SANTI HQ, POLAND

Sport Diver - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by MARK EVANS

Mark Evans heads to Poland to visit the head­quar­ters of re­spected cold­wa­ter dive gear man­u­fac­turer, Santi.

SANTI DIV­ING has grown from hum­ble begin­nings to be­ing one of the top providers of ex­po­sure pro­tec­tion to dis­cern­ing divers across the globe. We go be­hind the scenes at their Pol­ish HQ

There are many com­pa­nies out there pro­duc­ing wet­suits and dry­suits for divers of all lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence, but few can ri­val Santi when it comes to ex­po­sure pro­tec­tion for re­ally cold wa­ter div­ing, with their ex­ten­sive range com­pris­ing rugged dry­suits, ul­tra-thick hoods, ad­vanced heated un­der­suits and vests, and even heated gloves. Many man­u­fac­tur­ers claim that their gear is ‘made for divers by divers’, but in Santi’s case, this is a gen­uine claim, as com­pany founder To­masz Stachura has more than 30 years ex­pe­ri­ence un­der the wa­ter and is still ac­tively in­volved in ev­ery stage of de­vel­op­ment of new and ex­ist­ing prod­ucts.

HUM­BLE BEGIN­NINGS

Back in the early 1980s, and al­ready an ac­tive diver, To­masz de­cided that he needed a dry­suit if he was go­ing to brave the cold of his na­tive wa­ters for any length of time. He be­gan search­ing for the best equip­ment - a dif­fi­cult task at that time in Poland - and by some mir­a­cle he man­aged to ob­tain a few scraps of neo­prene. To­masz knew that a dry­suit needed to be snug to the body, but at the same time not re­strict move­ment, how­ever he didn’t want to waste his few pre­cious pieces of neo­prene, so his first pro­to­types were made from cot­ton bed­sheets! Af­ter var­i­ous in­car­na­tions, he came up with a suit­able ‘suit’ and used this as a pat­tern with the neo­prene, thus be­com­ing the proud owner of the first dry­suit among his div­ing friends.

Things moved on, and af­ter sev­eral more years of div­ing ex­pe­di­tions and new ex­pe­ri­ences, To­masz was still frus­trated at not be­ing able to find the ex­act equip­ment he needed for his div­ing com­fort - the un­der­suits were too thin, the dry­suits were not com­fort­able. It was just too cold.

As luck would have it, at this time To­masz had founded a thriv­ing work ap­parel pro­duc­tion com­pany, and this al­lowed him to in­vest time and ef­fort into de­vel­op­ing a new prod­uct, which would con­nect his

KEEP­ING IT IN-HOUSE

The Santi HQ in Poland is a se­ri­ously im­pres­sive fa­cil­ity. On ar­rival, you en­ter a lift em­bla­zoned with Santi lo­gos and im­agery, and head up to the first floor. Once the doors open, you are im­me­di­ately faced by a wall signed by a whole host of div­ing celebri­ties, with a well-stocked dis­play area to your left, and of­fices/meet­ing rooms to your right, with glo­ri­ous un­der­wa­ter images by To­masz Stachura adorn­ing the walls, but the real magic hap­pens be­hind closed doors. It is hard to com­pre­hend the scale of the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity at Santi. Each dry­suit is in­di­vid­u­ally cut, glued and tested, but for each stage of the process, there is lit­er­ally row af­ter row of ta­bles and work­sta­tions, all manned by ex­pe­ri­enced staff who make the dif­fer­ent skills look a piece of cake. De­sign, pat­terns, cut­ting, glu­ing, pres­sure test­ing, etc, it all hap­pens in-house. The man­u­fac­tur­ing plant can pump out a se­ri­ous num­ber of dry­suits a month, as well as cope with re­pairs and ad­just­ments from ex­ist­ing cus­tomers. To­masz summed things up when he said: “Do you want to know our se­cret? We talk about new ideas, needs and chal­lenges ev­ery day. We work to be bet­ter ev­ery day. Santi suits are cre­ated with tai­lor pre­ci­sion - each suit is done think­ing about its user. To­day, even though we are a big brand com­pany, we still keep the pro­ce­dures and way of work­ing of a man­u­fac­turer. The ba­sic rule is that the suits have to be well fit­ted, func­tional, warm and dry!” pas­sion - div­ing - and his busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence - cloth­ing. In 2001, the pro­to­type of the BZ400 Santi un­der­suit was born.

Right away, he no­ticed that the new un­der­suit was much warmer than any­thing he had tried pre­vi­ously, but it still took hun­dreds of test dives in many ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments and count­less changes and im­prove­ments be­fore he con­sid­ered it ‘ready’. Dur­ing this pro­tracted R&D process, his div­ing bud­dies started ask­ing for their own un­der­suits, and then their friends did the same. With a vast pool of divers at his dis­posal, To­masz took their in­put on­board, and the re­sult­ing Ex­treme 400 un­der­suit be­came the lead prod­uct in the new Santi Div­ing divi­sion.

