Tollegno 1900: A Benchmark of Innovation in Historic Biella

Vanessa Zdesar

Nestled at the foothills of the Alps, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, lies Biella -- a small province with a big history. Winding cobblestone roads and postcard villages tell of a town deeply rooted in tradition, unspoiled by many of today's technologies. Biella is a green city, mountain peaks serving as a backdrop for a picturesque town dotted with blue lakes and fertile valleys. Looking at it, one is not likely to guess that Biella is in fact an industrial center, recognized for centuries as "the city of wool".

Biella's history as the wool capital of the world dates back to over 200 years and is due mostly to its rich environmental conditions -- the high mountain pastures and abundant water supply ideal for raising sheep, washing fleece and powering mills. Although it was the silk industry that dominated much of Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries, wool took the spotlight in 1835 as the town's original silk factory was transformed into a wool factory. With the introduction of mechanical looms, Biella was suddenly at the forefront of innovation and technology in the growing industry.

Today Biella is a harmonious blend of old and new, with old-world history and tradition colliding with new-world technology and innovation. No company embraces this juxtaposition better than Tollegno 1900, a full-cycle textile mill whose mantra of "tradition, land, technology: the Italian know-how" echoes in its everyday workings.

As the name suggests, Tollegno 1900 was founded in the year 1900 in Biella and has had a fruitful history since. By 1946 the company acquired several weaving mills, essentially becoming the esteemed full-service spinning and weaving mill it is today. Tollegno 1900 makes all of its yarns and fabrics in house, proudly bearing the Made in Italy logo. From wool to wool stretch to cashmere fabrics, the mill oversees the entire production process, from raw material to finished product.

The Biella area is famous in textiles as the place where the best wool fabrics in the world are produced. I would say that our wool stretch qualities are among the best in the world for performance and quality.
— says Giovanni Tallia, a manager at Tollegno 1900.

Indeed quality is at the core of the company's values. Tollegno 1900 sources the finest wool from Australia and New Zealand; it sources its cashmere from Inner Mongolia. The mill even has an agreement with a farm in Tasmania for the 17.5-micron wool it uses for its Super 120's qualities, meaning that the farm's production is exclusive for Tollegno 1900. The rest comes down to quality control, with an employee on site in Australia checking different lots to ensure which is the best one.

Tallia insists that the mill's strength is in its wool stretch fabrics, although it produces an impressive repertoire of finished textiles and yarns, ranging from classic to innovative. Its current collection includes what one would expect in any great suiting cloth collection -- 100% Extrafine Merino Wool, 100% Merino Wool, worsted cashmere and silk yarns -- along with newer products, like Tollegno 1900's New Cashmere 2/27 and Nanocashmere™ 2/27. However one thing ties the fabrics together: luxury and innovation.

Nanocashmere™, which released in 2014, was researched and developed in partnership with the University of Hong Kong. The yarn works on the nano scale, resulting in a high quality water and stain resistant cashmere yarn implemented with a cutting-edge nanoparticle coating and engineered to perform specific functions (like piling resistance, for example). It is a completely new material revolutionizing the cloth industry and speaks to the level of technology this mill brings to its historic,traditional Biella.

Many companies are taking note of the mill's quality nature. Tollegno 1900 currently has a slew of international customers lining up to purchase its premium suiting fabrics. Some of its biggest customers include Armani, Hugo Boss, The Kooples, J Crew, Theory and Brooks Brothers. With such success, Tollegno 1900 has big plans for next season's collections.

"We would like to keep and to increase the business we are having worldwide by presenting and developing new innovative fabrics in natural fibers using our know how and experience," explains Tallia.  "We want to meet the different market requests we have from all around the world: what could work for a German customer is not the same that for an Italian or an American one."

This is the challenge Tollegno 1900 faces for the future as it accrues global success. Although it is difficult to please everyone, the mill continues to weave quality, consistency and innovative technology into every fabric it produces. At the end of the day, Tollegno 1900 prioritizes its customers, ensuring it will continue to have very close relations with its customers, no matter how big the company gets.