With a long-standing history of quality, design and innovation, Safilo has the ability to design with beauty and produce with quality, as CEO Luisa Delgado explains. Speaking to The Worldfolio, she also shares her views on what it means to design and produce in Italy, the impressive presence Safilo has around the world, and how such an established brand faces new, global challenges.
From your perspective as someone with international experience positioned in the leadership of a multinational based in Italy, how do you think the international community perceives the Italian market?
We have been headquartered in Italy since 1878. Indeed, we are committed to this country and are also very conscious of what are the real competitive advantages of being a multinational rooted in Italy. I believe this a topic that is not often explored, yet deserves a bit of thinking. If you ask why do our customers and licensed partners come to us, and what does it mean to them to work with an Italian craftsmanship historical company? I would say it means guarantee, it means heritage, quality craftsmanship, beauty in esthetics, innovation, and passionate people who embody all of the former qualities and continuously strive for excellence.
We have four manufacturing plants in Italy, where more than 2,000 people go to work every day. Our business does not involve robotized or automated work. What Safilo does, in coordination with the artisans in our atelier here in Padua, is the equivalent of what Christian Dior does in its Paris atelier but in haute couture. We develop unique, handmade eyewear prototypes and designs.
Then, in our plants we proceed with craftsmanship that is guided by some tools but it’s not robotized either. That’s what the prestigious worldwide brands would look for when they come to us: this ability of designing with beauty and manufacturing with quality. Being in Italy means guarantee to people. The idea that you have an Italian-made product means design and manufacture of the highest quality and aesthetic standards.
Italy’s competitive advantage lies into its strong international brand. From your position, what is the meaning of ‘Made in Italy’ and what makes the Italian design unique?
The ‘Made in Italy’ brand awakens emotions within the Italian identity. I believe it is related to history and heritage, and how the brand itself marks the difference regarding the quality of the details, the dedicated craftsmanship, the materials applied to develop your product, and the lavorazione (manufacturing), the X-factor. So from my view, ‘Made in Italy’ illustrates the whole history of this country, which then becomes reflected in the art of doing beautiful, well-made things, and is related to new trends and innovation. All of that comes with the country brand.
How do you think the eyewear industry itself is contributing to Italy’s economy and its footprint globally?
Safilo was one of the initial companies in the eyewear industry, although by 1878 we were called Frescura. Even back then we were not the only ones starting in Italy. It is actually believed worldwide that eyewear was first created somewhere between Italy or Japan. Both countries have a long tradition in the industry.
Since then and all along the evolution of this industry, the challenge has remained the same: how to develop an authentic high-technique product in an ever increasingly mechanized and globalized world to meet the right volumes. After all this time, we became one of the few Italian multinationals that succeeds abroad, with people from over 24 nationalities working at Safilo, providing an environment rich in diversity.
We currently have a presence in 39 countries, having already been in 35 for a long time. During my time here, I have opened four more markets, but the rest we have been there for very long. Our product is distributed in 120 countries. Most of the world is covered. Thus when we discuss Italian eyewear, we are talking about a brand product that propels the country’s exports as well.
Regarding the industry itself, I believe that the key aspect is to develop a product which is the result of the intersection between the optical support and protection brought to the customer and the design and fashion part – because there is no accessory nowadays that projects more style than eyewear. And I truly believe that here in Italy you are allowed to find that middle point.
Other countries that are more efficiency-oriented and extremely business-minded lack the appreciation for good technique artwork. But not in Italy, and that is what we try to reflect in the product presented to the customers. The main challenge: constantly innovate new trends to meet worldwide eyewear market demands following what has been the industry’s evolution. That’s Safilo stamp.
We represent a product-centric, brand-driven, and design-inspired company. And our job and dedication at every stage, from the designing to providing the right eyewear to customers in the stores, I believe contributes and empowers the seal and global image of the country brand.
What is the role of the American market within your prospects of growth?
The US market for us is fundamental. It represents a big part of our business, our single largest market. It is imperative that you establish a base there from a transacting perspective and for partnership building. In fact, we were some of the first who started to develop a licensed brand portfolio in the US. Among these we have Jimmy Choo, which by the first time we partnered had only presence in the American market and nowadays represents one of our fastest growing partner brands; then Tommy Hilfiger, Bobbi Brown and Marc Jacobs.
So our presence in the US is primordial, and in fact I travel to the US more than anywhere else. Safilo has a prestigious showroom in New York City on 5th Avenue up in the Rolex building. That’s where we receive our clients. We also have a design studio in Portland, Oregon, where our people work in straight hand with our designers here in Padua, Milan or Hong Kong. We also have a very productive manufacturing plant in Salt Lake City, where we develop the Smith and the Carrera goggles. We believe that those in charge of developing our unique mark need to get inspired from their local environment, which of course changes everywhere you go. Every place has its own contribution.
Moreover, our presence is marked by the two iconic American brands we own there. These are not licenses. One is Smith Optics, the leader in goggles and helmets. There we develop performance eyewear and we are currently moving into more lifestyle and optical. The other one is Polaroid, which is pioneering in lens polarization at inclusive and affordable prices. Thus we are very committed to the American market, as we are constantly improving and making targeted changes in our businesses within the US. In this sense, Safilo has task forces that permanently monitor possible improvements in the way we operate by using the US as a learning ground for determined products that we then export worldwide. That’s part of us being a multinational. So, we foresee future growth of our business across all channels in the US.