The hospitality and property arm of the Bortex Group is months away from opening its first boutique hotel in Valletta, as well as a luxury block of apartments in central Sliema.
Bortex is a household name that’s synonymous with quality in Malta – ask anyone where they buy their tailored suits or hire their formal wedding-wear, and they are bound to mention one of the many Bortex stores that’s dotted around the island.
But what some people might not know is that the Bortex Group is actually a very diverse company with a vast portfolio of activities to its name, including garment manufacturing, design and retail, real estate, and hospitality. Theirs is a legacy that has been carefully crafted over the decades, since entrepreneur Sunny Borg first started the business on his return to Malta in the 60s. Today, the group is run by his two children – Karen Bugeja and Peter Borg, who rotate the chairmanship of the company of a biennial basis. The group board of directors also includes Peter’s son Sam, COO of the manufacturing and branded wholesale division, as well as CFOs Christine Demicoli and Sandra Borg together with non-executive director David Debono. “It’s a dynamic team with different skill sets and competences that complement each other very well,” Peter said.
Peter Borg and Karen Bugeja, the siblings who run Bortex
In the decades since Sunny Borg opened Bortex’s doors in 1964, the garment division of the business has continued to grow substantially, setting up factories in Tunisia and China that supply private label tailoring to some of the best-known brands on the European high street. A retail division was set up and the ‘Gagliardi’ brand launched, first on the local market and within months on the international marketplace too. On the local market the retail operation takes a multi-brand format which not only offers Gagliardi products but also proposes third-party branded products, including Ralph Lauren – with whom the group has exclusive representation on the local market – Lanificio Flli Cerruti, Loro Piana, Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna, Lacoste and Gant. The manufacturing and retail side, which includes the wholly-owned Tunisian subsidiary, employs over 650 people spread between its Tunisian manufacturing plants and its operations in Malta. This includes a specialised made-to-measure tailoring facility and the divisional head offices which house the design, sales and marketing, finance and production planning departments, as well as buying and merchandising, product development and quality control departments for the Gagliardi operation.
“The launch of our own brand, Gagliardi, was a major milestone,” explained Peter. “It’s a complete menswear proposition with a distinctly Mediterranean identity and it has been very well-received by the market. In fact, Gagliardi now has more than 50 international doors with stores in eight countries, where it stands proudly next to some of the top brands in the industry, on some of the most beautiful shopping streets in Europe.” Meanwhile, a Malta based e-commerce operation also delivers merchandise worldwide with the biggest market being the US.
However, while fashion and textiles were a clear passion for Sunny, he didn’t stop there. He soon diversified the business into the hospitality market, with the lease of a Sliema hotel in the 1970s. “He loved that hotel and soon decided to lease another one, this time on the Sliema seafront and followed by another two in the north of the island,” said Karen. “In fact, the five-petalled rose that he chose as his logo reflected his ambition to create a chain of hotels and, soon, he chose to buy them rather than lease them, with another opening in Sliema in 1996.” Today, the hospitality and property arm of the company operates the Hotel Plevna in Sliema, which is being developed into a lean luxury spa hotel and beach-club that will open its doors in July 2018. “We are also months away from opening our first boutique hotel in Valletta,” explained Karen, “and will shortly unveil a luxury block of apartments in central Sliema.”
And Sunny’s portfolio continued to grow – from textiles to hotels, he then ventured into the real estate market locally and overseas, with property in the South of France. “He never rested on his laurels and was constantly up to something new,” Karen continued.
Looking to the future, the Group has a very busy three years ahead of it, with extensive growth planned across all aspects of the business. “On the manufacturing and retail side, plans include the further internationalisation of Gagliardi, with nine more international stores planned for the next three years,” Peter explained, adding that the company will also be investing in prestigious premises for its multi-brand Bortex stores and the further development and internationalisation of its made-to-measure service.
As for the hospitality and property segment there is also plenty in the pipeline. “The opening of the new hotels, spa and beach club will mark other important milestones for the Group and truly highlight our father’s legacy – a legacy that we have been so proud to build upon,” Karen concluded.
This feature originally appeared in The Business Observer