Stitching Denim Legacy: Tela Genova’s Journey of Passion and Heritage

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Tela Genova is a family-owned Italian company specialized in high-quality denim and traditional work-inspired menswear. Their approach to design involves passionate and meticulous archive research and offers a contemporary interpretation of authentic Italian heritage.

For this issue of Brand Talks we sat down with Cristiano Caucci, Tela Genova’s Brand Manager, to delve into his background, explore the values that underpin the brand and talk about his exciting plans for the future.

Hello Cristiano, could you share with us a little about your background, and the personal path that led you to become the Brand Manager of Tela Genova?

It’s most of all a family history. My grandfather was a fabric tradesman, and everything can be traced back to him. Then, in 1976, my father used his first savings to set up a small business with the goal of crafting his own garments – he wanted to do a step beyond simply selling fabrics. He chose jeans because in those years they were a hot novelty coming from the United States and he had a sweet spot for them. You might say that I was raised on jeans in a way: when I was still very young, in the 1990s, the family business was going well, so my older sister and I were often in the warehouse because our parents often worked extra hours.

The turning point in my career came when we acquired the brands previously owned by another business, in San Benedetto del Tronto; amongst those was Tela Genova. I saw a strong connection both with our family heritage and with the history and traditions of my country, and I immediately knew I wanted to take on the challenge of relaunching the brand, of which I became – and still am to this day – brand manager. Of course I was never alone on this journey: I am fortunate to have the support of my family, a designer and a team of skilled artisans, all working with me to rediscover traditional manufacturing techniques and explore new technologies, to meet the needs and expectations of today’s customers.

In short, this is my personal path, how I established an almost spiritual connection with “Genoa canvas”.

Do you exclusively work with Tela Genova, or are you also involved with other brands?

In a family business like ours, there are various responsibilities that I share with my sisters and cousins. However, Tela Genova is some sort of a personal affair to me: I pour my heart and soul into it to the extent that it feels like an extension of my own personality at times. I like to consider myself the brand’s first customer, and this perspective greatly facilitates the entire creative process. While it may sound somewhat self-assured, I’ve come to realize over time that the style and taste of our target customers align closely with my own. Fortunately, the success of the brand attests to this.

It’s important to note that the market has been favorable to us. In the last few years, military style and workwear are making a strong comeback, and we’ve clearly seen it in terms of turnover. But we still didn’t compromise back when it wasn’t as easy to sell our jeans, and proof is the fact that we now have a very loyal customer base, which feels close to our philosophy and takes pride in wearing our products. That’s certainly the highest achievement for anyone in my position.

Since you just mentioned it, what are the philosophy behind Tela Genova and the brand’s core values?

The cornerstone is certainly the choice of materials. We only use Selvedge fabrics, respecting a tradition that dates way back before the era of industrial denim. With regard to this, we don’t limit ourselves to blue jeans only, because denim originally came in several different shades, depending on the blend of fibers used to weave the fabric. The introduction of Indigo dye happened later and coincidentally became synonymous with the mainstream image of jeans. Our process joins these traditional aspects with modern production techniques, to ensure that heritage remains relevant in contemporary times.

We also emphasize the Italian tradition behind our product: let’s not forget that written traces of Genoa fabric exist as far back as 1515. The name jeans itself is nothing but the anglicization of Genes, the French name for Genoa. Denim is also an anglicization of “[toile] de Nîmes”, a type of fabric woven around the city of Nîmes, which is almost identical to jeans but was invented centuries later.

What’s your approach to design, and where do you find the inspiration to develop new products?

Behind all our products is the vision of a “Contemporary Heritage” style. So the first step in the design process is archive research, browsing through pictures, catalogs, actual vintage garments. When we design a capsule collection we also focus on one specific era and style, and we try to create a contemporary rendition of iconic pieces regardless of their age. In terms of colors and models we usually remain true to the classics of men’s wardrobe: five-pocket trousers, shirts and overshirts in blue, off white, khaki, beige, sometimes brown. They’re the essentials: they were in style yesterday and will still be tomorrow.

