Alberto and Emília Figueiredo founded a small underwear manufacturer in 1973 with just six seamstresses. Five decades later, they employ over 900 people who produce for the whole world.
More than 3000 threads are needed to make the elastic of a pair of underwear. At the Impetus factory in Barqueiros, Barcelos, the machine works at high speed to produce the elastic bands used to finish the underwear that is shipped all over the world. These pieces are the secret of the business that Alberto and Emília Figueiredo created 50 years ago. Last year alone, the clothing empire invoiced 50 million euros. Calling the brand and factory that specialises in underwear an empire is not a hyperbole, as it employs over 900 people, divided between five units, including dyeing, finishing and confections. In addition to a unit in Cape Verde - a truly vertical structure, which relies on few third parties. There, near Barcelos, Impetus transforms the yarn into knitwear, which is then prepared to be cut. Today the whole process is automated, but it wasn't always like this. In the past, employees would walk hundreds of metres to stretch the mesh to be cut. Now, the system detects how many layers of fabric are on the table and cuts them all at once. In the next room it is the production of elastic bands. Every day, 250 kilos of elastics are produced. When they leave the machines the pieces still lack the elastane needed to be comfortable. It is the direct heat that makes the fibres elastic. The elastic must then be sewn on to create the waistband of men's briefs and boxers. In the next room are the machines that produce the seamless sports garments, whose main market is the USA. Once the machines have produced the fabric tubes the seamless garments move on to greater financial freedom for the company. Around here, apart from the two clothing units and the factory in Barqueiros, part of their efforts are concentrated in the dyeing department, which is the responsibility of their son, Ricardo Figueiredo. Aware that a large part of the environmental impact of the textile industry comes from this phase of the process, it is there that they have carried out the sustainability "revolution", although the initiatives don't end there. "In addition to using more sustainable raw materials, such as carbon-negative cotton, one of the important points we are betting on is the transparency of the value chain," explains the vice-president of Impetus. Some of the products already carry a QR code, which makes it possible to follow the value chain. Along with having already installed gauges in the dyeing plant to estimate the energy consumption of the machinery, helping a clearer life cycle analysis, they are making changes in production. To reduce the amount of water used and chemicals used, they are pioneering the use of Colorifix technology, which dyes textiles using bacterias. Not yet applied, when its viability is assured it will allow a reduction not only in the amount of water, but also in energy. "For example, to dye polyester we had to go to 130 for eight hours. With this technology, we can dye any fibre at 30 or 40 in four hours," he says. Additionally, because it does not have chemical products, all the water can be reused. This search for innovative solutions is commonplace in the group, which partners with universities for technological development. One result of this partnership is the Protechdry line, which, at first sight, looks like traditional underwear, but is actually a patented technology that allows absorbing and neutralizing the odour resulting from urinary incontinence.
They started making briefs. 50 years later, they have a Portuguese underwear empire