Unraveling the evolution of manufacturing to improve the quality of finished goods requires an unrelenting commitment to finite details. Manifattura VALOR has done just this by challenging the process of the equine textile industry by creating a few select products crafted from natural materials that place the needs and comfort of the horse first.
The inception of the company arose from the realization that their was a disconnect between the demands of riders in Europe in their fashion, home & living materials to that of the horse accessories they used. It took almost eight years of research, relationship development, innovation in design and hundreds of tests for their first item to be ready for commerce. “The first product was a saddle pad and then a rug, because it needed a lot of time to develop the right technique for the cut-outs and to achieve the perfect fit. “ explains Kathrin Birk, the company’s founder.
Today, Manifattura VALOR produces small batch horse, stable and dog accessories as well as clothing and home and living textiles.
ALIGNING THE VALUES OF HORSES AND RIDERS
Ms. Birks affinity for textiles began at an early age when she would personally sew detailed leather saddles for her toy horses. Later, while studying in Italy, her interest of fabrics and old crafts continued to expand. Her early career included eight years in the fashion industry, during which time the concept of “true luxury” began to emerge. Her professional understanding of the textile industry made her question why textile horse accessories, particularly saddle pads and rugs, were made of inferior products, some of which were even outsourced to China and Vietnam.
Elaborates Ms. Birk, “I wondered why horse owners put synthetic materials underneath the saddle or other materials that are not suitable to the demands of the sensitive back of these wonderful animals.” She teamed up with an associate and another friend that she was acquainted with in the Italian luxury fashion industry. They researched allergies caused by pollutants and issues related to biomechanical functions. Simultaneously, they contacted suppliers and persuaded them to take up their craft again. This extensive process took eight years to test materials, samples and prototypes, and searched for the right partners. Ultimately, they perfected wool that is flexible and naturally wrinkle-resistant, regulates body temperature, draws moisture away from the skin for comfort, prevents rubbing and regulates odor (1).
The attention to detail in the designs and craftsmanship created by Manifattura VALOR could almost be described as Haute Couture, but these style aesthetics are definitely placed secondary to the needs of the horse. Additionally, the company studies the intense demands required specifically in equestrian sport and factors in the functionality of the equipment relative to performance.
Ms. Birk explains, “Our philosophy is therefore to always respect first the needs of the horse. This is the most important starting point. We ask ourselves questions like, ‘What is the real function of a saddle pad? What is the original demand from the use from cavalry time until today? What qualities do we need to achieve high functional features?’ … We start by thinking back to the origin and transform those features into today’s demands.”
Additionally, the company strives to correct issues that are known to cause equine discomfort including sweat puddles, heat accumulation under the saddle and the adverse effects of anti-slipping rubber coatings. In the case of horse rugs, the company developed an ingenious design to alleviate electrostatic charges when slipping a blanket over a horse’s back. “There is a natural way to avoid all these problems and we have to utilize these natural features ourselves,” says Ms. Birk.
While the horse’s well being is the primary consideration of each product, the rider also benefits from both the practical function and unique designs created by the MV team. Ms. Birk expands on these advantages, “We all know, that horses are animals that tolerate a lot and I know that every product has its advantages and disadvantages. Our philosophy is to do everything from the horse’s perspective and only secondly to make it attractive and unique for the rider. With the use of natural materials we achieve a very aesthetic character and a unique look, which is of course tailored to the rider. The horse profits from the use of these materials and the perfect fit, and the rider also profits by the vanguard look, the easy handling, and by knowing that they support very important manufacturing traditions. Therefore the design of our products has to be perfect for both while supporting a sustainable supply chain and precious craftsmanship.”
All Saddle Pads Are Not Created Equally
Each Manifattura VALOR item is constructed using a lengthy process with an uncompromising formula that allows for variances in individuality, but not in quality. Take for instance their coveted saddle pad.
Their proprietary felt is created using only specially sourced wool that is manufactured by hand, sometimes using machines that are over a century old. The color of the felt differs and is related to the color of the sheep. For example, when more brown sheep are born in a year then there is a slight brown tinge to the silver grey felt.
The enthusiasm of Kathrin’s affinity for the individuality of the natural coloring is quite moving. “These differences are very minimal and you hardly recognize them, but this natural process produces wonderful shades. We think that it produces the most beautiful and noble colors because they are made directly from nature. Sometimes customers are very lucky and discover a tiny splash of color on their off-white saddle pad. This is a sign of the marking of the sheep - and of course a further proof that the natural colored felt is not chemically cleaned or bleached. Whoever gets such a saddle pad is very lucky!”
Once the felt is completed, a total of eight more people/stages of production are required to finish the pad in preparation to leave the Manifattura VALOR warehouse.
The sewing process alone requires 26 individual steps, but each is critical in the process of creating an individually unique item. Ultimately one Manifattura VALOR pad requires over forty different production steps from sheep to finished product.
Manifattura VALOR only uses local raw materials, whenever possible. The intention is to protect traditions in the Italian Alpine region. The company located the particular virgin wool of these sheep many years ago, but it was very difficult to acquire, not only due to scarcity and demand, but also because business with the growers is completely relationship driven and must be carefully forged over time.
Manufattura VALOR and the producers have a very strong bond because they each genuinely appreciate the natural materials as well as the work of each other. Additionally, the company recognizes that the materials and producers are their most treasured possessions, “We guard them like gold, and we know that because of this our products cannot be imitated.”
MADE BY HAND
Creating exceptional quality products that rely on hand-made skills present a unique set of challenges, most glaringly both quality and availability of labor and length of production time.
First there is a difficulty in locating skilled and ambitious craftsman with the traditional knowledge and the attention to detail and design required to meet the company’s scrutinous standards. The search was lengthy to locate the correct craftsman that could fulfill the necessary requirements, in part because countries, like Germany, that previously were known for training young saddlers in traditional construction methods no longer do so. Kathrin is adamant, “If someone does not love what they do with all their heart, and has no passion for thinking ahead, they can never work for us. “
A Slower Process
The time to create a Manifattura VALOR handmade product is obviously longer than mass produced items made in a factory. Handmade products also have their own unique variances, therefore every single item undergoes a detailed and accurate inspection ensuring that it meets exacting criteria and durable while remaining extremely unique. The Manifattura VALOR client understands that their wait might be longer, but they will be receiving an item that is truly special.
CONTINIUOUS INNOVATION, OLD WORLD CRAFTSMANSHIP
The Horse is Always First
Manifattura VALOR applies their unrelenting quest for improvement for the comfort, well-being and performance of horses by leveraging established relationships with old world artisans, esteemed producers and a passionate team of innovators. This is accomplished using a continuous process that relies on observing riders and their horses, visiting with clients, and being astute to the needs of daily life.
Manifattura VALOR, Beyond the Stable
In addition to textiles for horses, the Manifattura VALOR has received requests from customers for their homes, canines and wardrobes.
When considering if a new product is possible, the company must evaluate the availability of their very limited natural resources as well as locate the proper craftsmen with the correct experience. Ultimately, any product with the Manifattura VALOR name must adhere 100% to the company’s stringent standards and a philosophy that is committed to a high level of sustainability, new aesthetics and natural mindfulness in the horse riding community.
For more information including ordering and events, visit online at http://www.manifattura-valor.com
FOLLOW, VISIT, LEARN
FACEBOOK is an excellent resource to view new styles, learn which events Manifattura VALOR will have a boutique and view an inside glimpse to the intricacies of the craftsmanship of Manifaturra VALOR. https://www.facebook.com/manifatturavalor/
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