The trickiest part of the process definitely lies in production, because we have to face several technical challenges: the traditional fabrics we use, like selvedge denim, are not easy to work with and are not as standardized as modern industrial fabrics. This means that we need people with the right skills to cut and sew, and we need to invest many efforts in researching fabrics that can withstand modern use, for example going through repeated machine washing.

During our first phone call, you mentioned an intriguing concept: an “analog collection in the digital world.” Could you please elaborate on this idea?

It’s a natural consequence of our approach to design and production. There’s a big difference between a product that needs time to be conceived and crafted, and the pace of the digital world of today. Think of old movies, with little crackles at the edges of the screen: those imperfections lend a distinct charm to the images. Being analog in a digital world means holding onto those details, keeping alive little tell-tale signs that something is done slowly and carefully and can be enjoyed to a deeper extent.

Could you tell us the story of a Tela Genova garment that has a special meaning for you?

The first one definitely has to be the Romolo. That’s the “ground zero” of Tela Genova, the one that started everything ten years ago, and is a regular-cut, semi-sartorial trouser crafted from Japanese Kuroki selvedge fabric. It has been a declaration of intent for us, and we designed it keeping in mind that Genoa fabric existed long before the five pocket construction. We drew our inspiration from old pictures of sailors and dockworkers, as well as Garibaldi’s original blue trousers, displayed at the Museum of Risorgimento in Rome. The Romolo is the model that embodies our philosophy at its fullest, and definitely the most iconic from all our collections.

Are there any meaningful moments in the history of Tela Genova that you would like to share with us?

I have fond memories of our very first year, when we dived deep into the history of jeans and of Genoa fabric. We also defined the visual identity of the brand, designed the logo, created the website… it’s been intense, but extremely rewarding.

Then, after this first stage, we launched our first capsule collection in 2015. It consisted of niche products, all crafted in Japanese Kuroki and Nipposhenko denim, and with a fit that was quite far from the public sensibility of the time: we almost debuted as aliens! Luckily, dealers like Ermanno Lazzarin of Eral55, Fabrizio Amici of Blue Marlin and Mario Bonamigo of Sear’s recognized the value of our project and trusted our vision from the first day. Shortly after the launch, we held a little trunk show at Eral55, and our tailor was there with a 1938 Union Special sewing machine for fitting and customization of the trousers.

The years of Covid have also been important, in which they gave a precise measure to our project. Most people seem to have realized the true value of things, and they have probably understood that wise spending is better than wild spending. Tela Genova actually registered a growth during Covid, and that means we’ve been able to meet the new expectations of the market for a timeless quality product.

Right now, encouraged by the positive feedback we have received from European customers, we are expanding our chain of distribution to North America and Asia. However, they’re not entirely new areas for us, because we’ve taken part in many events over the years, and this allowed us to gather a faithful community around the brand.

The “Romolo”, Tela Genova’s first trousers, launched ten years ago.

Considering the growing concern for sustainability in the fashion industry, what does Tela Genova do to keep an ethical and sustainable production?

As I said, our mission is to create timeless quality garments, so sustainability is almost a natural consequence of it. Then, I personally believe that a green revolution shouldn’t be centered only on production, but rather on buying habits. We don’t necessarily need to produce differently, we must produce less. My grandmother used to say “I’m too poor to afford cheap clothes”: in her days, garments had to last you a lifetime, not wear out in a mere matter of months.

Anyway, all our denim is certified to the highest standards by GODS, to make sure the cotton is organically grown, ethically harvested and treated throughout its entire life cycle. Then, our choice of only crafting raw denim allows to reduce enormously the consumption of water, compared to stone washed jeans. We also started using upcycled materials where possible: we began doing it during Covid, when it was difficult to source materials and we resorted to our warehouse, repurposing unsold garments from previous collections.

What does the future hold for Tela Genova? What projects or exciting plans do you have in sight?

I see a promising future ahead, packed of cool projects, starting shortly with the new site which will be online shortly featuring an e-store to sell the “Never Out of Stock” collection, while the seasonal collections will still be available through our dealers. Then we will introduce collaborations with stores and brands, and we will be at Wheels & Waves in Biarritz. Also, I’m definitely looking forward to the launch of the Fall Winter collection, shot in Genoa in locations that have a deep connection with the history of jeans!

Discover more about Tela Genova.