To­masz, a well-known diver and un­der­wa­ter photographer in his own right, be­came the ul­ti­mate am­bas­sador of the prod­uct, and soon divers all over the world were able to ap­pre­ci­ate the BZ400 un­der­suit’s val­ues. This mar­ket in­ter­est led to fur­ther de­vel­op­ment, new ideas and new un­der­suit mod­els.

SUC­CESS AT HAND

By 2004, To­masz and the Santi team had ini­ti­ated de­vel­op­ment of a dry­suit. Al­most im­me­di­ately, they re­alised right away that the pro­duc­tion of a dry­suit would be a ma­jor chal­lenge un­like any­thing they had faced be­fore. Un­daunted, the team moved into the first de­sign stage, and pro­to­types were made from a rub­berised ma­te­rial so as not to waste ex­pen­sive tril­am­i­nate. At this stage, pa­ram­e­ters were set for dura­bil­ity and fit with a full range of mo­tion, but with the over-rid­ing fea­ture that it must stay dry. Prob­lems with ex­ist­ing dry­suits were iden­ti­fied and ex­am­ined, lead­ing to in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to counter the is­sues be­fore they even came into be­ing. Fi­nally - and true to form for To­masz - he and a group of lead­ing Pol­ish and Euro­pean divers put the ini­tial dry­suits through a rig­or­ous test­ing sched­ule, which ba­si­cally meant they went div­ing - a lot!

There was an im­mense amount of feed­back from these test dives, and this was all fed back into the de­sign and pro­duc­tion de­part­ment, who took all the com­ments on board and fur­ther re­fined the dry­suit to what is avail­able to­day. Even now, such ro­bust test­ing is car­ried out on each and ev­ery new suit de­vel­oped by Santi, to en­sure that it is the best it can pos­si­bly be. “To­masz - a ‘diver first, busi­ness­man sec­ond’ - is proud that Santi Div­ing is a con­fir­ma­tion of the rule that the best way for com­pany de­vel­op­ment is to con­nect pas­sion and busi­ness”

DEEP WA­TER

The Santi Div­ing Divi­sion started to de­velop ever more over the years, and in mid-2009, To­masz ap­proached his friend, Jakub Szelą­gowski, to help him man­age the grow­ing com­pany and be­come his busi­ness part­ner. Thanks to Jakub’s vast man­age­ment skills and ex­pe­ri­ence in the ap­parel in­dus­try, the com­pany be­came in­creas­ingly well struc­tured, and ever since has been grow­ing and re­cruit­ing other ex­pe­ri­enced and ded­i­cated staff to de­velop cus­tomer ser­vice, mar­ket cov­er­age and best sales prac­tice. This was the mo­ment Santi started to evolve from a pro­ducer to a strong brand com­pany.

To­day, still based out of the head­quar­ters in Poland, Santi is an in­ter­na­tional com­pany pro­duc­ing div­ing equip­ment with a dis­tri­bu­tion struc­ture in 11 coun­tries and a thriv­ing di­rect deal­ers net­work. Aside from the col­lec­tion of dry­suits and un­der­suits, Santi has now branched out into ther­mal un­der­wear and base lay­ers, hoods and gloves, a range of un­der­wa­ter heat­ing sys­tems, dive lights and even a broad af­ter-dive cloth­ing col­lec­tion.

With lit­er­ally thou­sands of un­der­suits and dry­suits cur­rently in cir­cu­la­tion with divers around the world, and with an ever-grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion in the tech­ni­cal mar­ket, To­masz - a ‘diver first, busi­ness­man sec­ond’ - is proud that Santi Div­ing is a con­fir­ma­tion of the rule that the best way for com­pany de­vel­op­ment is to con­nect pas­sion and busi­ness. He said: “We al­ways try to be close to divers - you can meet us at div­ing trade shows, div­ing events and demo days that we or­gan­ise to­gether with our deal­ers and dis­trib­u­tors. You can al­ways visit us at our head­quar­ters in Poland, where ev­ery­one is al­ways wel­come, and our ser­vice de­part­ment will help to keep your suits in the best shape, an­swer all your ques­tions and ful­fil your ex­pec­ta­tions. Divers are our pri­or­ity.”

Pre­par­ing and cut­ting the ma­te­rial

Qual­ity checks are rig­or­ous

Mak­ing dry­suits is a hands-on job

Dry­suits ready to be con­structed

The im­pres­sive ‘store’ at the HQ

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