers today?
I would refer to Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you did not do than by the ones that you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”

And with so many businesses that are struggling in this economy, what do you see as common flaws?
It is clear that we are in a situation where the base of our economic system has to change. To avoid the financial chaos the medium and small units tend to disappear. Returning to a productive economy should be a priority of the politicians.

Learning from your past experiences of running an international fashion production house that faced economic difficulties itself, what advice could you give our thousands of designers looking to start in fashion?
Kafka said that if you have a dream and you do not reach it, it is possibly due to the fact that you have not dreamt of it enough. I would suggest to them to fight for their dream.

Any last few words? What would you like to share, change, or see happen in the industry?
Again, I will refer to Mark Twain:

“You might trip, you might fall but, hard work backed with patience and perseverance always makes you win”.