Gildo Zegna official portrait
Gildo Zegna... taking Zegna Group into the future Image Credit: Supplied

As Ermenegildo Zegna group rebrands and consolidates under the single entity of Zegna, gets listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and looks to innovate on Italian craftsmanship, the company delves deeper into its core strategy of sustainability, heritage and quality. A key reason why its CEO Gildo Zegna, finds the UAE inspiring.

The third generation of the family to run the business, Gildo talks to Gulf News about how a clear aquisition strategy is necessary to grow, especially as men’s fashion transitions from the classic suit to luxury leisurewear and knitwear.

How would you define Zegna the brand today?

Zegna remains the utmost expression of quality and luxury in the world of men, even while the brand is constantly evolving to meet our client’s changing needs and their evolving lifestyle. Today, I believe that focus is moving towards luxury leisurewear and knitwear, and we have shifted our offering to those two areas to meet these changing demands.

We are also attracting new and younger clients, especially through collaborations like the recent Outdoor Capsule collection, and a greater focus on our digital capabilities.

How important is the UAE as a consumer base for Zegna? How has the country influenced/inspired you?

The UAE is a key market for Zegna and it has only continued to grow in importance for us. Our local customers appreciate our heritage and cutting-edge craftsmanship, which makes it a pleasure for us to serve them. Opening our Dubai flagship in 2019 was a major milestone for us, and I look forward to building even closer relationships with our customers across the Emirates.

On a more personal note, I always feel inspired when I come here. The UAE has embraced innovation and change and established itself as a truly global business hub, connecting continents and cultures for the 21st century.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the perfect way to celebrate the coming together of innovative minds and we are very proud and excited to partner with Maserati to bring the uniqueness of Italian design to the UAE and its visitors from around the world this month.

Zegna the brand – from primarily focusing on the textile supply chain to diversifying into made-to-order, eyewear, women’s fashion, and car interiors – what were the primary drivers for these decisions? Moreover, how have they influenced the growth and spread of the brand globally?

In 1910, my grandfather started Zegna as a wool mill in Trivero, Italy and since then, you are right, we have been through a series of successful transformations. From a mill, we have become a luxury group, which includes the Zegna and Thom Browne brands, as well as a one-of-a-kind Made in Italy luxury textile platform, and we are the first Italian luxury group to list on the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve grown considerably in our 111 years, and we have expanded our range of offering, but always in full alignment with our vision and our values, including our focus on uncompromising quality and utmost luxury positioning and our commitment to sustainability, and this has supported our brand over time. Zegna remains the go to brand in the world of men’s luxury, while Thom Browne brand, which is part of the Zegna Group, produces men’s womenswear, childrenswear and accessories.

Many might say too much diversification of the brand or is that a focused acquisition strategy for Zegna?

We have always had and continue to have a laser-like focus on building the Zegna brand equity. We took a major step in the evolution of our brand earlier this month when we did a rebranding around a single brand of “Zegna” dropping Ermenegildo. We did this to create a more streamlined and focused brand identify that is both unique and immediately recognisable. This new streamlined approach also allows us to focus on the creation of new and iconic products in different categories as luxury leisurewear, knitwear, and accessories such as the Triple Stitch sneakers. Organic growth for the Zegna brand is the core focus of our strategy

As for potential acquisitions, we won’t do acquisitions just for scale. Anything we’d consider would have to fully align with our DNA and be something that naturally fits with our capabilities and our value. This was the approach we took with our acquisition of the Thom Browne brand, as well as acquisitions we’ve made to increase the verticalisation of our supply chain, such as wool farm ACHILLFARM in 2014 and luxury yarn and fabric producers like Filati Biagioli Modesto last year that we did with Prada Group. I do think, however, that acquisitions will continue to be an important part in creating a world-class supply chain, as we want to be investing in companies that produce raw materials, artisanal fabrics and luxury textiles and who can also contribute to our Made in Italy luxury textile laboratory platform with the aim to preserve the Italian craftmanship and unique know-how.

As the third generation helming the brand, how have you personally directed the brand’s evolution? In addition, what were the reasons that drove those decisions?

I became Zegna’s CEO in 1997 but have worked at Zegna since 1982. I actually started my career in New York where I am now back to list the company. I’ve seen enormous change – and growth – during this time, not only in our size and scale, but also in the evolving needs of our clients.

Yet throughout all my time at Zegna, my leadership style has always been defined by the same set of simple principles: a reliance on teamwork, open and transparent feedback, empowering everyone to have a voice and ensuring that the Company, despite being family led, is a true meritocracy.

COVID-19 has affected supply chains globally. As the biggest menswear textile chain supplier, how have you managed that for Zegna?

I don’t think there is any company or brand in the retail or fashion industries whose supply chain hasn’t been adversely impacted by COVID-19. We certainly experienced some issues that we faced immediately. However, given the level of control we exercise over our supply chain and its proximity – we have the unique benefit of a very highly vertically integrated supply chain, and of 70 to 80 per cent made in Italy (incl. Switzerland) I think we are in a good place after promptly reacting with success in the early days of the pandemic.

