Garment hangers are one of those things we pretty much take for granted. In a typical shopping trip we might touch and slide along the racks several hundred of them in our search for a new addition to our wardrobe yet pay no attention at all to the unassuming invention that makes all the difference between an attractive display of fashion’s best features and a chaotic pile of fabric on the floor. Whoever thinks to ask where they come from? Or how and when they get paired with their intended garment á la the retail version of a carefully arranged marriage? Who would ever think, if we thought of them at all, that hangers could have a backstory that is not only fascinating but at the forefront of environmentally and socially responsible business practices? Not us. Until, that is, we visited Steve Regino, President of Mainetti USA, at the company’s Raritan Center headquarters.
It might seem unusual that a former high school math and science teacher in Brooklyn would wind up at the helm of the American arm of the largest hanger manufacturer and distributor in the world. “At the time, much as now,” explained Steve, “the climate was not at its best for the teaching profession. So I took a job in the garment industry and never looked back.”
Roberto Peruzzo likewise entered a whole new world when Mainetti Group CEO Michael Stakol asked him to move from Castelgomberto, Italy to New Jersey in 2008 to help lead and grow Mainetti USA. With no experience in the U.S. market, Roberto had to hit the ground running and he did. Asking questions and listening, he soon gained the trust of his new team and an understanding of the very different American business model—with English as a second language.
Yet neither of their career shifts was as drastic as that of Romeo Mainetti, a racing car mechanic from the town of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, who went directly from servicing the Ferraris of the rich, fast, and famous to founding Fratelli Mainetti (Mainetti Brothers) with his siblings Mario, Luigi, and Gianni in 1961. Interestingly, one of the most influential educational philosophies of the post-WWII era is known as the Reggio Emilia Approach, which focuses on developing each student’s unique potential to be useful, innovative, and collaborative in everyday life, the hallmarks of the Mainetti brand. Maybe there’s something in the water.
Romeo Mainetti was employed as mechanic to the Marzotto brothers, a genuine royal family of racecar driving. Their father, Count Gaetano Marzotto, headed the venerable Marzotto textile company, which had recently begun producing ready-to-wear suits for the first time in its 125-plus-year history. When Marzotto saw the need for a yet non-existent alternative to wooden hangers to best present and send to market its new line, Romeo and brother Mario, who worked in a plastics factory, came up with the solution: high quality, ergonomically designed plastic hangers.
Mainetti has continued ever since to dominate its industry, largely through design and process innovations motivated by unparalleled dedication to the customer and the environment. Said Steve Regino, “The company has had a well-known in-house design department in place almost from the beginning; one that did things no one else was doing and still does.” The Mainetti design and engineering process takes into account everything from appearance to functionality to marketing to cost to sustainability. “We build close, long-term partnerships with our customers so we understand their businesses as if they were our own, so we can design the exact product they need for any garment, any opportunity, condition, or restriction.” Sometimes it is as simple as conceiving and producing a neon orange hanger for a mega-retailer whose camouflage hunting pants were just sitting there until that small change sent them flying out the door beyond all sales projections. Sometimes it is as complex as creating new technologies, manufacturing processes, and molding tools to turn a good idea into a sound and successful product—overnight!
Mainetti revolutionized the garment industry’s supply chain dynamics by introducing the GOH (garment on hanger) program that has since been adopted as the universal norm. Garments slated for shipment to any retailer in the world are paired at the point of manufacture with their intended, custom designed, branded, and/or selected hanger, optimizing the transportation and distribution process.
Recycling of garment hangers is another industry practice begun by Mainetti in the 1960s. Today, Mainetti maintains an extensive network of re-sorting and re-processing facilities that benefits both its customers and the environment. Instead of being thrown away by retailers, millions of orphaned hangers are collected by Mainetti, cleaned, sorted, and reintroduced to the supply chain at great savings to the secondary market. “Any hangers that can’t be recycled are granulated and turned into new hangers,” explained Steve, “using the most environmentally friendly production processes available. Mainetti will do whatever it takes to ensure its products and materials never wind up in a landfill.”
A business that began by producing a single product for a single customer now produces 3.5 billion hangers a year, operating offices and manufacturing facilities in 42 countries on five continents. The company’s core values are increased rather than diminished by such staggering expansion; “Every Mainetti office around the world is required to serve its community and to make sure its employees have the time and flexibility to contribute to those efforts,” said Steve. “Our quarterly reports on socially responsible activities are as intrinsic to the bottom line as the financials.” Doing well, it seems, can have a lot to do with doing good.