Born in 1973 in a small garage in Maria Emília and Alberto Figueiredo’s home, in Esposende, the Impetus group has come a long way to become a world leader in the production and distribution of underwear.
The team, initially made up of just the founders and four seamstresses, now numbers 820 workers spread across the company’s three industrial units. Vertically integrating knitting, cutting, sewing, dyeing, printing, finishing, packing, research and development, all the parts come together to produce around 6 million articles per year.
In a guided tour of the family business’ headquarters, Ricardo Figueiredo, the founder’s son in charge of the financial and production management departments, tells us he thought of studying Arts, but the will to continue the legacy was stronger. That was why, soon after completing his studies in management, he joined the company, where his childhood memories can be found in amongst the forklifts and rolls of knitted fabric. As we pass through the cutting section we bump into his mother and have a quick chat with her in keeping with the fast pace of her daily life.
I take the chance to ask her why 44 years later, she still works side by side with the factory employees. «I have worked hard since I was 20 years old and it was a constant struggle so while I still feel useful and healthy, I will still be pouring my body and soul into the company», she says with infectious vigour. «It is very gratifying to look at the whole evolution, but it is also a big responsibility», she continues. «The town of Apúlia [near Esposende] had a great leap when we started to take people off the fields and gave them a place to work at our factory and today we have fathers, mothers and sons working at the company», the co-founder comments.
«At Impetus, there is close involvement from the board in the company’s day to day activities and constant care for our workers and the community around us», Ricardo emphasises. «We promote initiatives like summer camps and merit scholarships for sons and daughters of our employees; we have indoor gymnastics twice a week; we set up tournaments and get-togethers; we have partnerships with several social support institutions; we have a doctor come in every week; and we have free transportation to and from our workplaces», he tells. «We try to have these perks and still pay our employees as best we can because we are all in this together, a lot of families count and depend on us to succeed», Maria Emília reiterates.
Fernando Figueiredo, the other son of the couple and head of marketing, communication and identity, joins the conversation. He explains that, besides producing underwear, nightwear and beachwear for their brands and licenses (Impetus, Replay, Eden Park, Hot and ProtechDry), the company was always a reference to international private labels like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. «Our clients look to us more and more because they recognise our know-how, the quality of our pieces and our constant commitment to the development of more complex, more technical products», Ricardo adds.
«I am used to saying that we operate within an industrial environment, but we work almost like a sewing atelier, always paying very close attention to detail and have a very close relationship with our clients», the manager continues. «Tthis is a central part of the creation and development process because if the brands do not have an inside understanding of the technical aspect, the producer will not be able to be perfectly aligned with the brand’s strategy». Furthermore, he highlights the work of the R&D department, «always looking for new raw materials, from cotton, lyocell and modal to mixtures with wool or silk».
With the launch of the seamless unit in 1999, the Impetus group stepped up its production of seamless underwear, one of its areas of expertise. «To us, the best underwear is the one you cannot feel, a piece so comfortable you forget you are wearing it», Ricardo tells, «and our basics are still our best-sellers». Besides Essentials, Impetus includes segments such as Sport (technical underwear for professional athletes), Performance (high technology products with temperature regulation), Junior (basic and technical articles for children), Collection (seasonal collections of underwear and nightwear), and Beachwear (for men).
«Within the Performance line, we develop articles with thermo-regulating properties, a technology from NASA that counteracts the sudden variations of temperature when astronauts are going to space», the production manager reinforces. «We always seek to be innovative and take a bet on new developments», he states. «Besides stepping into the fashion segment, we want to explore the athleisure market, because we are aware that more and more people are looking for versatile pieces with sustainable origins», he predicts. On the subject of sustainability, we can honestly say that Impetus is top of the line, using «photovoltaic panels, biomass boilers, electrical vehicles and all machinery working as efficiently as possible”.
Building on its consolidated presence in the best department stores in Portugal, Spain and France, such as El Corte Inglés and Galeries Lafayette, Impetus is embracing a new strategy focused on the expansion of the distribution network into Germany and the US. «Our goal is to have Impetus grow and rely less and less on work for private labels», concludes Ricardo Figueiredo, nonetheless acknowledging the interest in promoting promising partnerships with companies looking for allies in the Portuguese industry to access the quality and technical skills that make it one of a kind in the world.