What are key lessons learned – in terms of business – during the pandemic? What would be your advice/key takeaways be to start-ups and budding entrepreneurs when dealing with crises of such a nature?

The past two years were not easy and as a company, we were forced to make many decisions to speed up the process to changing the brand perception, already initiated before COVID-19, from formal to luxury leisurewear.

Beyond the difficulties, the COVID-19 crisis brought about fundamental change: We have changed as individuals, and we have changed as a society. This is particularly evident in the luxury industry where disruption to trade as well as the absence of international travel and in-person experiences have forced us to quickly rethink and reinvent concepts and ideas that have been a bedrock of our industry for decades – so here comes digital and new ways of engaging with local clients.

But the beauty of fashion lives in its creativity. And creativity never stops. The ongoing crisis has been an inspiration to change the way we think about our designs and the products we provide our customers.

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is how men dress. While the classic suit will never go out of style, our customers now have more freedom to express themselves through a less formal wardrobe while remaining stylish and professional. They now want to go from the boardroom to a walk in the park in the same outfit. We have stayed close to our customers and are now offering them a complete Zegna wardrobe for all life occasions, from tailored to casual, indoor to outdoor, and weekend to formal events.

Finally, the biggest lesson is that, as we collectively move forward, sustainable business practices must be at the forefront. At Zegna, social and environmental responsibility is in our roots, and today, 111 years since our founding, we are reaffirming our commitment to the natural world. In the post-COVID world, companies can simply adapt to changes or choose to be a positive force in driving these changes. Our responsibility is to leverage our past to build a better present and future. This carries over into everything that we do, from the technology and materials we use to create our products to the conversations we have with our clients on how their world is changing.

Zegna gets listed on the New York Stock Exchange
Zegna gets listed on the New York Stock Exchange Image Credit: Supplied

One of the earliest haute brands to diversify into China and India, why did you opt to go into Asian markets?

In 1991, Zegna was the first luxury menswear brand to open in China, and China accounted for 35 per cent of the company’s apparel, accessories and textile revenues in 2019. We have recognized early the new frontiers for luxury, and have always believed that success in China, and in Asia more broadly, is essential for a luxury brand.

What does the future hold for the brand in terms of diversification and growth?

Following our successful re-branding and our listing on the New York Stock Exchange, our focus for the Group is three-fold: the first thing is continuing a focus on building our brand equity and invest in organic growth for the Zegna brand. We combined our brands under the Zegna name to create a more streamlined and focused brand that is both unique and immediately recognizable.

Second is building our Made in Italy platform. I am a firm believer that nothing in the world compares to Italian craftsmanship and quality, and our goal is to create and have access to the best fabrics, textiles and other materials through our platform.

Gildo Zegna says future is about innovation and diversification
Gildo Zegna says future is about innovation and diversification Image Credit: Supplied

Sustainability has always been a key element of our DNA since 1910, and the heart of Zegna is Oasi Zegna, a 100 square kilometer nature reserve that stretches from Trivero to the peaks of the Biella Alps in northern Italy. Another example of our focus on sustainability is UseTheExisting, our commitment since 2019 to make the dream of zero waste possible by increasing the use of wool and technical fabrics made from pre-existing and post-consumer sources.

- CEO Gildo Zegna

Finally, we have to continue to meet our customers’ changing needs. We’ve always done a phenomenal job at staying close to our customers, and this is something we must continue to do. We’re going to do this in many different ways, but two important ones are by focusing on the growth of our luxury leisurewear segment and engaging in various collaborations to attract a new generation of customers.

We will do all of that without losing sight of our legacy and values, especially sustainability and caring for the environment, which is part of everything we do from sourcing our materials to Oasi Zegna, the beating heart of our company.

Oasi Zegna… the Zegna Group’s key pillars: heritage, quality, and sustainability.

Sustainability has always been a key element of our DNA since 1910, and the heart of Zegna is Oasi Zegna, a 100 square kilometer nature reserve that stretches from Trivero to the peaks of the Biella Alps in northern Italy. Another example of our focus on sustainability is UseTheExisting, our commitment since 2019 to make the dream of zero waste possible by increasing the use of wool and technical fabrics made from pre-existing and post-consumer sources.

Now as we are a Group with more than one brand and a Made in Italy manufacturing platform, we want all our activities to continue to build on the very same pillars.

If you had to offer fashion advice to men and what they need to have in their wardrobe, what would it be?

The last two years have brought about a big shift in how men dress. Have a look at what I am wearing myself! I think the suit will always remain an important part of men’s wardrobe, but it will now be saved for special occasions and events. As we move towards more casual work attire, men will turn more and more to leisurewear and knitwear, whether it is shirt jackets, sweaters, or sneakers, as an important part of their professional wardrobe.

I am very excited about this change and my advice to men is to embrace it. The suit is alive and well, but it is no longer the only acceptable outfit for the office for the modern man.