If you were to rank the sports world’s most iconic outfits, the Tour de France yellow jersey would be towards the top. But few would guess that it is made by a family-run business nestled in the north-west of Portugal. For the past decade, P&R Têxteis has made all of the leader jerseys for the world’s most famous cycling race, and since 1996 Adidas’s Olympic kits for several countries. It is also behind the Puma outfit worn by Usain Bolt at the Beijing and London Olympics. 

Return business from the world’s leading athletes is testament to the precision of P&R’s garments. Focused exclusively on competition sportswear, it uses the highest-quality technical fabrics and specialised construction. “We have state of the art technology in all areas, including automatic and laser cutting, plus digital printing, which is very important for competition sportswear,” says Duarte Nuno Pinto, chief executive of P&R Têxteis. Instead of stitching, P&R uses European-developed bonding technology which allows for greater speed, functionality and comfort. 

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To kit-up individual athletes, as well as full federations, P&R has struck the sweet spot between personalisation and scale in a way that few other textile businesses have. “Garments can be tailor-made and orders start from one piece, which means we have a very small team working each garment,” says Mr Pinto. Its commitment to research and development, and subsequent testing, is second to none, aided by its close co-operation with the nearby Citeve – the Technological Centre for the Portuguese Textile and Clothing Industry. They are part of a consortium behind a project called TexBoost, which creates bodysuits equipped with sensors that track the athlete’s movements.

Fashion tackles Covid-19

Alongside the ESAD College of Art and Design, Citeve is part of a knowledge hub in and around Porto that supports a cluster of small and medium-sized enterprises at the intersection of design, technology and tradition. This region powers Portugal’s fashion industry, exports from which have increased since 2015 to reach nearly €7bn in 2019, and its growing homewares’ industry.

One of the area’s most impressive innovations of late is MOxAd-Tech, the world’s first mask to inactivate SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19. Created in the labs of fashion and textiles business Adalberto, it hit the market in April and quickly became available overseas. Its underlying technology is a finishing that minimises garments’ washing requirements. It was presented at Paris’s Première Vision show in February 2020, but when Covid-19 hit Europe shortly after, Adalberto realised it could serve a greater purpose.

“The antimicrobial finishing kills bacteria in clothes,” explains Susana Serrano, chief executive of Adalberto. “We studied and altered the formula for the virus, applied it to masks, and then partnered with universities to have it tested and certified.” There are now other masks that kill SARS-CoV-2, but they have not proven to be as effective under the antiviral standard set by the International Organization for Standardization. 

Adalberto is also working to improve the traceability of its garments “with the aim to become a model of transparency”, says Ms Serrano. “Via a QR code, we can show where the materials came from, how many kilometres it has been transported, how much water the process consumed, and so on.”

This experimentation underpins Adalberto’s philosophy. “All our projects are based on our three values — innovation, sustainability and social responsibility — and each involves a small component of technology,” says Ms Serrano. “We don’t follow the trends set by major brands.”

New face of Portuguese design

Another local company not following trends is furniture creator Urbanmint. Its inspired founder and chief executive, Paula Sousa, was working as an interior designer in the late 2000s when she realised most brands were strictly contemporary or classic. She had the vision to create something unique — “the new classics”, she calls it — and her home country was perfectly equipped to deliver it. 

“I travel a lot and I realised there weren’t many countries with the skills and resources of Portuguese artisans who were still making things by hand,” says Ms Sousa. “It gave me an idea: I wanted to help create a new international identity of Portuguese design.” She convinced craftsmen hit by the global financial crisis and on the brink of shutting shop to transform their studios and become her suppliers. Now, 13 years later, her two brands — Munna and Ginger & Jagger — count Dior, Cartier, Fendi, Van Cleef & Arpels, Four Seasons and Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as clients. Munna has won eight international design awards.

Ginger & Jagger embodies the environment’s forms and contours, and is Ms Sousa’s way of “immortalising nature in [her] products”. At the heart of both brands are handmade processes and traditional artisanry, sometimes combining three techniques in one product. 

“What really defines us as creatives is authenticity. We are using our heritage of craftsmanship — which is particularly strong around Porto — by working with artisans who have spent years with their parents and grandparents learning their skill,” says Ms Sousa. “This is part of our history and we can’t let it die. So, I’m doing my part.” 

From followers to leaders

Urbanmint’s conquest of the luxury brands market epitomises the transformation of Portugal’s fashion and furnishings industries. Once known predominantly for textiles, an increasing number of businesses are vertically integrated and making a name for themselves in design. 

Paulo Coelho Lima, chief executive of home textiles specialist Lameirinho, recalls how the family-owned business’s operations have evolved over its 70-odd years. 

“In the past, customers used to bring their own designs to us, asking us to reproduce them for their brands,” he says. “Nowadays, as we have a very high-skilled team in our design department; our customers ask us what we have to propose.”

This message is filtering out into export markets. “Portugal was always known for doing well what it was told to do. But, over the years, we have improved our knowledge, skills and creativity,” says Mr Coelho Lima. “Nowadays ‘Made in Portugal’ means quality, creativity, innovation and trust.”

True to the region’s industrial roots, this movement is driven from the ground up. “In Portugal, design is not a political strategy,” says Ms Sousa. “The entrepreneurs in this industry, we are doing it by ourselves.”

This article first appeared in the February/March print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.