Federico Marchetti

MILAN Innovation is what has driven Federico Marchetti all his life and that is not about to stop now — on the contrary.

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Marchetti said he will exit the Yoox Net-a-porter Group on July 23, at the natural expiration date of his contract and as planned for the past 18 months. The entrepreneur revealed that HRH the Prince of Wales has asked him to take on the role of chair of the fashion task force as part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative.

“Innovation is what has always pushed me to seek new challenges and, after accelerating the entry of technology in the fashion industry, now I would like to accelerate and ensure a circular future to fashion through innovation,” Marchetti said.

The Prince of Wales launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2020, with the goal to lead and accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable future.

Last January, he launched the Terra Carta manifesto at the One Planet Summit in France, mapping out steps for businesses to reach sustainable goals by 2030. At the G7 Summit in June, he announced 10 industries that need to be prioritized for climate action, including fashion.

In May, during a round table cohosted by Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America, the Prince of Wales announced that he would form a Sustainable Markets Initiative fashion task force. This is only the fourth industry to have a dedicated task force, after financial services, water and hydrogen, signaling the importance of the sector in this context.

“This is a very ambitious project,” said Marchetti, who has already convened 15 leaders of top luxury and fashion brands, retailers, e-tailers and tech companies to work on this, whose names will be revealed in September.

The companies were chosen based on their “size, sensibility toward the environment and commitment to sustainability,” and across borders, from Italy, France and the U.K. to America and the Middle East, said Marchetti, who also sees potential synergies through the different sectors, such as creating fibers from sustainably harvested wood working with the SMI Circular Bioeconomy Alliance. “This is a group effort,” he underscored, adding that he “did not have to convince anyone” to participate, as the need to reform the industry is now ingrained in the collective spirit. Everyone will be working pro bono on these goals.

“Customers, especially young ones, demand brands to be sustainable, they want fashion that is less polluting, and even more so after the pandemic, they want change. The main question CEOs are facing is, ‘Can you be an agent that does not respect the environment?’ The answer is no and everyone has realized this. My role is simply that of a catalyzer of the energies, channeling them into concrete goals and specific objectives.

“With this task force we bring fashion as a fundamental sector in sustainability at the G20 in Rome in October and then at the COP26 [the United Nations Climate Change Conference] in Glasgow in November,” Marchetti remarked.

Quoting Terra Carta, he said that “innovation will allow us to move from linear exploitation of finite planetary resources into a circular and sustainable era.”

Today, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions and 20 percent of global water pollution and a vast biodiversity loss, he offered.

Asked how he felt about this life change and diverting from a business enterprise, Marchetti said “this is actually a business and the goal is to change the business model. What interests me is innovation, whether it’s for my business or somebody else’s.”

Marchetti and YNAP worked with the Prince of Wales on The Modern Artisan project, which resulted in a capsule collection unveiled last November. Blending and celebrating traditional Italian and British craftsmanship with digital tools such as data insights, the goal of The Modern Artisan is to strengthen textile skills and train artisans in the U.K. and Italy to produce luxury apparel collections.

As per the succession plan set in motion last year, in January Marchetti was succeeded as CEO of YNAP by Geoffroy Lefebvre, previously group digital distribution director of parent company Compagnie Financière Richemont. Marchetti stayed on as chairman of the group to ensure a smooth transition. He now said he was proud to leave YNAP on solid ground and growing. Richemont on Friday said its online distributors, to which YNAP contributes, posted an 86 percent increase in sales compared with the previous quarter.

Marchetti broke ground in Italy by founding Yoox in 2000 and publicly listing it in 2009, then the first initial public offering in Italy in 18 months.

Then, in a first in the luxury online arena, Marchetti spearheaded the merger of Yoox and Net-a-porter in 2015. 

Richemont took control of YNAP in 2018, delisting it from the Milan Stock Exchange and valuing the company at about 6 billion euros.

In May, YNAP was the first luxury fashion e-tailer to commit to Terra Carta and join the Sustainable Markets Initiative, in line with its goal to drive a more sustainable luxury and fashion industry, as presented in its recently published sustainability strategy to 2030, called “Infinity,” which set a framework of 12 targets and benchmarks to achieve by 2030, each reflecting one of the United Nations’ 12 Sustainable Development Goals.

For years, Marchetti has been vocal about and instrumental in developing sustainability initiatives for the group.

“Infinity” leverages the company’s data and technological backbone to initiate a more comprehensive sustainable journey spanning four areas of interest: Circular Business, Circular Culture, Planet Positive and People Positive.

The group is committed to unlocking re-commerce initiatives by 2025, with pilot projects to bow this year.

Since July last year, Marchetti is also an independent, non-executive director of the board of Giorgio Armani SpA — the first non-family member to be part of the board.