Performance Materials Italian Style: Pairing High-Tech & High-Fashion to Serve the Footwear Industry

Would you be surprised to learn that high-tech and high-fashion are often closely linked?  One unique company, Italian-based Omnipel Technologies, makes it their mission to address global footwear trends with high performance material solutions.  For more than 20 years, Omnipel has been partnering with Rogers Corporation to do just that.  We recently spoke with Dr. Jessica Schlaefer, Managing Director of Omnipel, to get her perspectives on the company, material trends, and the secrets to her firm’s global success.


INTERVIEWER: Tell us about OMNIPEL, how it got started and what your core business is today.

Schlaefer: Omnipel has been in business for more than 40 years. It was actually founded in 1975 by my father, Rolf Schlaefer. He started as an agent for shoes and bags, then began importing and sourcing specialty materials and converting them for customers. We are considered converters as we source specialty materials and then we add value to those materials through printing, perforating, slitting, adding backings, etc. Today, we specialize in offering worldwide high quality materials combining technological innovations with the continuous evolution of fashion trends.

INTERVIEWER: Where is OMNIPEL located and what does that mean for your business?

Schlaefer: My father started the business in Italy, and eventually grew the business throughout Europe, but we have remained headquartered here in Italy. We are located in a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Garda in Northern Italy. Being in Italy has helped shape our target business towards the shoe and fashion industries. Italy is the leading shoe manufacturing country in the European Union, and has always been the world leader for the manufacturers of luxury and high level shoes having a high fashion content.

INTERVIEWER: What markets do you target in your business?

Schlaefer: The shoe industry represents about 80% of our business. Handbags make up another 10%, and the rest is a wide variety of different niches including apparel, architectural, and sporting goods such as gloves, saddles, and helmets. We have been known been known for many years for technical, functional materials, but now we are known for fashion fabrics, as well. I have to say it was really hard to break into the fashion world but we now serve all the major brands.


INTERVIEWER: What is unique about OMNIPEL’s approach?

Schlaefer: In the fashion world, you cannot go to the brands with the same products, the same linings.We develop new fashion products that are introduced two to four times a year to present to the brands for each season. Mainly, I would say that we have a very vast selection of materials and we try to address market demands. Nowadays, customization is getting really big, so we try to address those needs. Brands want something unique, something customized to help them to differentiate their brand, and that’s what we deliver. We also try to have everything in stock because, when the brands call, they want it shipped out the same day.

INTERVIEWER: What do technology and innovation mean in your business?

Schlaefer: It is really hard to get innovative products, but customization is becoming more and more important. Environmentally-friendly products are a big trend right now that we are addressing. Customers are looking for recycled products, zero mileage, and other products that don’t add more stress on the environment. We seek out these products and partner with suppliers in product development. On the technology side, we have our own testing facility and laboratory equipped with several technologies such as a discoloration meter, Martindale abrasion and pilling tester, aging oven, textile strength meter, and color assessment cabin.

INTERVIEWER: What footwear trend would you say is driving innovation the most these days?

Schlaefer: Along with the demand for environmentally-friendly materials, comfort is really big right now in the shoe industry. Customers are demanding it. Even though many customers are only wearing shoes for 6 months or less, they want their shoes to be extremely comfortable and light weight. They look for that comfort in the stores. But on the other hand, they still are looking for design so materials must deliver performance and flexibility.


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