SANTI HQ, POLAND
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.
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”
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