The Women In Denim is Rivet’s check-in with women working in the global denim sector. The weekly column, in partnership with The Women In Denim industry group, shines a spotlight on today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. In this Q&A, Barbara Gnutti, CEO of EFFE-BI SRL, discusses the importance of absorbing industry knowledge from past and future generations.
Barbara Gnutti, CEO of the Italian PR and media agency EFFE-BI SRL
When and where did you begin your career in denim?
My very first experience in the denim world was in New York at Diesel USA. I had the opportunity to work for them for about a year and it was one of the most fun and formative experiences of my life. When I came back to Italy, I started to work in the family business, the Tessitura Vicentina Spa (which later became ITV Denim), with the position to open up new markets especially abroad. At that time, the export was less than 10 percent but in a few years became 50 percent of the company’s total production.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
I set up a new company, a PR agency specialized in relations with the media and worldwide business networking, two years ago. It was a fundamental part of my job at ITV Denim, but today with my agency I have the opportunity to work with different companies rather than only those from the textile world.
I continue to work in textiles, thanks to my relationship with PG Denim [editor’s note: Barbara is sister to PG Denim founder Paolo Gnutti], but I also work with companies in chemistry like the Rudolf Group, garment-finishing technology companies like Tonello, and accessories like Cadica Group. Besides the fact that I enjoy my job very much, it allows me to expand my technical knowledge across all denim industry sectors.
Some people describe denim as a boys’ club. Do you agree or disagree?
There are still many difficulties for women to obtain corporate positions at the highest level for which they are very well qualified. For some of them, it is possible only because they belong to a business family. Much has been done in the recent years, but there is still a lot to be done to achieve real equality both in terms of work and wages. The reason is unfortunately rooted in history. Women have always been considered “the weaker sex.” I, of course, disagree with this statement and will do my best to fight for a change in the future.
In denim, what qualities do you think women bring to the table?
Women consider interpersonal relationships very important. This allows harmony in relationships and communication and creates serene and constructive working environments. By nature, we are problem solvers and we have the ability to manage multiple complicated situations simultaneously.
Have you had a mentor in your career?
I was very lucky from this point of view. I have a father, Romano, and brother, Paolo, who passed me all their passion and expertise in the denim world. I grew up on “bread and denim” and blue indigo blood is in my veins. I definitely owe it to them.
As for the communication point of view, I had the great honor and privilege to see Maurizio Marchiori working during my internship at Diesel in New York, a man with a great talent and geniality. When he arrived at the office in New York, I watched him work with great curiosity and esteem and he transmitted me the curiosity about marketing and communication that I did not know before meeting him.
What can women do to help other women in the denim industry?
For sure to support each other, grow together, listen to each other and learn from one another. Protecting each other, will over time, allow us to become stronger and more credible.
What advice would you give to a woman starting a career in the denim industry?
Study to be prepared and take nothing for granted. Our sector is very technical and complicated—it requires preparation. This is fundamental. Then you have to be strong; do not let yourself be overcome by difficulties. Learn from those who already have experience. Listening, browsing, inquiring, asking questions can only enrich one’s knowledge.
Who is your denim style icon, and why?
In addition to fashion, music has always had—and still has—a big influence on me. Musical groups like The Ramones have influenced me both internally and externally. To them, I owe my girlish look of jeans and leather jackets. I owe my grunge period (which was little-loved by my mom) to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, which I had a real obsession for in the early ’90s.
What should be the denim industry’s top priority now?
In my opinion, to focus collections on the real company’s skills and not on pure and simple market and price rules. In doing this over the years, we lost the brand DNA and the possibility for consumers to identify themselves in them. We definitely must produce better, perhaps less, with a massive control of all the steps of the production chain.
What makes you most optimistic?
My kids. The new generations show much more interest in what surrounds them. When they brush their teeth, they turn on and off the water. They help me in recycling. They put aside the games they no longer use for other children. They demonstrate a maturity both linked to the environment and to the human part that had been lost in recent decades. I trust them. And their generation that has much more information than ours to create a better world.