Ponzano Veneto, Italy — There’s a new manufacturing company in the market — Olimpias Group — as a result of the Benetton family’s decision to reorganize its namesake company in 2014, which spun off three business areas that manage brands, manufacturing and real estate.
Controlled by Edizione Srl, a Benetton family financial holding company, Olimpias is made up of 12 plants in Italy and abroad and 3,000 employees, of which 700 are in Italy. Olimpias was founded in 2000 by merging a group of small textile companies and since then, working with Benetton, the company has become an apparel manufacturer, registering total sales of 400 million euros, or $423.3 million at current exchange rates. Fashion contributes 320 million euros, or $338.6 million, while the rest is from textiles, yarns and accessories — mainly label tags.
Olimpias has been providing yarns and textiles to major fashion brands ranging from Giorgio Armani, Diesel and Prada to Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste, explained chief executive officer Gianni Zanella. More recently, Olimpias has also worked with Banana Republic and Inditex, parent company of Benetton’s competitor Zara.
The company produces 50 million pieces of apparel a year. As a result of new clients, Zanella said he expected 5 to 10 percent growth in sales in 2017, as well as in 2018.
“We expect strong changes over the next three years within our group with a clear positioning strategy on the fashion market, flanking the main brands and retailers,” said Christian Benetton, president of Olimpias Group.
Following the reorganization, Olimpias has more freedom to work with different clients, explained Zanella. “We have structures and skills that make us appealing to any company,” he said, noting that Olimpias provides a service that spans from design to finished product.
“We have a commercial office that will promote our skills directly to potential clients, from main brands in fast fashion or bridge labels, explaining our expertise and engaging them with products that we are offering for spring 2018,” said the executive, who underscored the importance of showing Olimpias’ own “vision” for men’s, women’s and children’s wear.
In February, out of its showroom, Olimpias will present the collections to the clients it has contacted. “We hope to interest the design teams. These are pitches and then we can develop specific requests together,” said Zanella.
The executive stressed that Olimpias is open to working with private labels and has no intention of launching its own brand. “We are manufacturers and so we should remain, this is our profile. But we should have the skills to propose a lineup of products. Any brand wants a manufacturer that has a showroom to determine what product that manufacturer can do best. At the same time, they also like to see an offer of designs, which they can elaborate,” remarked Zanella.
Olimpias has a design team for each category and product development out of its headquarters here, while production is done in owned companies in Tunisia, Serbia, Croatia and Romania, depending on the category. “These are veritable pieces of Italy, and the plants are set up with the same care in terms of image and context,” said Zanella, who explained that Italy’s high labor costs prevent Olimpias from manufacturing locally.
Zanella said Olimpias “has always pursued an environmentally friendly approach throughout its entire production chain,” removing harmful chemical substances and following the Greenpeace Detox project.
It was the first European company to initiate the Wasatex process, overhauling water treatment, reducing water and energy consumption, resulting in a positive impact on the environment and improved products. This allows the company to reuse about 70 percent of purified water at the end of the production process. “We use a lot of water, our processes are based on the use of water, and to manage and treat water as a value shows great respect for the environment and for the future generations,” said Zanella.
The Ponzano headquarters were designed by architect Massimo Benetton, who is the son of Carlo Benetton, one of the four founders of the family group. He studied with Tadao Ando and the space reflects Ando’s vision, with its sleek design immersed in greenery.
Cogeneration, photovoltaic and solar thermal systems in plants at Ponzano Veneto, Soave and Sousse in Tunisia last year helped reduce CO2 emissions by 1,500 tons. “The Benettons have over the years passed on to their managers this attention to sustainability. Also, the companies outside Italy reflect the best practice in environmental impact,” said Zanella. “Ours is an ethical choice, and we want to tell our clients and brands. Consumers are getting there, it’s a cultural process that is reaching Millennials, who are very sensitive to this issue. All our pipeline is controlled, and this level of security is an additional asset.”
Another asset Zanella highlighted is speed, which results from the close proximity of the various facilities in Europe and North Africa that also gives additional flexibility and ease in providing a continual flow of “flash” collections throughout the season. “We can’t compete with the labor costs in countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, there’s nothing we can do about it, but we can compete with creativity in a logic of quick deliveries. It’s very difficult but we know this is the challenge,” observed Zanella.
He said he believed many Asian countries are also able to offer sustainable practices, “in an organized and structured way, but the only issue to which there is no solution is timing. It takes 30 to 40 shipping days from Vietnam to Rotterdam. There is no other way and this is a problem for stores that burn through products quickly.”
Currency fluctuations are also “uncontrollable. So this is our advantage, I don’t think there are reasons such as CSR or sustainability that can move things massively but the euro-dollar parity and lead time — these are true reasons. My focus is to be ready and reactive to respond to a client.”
For these reasons, Olimpias is mainly targeting the European market, in particular Spain, Germany, the U.K. and France, also in light of U.S. customs rates, “now even more,” he said. Zanella added that the Brexit vote has “already harmed us. The pound-euro relation makes our goods 15 to 20 percent more expensive” in the U.K.
Zanella said he hoped Europe, which is hampered by “a gigantic unemployment problem,” will make choices as a united front going forward. “It’s not too distant from what Donald Trump says, to supervise the flow of goods among continents. I can’t imagine raising walls, but to find rules, yes. Globalization is good, but it should not be wild, I think.”
Asked about the ongoing trend of reshoring, Zanella said he could not see “a massive reshoring,” as it would not be competitive in Europe, where prices in the middle market are considered an additional selling point.