Nano-particle pullovers find unexpected client

  • 2011-09-14
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

Juozas Martikaitis checks out the latest in nano-fashion.

KLAIPEDA - When asked about the crisis and the looming double-dip recession coming up, Juozas Martikaitis, director general of Garlita, a venture based in Kaunas district, he shrugs: “I do not care about that. We have found a business niche which is crisis-proof.”

This Lithuanian hosiery company is not the only knitwear enterprise in Lithuania, but it has no rivals within a radius of 1,000 kilometers. Garlita’s goods include nano-particle-rich pullovers that repel mosquitoes, that protect from ultra-violet rays and are impregnated with vitamin E. In truth, some of the production is still in the pipeline, but Martikaitis is confident the production line will start churning soon.

The combined efforts of numerous Swiss, Danish and Austrian scientists, working alongside Garlita technologists, have helped to develop cutting-edge technologies to be used by only several companies in the entire European Union. Garlita heads the high-tech group.

You wonder what the vitamin E-saturated sweaters are for? “When I tell someone about our production, people often get puzzled,” grins Martikaitis. “If the person I talk to seems to be trustworthy, I usually admit that Garlita works for NATO. The extraordinary sweaters go for NATO navy seals, especially for submariners. Some Garlita sweaters are also cut- and fire-proof, and some protect from electro-magnetic radiation. NATO soldiers on missions in climate hot spots, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, wear Garlita-made ultraviolet ray-proof vests. The soldiers also put on the Lithuanian company’s cut-proof outfit in these countries. The military clothing featuring mosquito-repelling characteristics are liked by Africa-bound infantrymen,” relates Martikaitis.

Garlita pullovers are listed in NATO military clothing catalogues. The company has been enrolled in the NATO procurement competition list. “As far as I know, our company is the only one in Europe to take on such forward innovations,” the Garlita director said to The Baltic Times.

His striving for breakthrough innovations has been acclaimed both internationally and domestically. Martikaitis has been awarded by the weekly Veidas as 2010’s Best Company Head in Lithuania. “I do not personally care much about the acknowledgment. The dearest side of it is proving to everybody that a textile company, which, as a rule, produces very limited additional value, has managed to prove otherwise,” the director maintained.

Production volume of the innovative pullovers, he claims, has been steadily rising. “We had a turnover of 100,000 litas (28,980 euros) three years ago, but it has surged to several million by now,” the company head relates.
He refused to elaborate on the specifics of the NATO deal: “Garlita must abide by very strict confidentiality demands.”
Currently, Garlita, employs around 160 workers, and is working on its newest innovative commodity: infrared-reflecting pullovers. Also for NATO.

“This kind of military outfit is being created employing the most advanced technologies. If the item successfully gets through very tough try-out procedures, it will be granted a contract from NATO leading to line production of the pullovers,” the Garlita director pointed out.

He says that the best Swiss researchers, from a Swiss science research institute, are involved in the preparation of advanced chemical fibers which, if all goes well, will be intertwined with textile fabric in Garliava. “We are looking forward to making two initial experimental pullover specimens that will be tried out under tough conditions in special Swiss laboratories. If they withstand the tests, Garlita will produce one hundred infrared-proof pullovers,” he added.

The company had achieved NATO’s trust when producing camouflage military clothing for the military organization. “Our company had received much praise from our partners, when they inquired whether we would be able to resort to a more sophisticated technological production - knitting ultraviolet ray-proof pullovers for NATO infantry,” the director remembered.
He says that the first strides in making a pullover using nano-technologies were very tough: “First, we had to find scientists who would help find out how to embed nano-particles into the textile fabric. And not only that. The hardest part was to make sure that the nano pieces do not simply fall out from the pullover, not only in the production process, but, more importantly, when wearing them, or when thrown into the laundry,” the businessman said.

Regrettably, he relates, no Lithuanian science institution, due to limited capabilities, could assume the task, therefore, the textile company applied to international scientific research institutions in the West. “Finally, an Austria-based institute for scientific research in the military field agreed to try to create such an innovative technology. It took nearly two years, from the initial contact, to finally seeing the product,” Martikaitis suggested.

He says the company exports 95 percent of its pullovers to the military, as 5 percent of its production goes abroad for more peaceful clientele – bicyclists, yachtsmen, skiers and even school students. Sure, the 5 percent has nothing to do with the nanoparticle-enriched sweaters. They are just leisure wear of excellent quality.

“Alas, there is none of our production in the Lithuanian market. There is no demand for it. If the Lithuanian military asked us to make something for it, we would definitely take on the task. On the other hand, we do abide by the tight obligations to NATO, as we are not entitled to cater to any customers,” the Garlita director acknowledged.

He says that the company’s main markets, excluding NATO, are in Great Britain, Germany and Sweden, and beyond that, in several African and Middle Eastern countries.
“When the crisis hit, our production volume slightly declined. Therefore, we swiftly embarked on robust searches of new business partners in Africa and in the Far East. Thus, we have discovered new markets in Nigeria and South Africa, as well as Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” the businessman says.

For the consumer markets, instead of the cut-proof pullovers, Garlita sells quality leisure clothing. In addition, the enterprise produces quality clothing for several famous European brands.
Martinaitis notes that the start-up was very hard, out of necessity, he says. “With the shut-down of the companies I used to work for in the beginning of independence, back in the 1990s, I decided to start my own company.  However, it turned out to be a very hard endeavor – sometimes I did not have money to buy food for myself, after having settled the bills,” the businessman revealed.

He says the Russian market he was orienting his business to often turned out to be too tricky and shady to deal with. “With the goods going there, no one could be sure payment would follow,” Martinaitis recalled.
He says he credits a British journalist for the success of his business. “When being abroad, I met a British journalist who got interested in Garlita and did a story on it in British media. Some Brit owner of a textile company read it and, being interested in mutual collaboration, contacted me. Soon he came to Kaunas, and brought his production facilities later. Back then, no one in the domestic textile industry had heard about the product, as sophisticated as they seemed to be,” Martinaitis remembered.
He says he built the factory without a bank loan. “It was a plain-field investment into which I put my last cent. Not only mine, but also my relatives,’” he says.

Martinaitis stresses he perceived from the start that only an innovative company can succeed.
“All my strides were oriented to innovativeness. And it has paid off,” he says.
While other Lithuanian companies may scrimp on technical research and exhibitions abroad, the Garlita director says he does neither. “On the contrary, Garlita heads of marketing attend a dozen textile exhibitions abroad, as far as the Far East and Africa.”

“Though sending people across the globe is an expensive matter, it is very necessary. Nevertheless, participating in an exhibition is not enough. Exhibition attendance is only a first step towards more concrete business ties. The main part of future dealings is developing mutual trust. Of course, the quality of the goods speak for itself,” the Garlita director asserted.
Though the infrared-reflecting pullovers are still being scrutinized by the military scientists, Martinaitis does not doubt that Garlita will nail the deal. Just one more with the most picky and secretive client, NATO.