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ITALIAN SAIL LOFTS: A MIX OF TRADITION AND HIGH TECH THAT PROVIDES ADDED VALUE TO SAILING


ITALIAN SAIL LOFTS: A MIX OF TRADITION AND HIGH TECH THAT PROVIDES ADDED VALUE TO SAILING Sailing accessories is a sector that has the right characteristics for the Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which dominate the industry in Italy. According to the latest data published by Ucina (www.ucina.it), the nautical industry's trade association, this sector's annual production in 2005 was worth 925 million euros, out of which 268 million euros were destined for exports (about 29% of the total).

The contribution of accessories to the Italian sailing industry is not only relevant in terms of revenues, but especially in terms of quality and development of high technologies. Ucina stresses the central role played by the accessories sector in the creation of added value for the nautical industry, underling the contribution of the 7,000 people employed in this field. It is not by chance, therefore, that several teams which took part in the latest America's Cup were equipped with 'made in Italy' sailing materials and instruments.

The Italian firms that are specialised in the manufacturing of sails for regattas and cruising, one of the sub-sectors of the nautical accessories industry, follow the general trend. The sector is therefore dominated by small and medium sized firms that combine tradition with highly developed skills and adaptability to their clients' needs. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a region that has a long-established tradition in this sector: in the 17th century the city of Trieste - then the main port for the Hapsburg empire - could boast having forty sail-makers. With the advent of motorised sailing, only the firms with the most solid foundations were able to survive.

In 1917, Ernesto Zadro, who was working for one of biggest sail lofts in Trieste, understood the opportunities that were opening in the market of sail-making for yachts, and founded his own family firm. While remaining faithful to traditional craftsmanship methods, Zadro has been relying for years on computer design and sophisticated software for simulations. The cutting process for sails is mechanised, but the firm can supply hand-cut sails with special trimmings for vintage yachts. Muggia's Olimpic Sails (www.olisails.it), also based in Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an independent sail loft that is free from the constraints and group synergies that sometimes limit the choice of materials and technologies. Olimpic Sails is a young firm, founded in 1980. However, one figure is sufficient to demonstrate the company's success: from an original location of only 150 square meters, the firm moved to a new loft in 2001 measuring 2,400 square meters.

Zaolisails (www.zaolisails.com) was founded in Sanremo, in the Liguria province of Imperia, around the same time, back in 1979. After a few decades this Ligurian sail loft has gained recognition on international markets thanks to its products, available for all types of boats and purposes, from regattas to cruises, for vintage as well as maxi yachts, and for long oceanic navigation. Zaolisails has a presence in three extra-European continents, with commercial offices in North America (Tampa, Florida), South America (Buenos Aires) and Asia (Tokyo). Another Ligurian firm, Di-Tech (www.di-tech.it) from Lavagna in the outskirts of Genoa, specialises in 'custom' sails and accessories, manufactured ad hoc for a wide range of purposes indicated by its clients.

Moving south on the Tyrrhenian coast-line, we came across Velman (www.velman.it), based in Massa Carrara (Tuscany) and also founded in 1980. The firm, which produces sails and sails textiles, has always specialised in the R&D of new designs and technologies. The adoption of advanced manufacturing techniques, based on robotized marking, cutting and drafting of fibres is a testament to this philosophy. Lastly, a sail loft in the south of Italy deserves a mention: Veleria Montefusco (www.veleriamontefusco.it) from Lecce (Apulia) is a small yet dynamic firm specialised in cruising and regatta sails which can hold its own in front of more established competitors.

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