MILAN — Sustainability needs to be ingrained in a company — there is no room for improvisation.
That’s a belief shared by Antoine Arnault, head of image, communications and environment at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton; Silvia Venturini Fendi, and Serge Brunschwig, chairman and chief executive officer of Fendi, who spoke to WWD in advance of the brand’s unveiling on Friday of a new section of its web site dedicated and committing to social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
Linked to the latter, a few days earlier Brunschwig had planted a Turkey oak, symbolizing dignity and courage, at the construction site of a new Fendi factory in Tuscany’s Bagno a Ripoli, outside Florence, which is expected to open in July 2022. It will allow the Rome-based company to further develop and produce its leather goods category, and serve as a training center.
“We wanted to give back to Tuscany one of its beautiful Chianti landscapes, renovating an old building rather than leaving something abandoned and dirty — the architects say we are remaking a hill. We are very proud of this,” said Brunschwig. The plant will allow Fendi to grow its capacity and, in addition to the 150 employees working in an existing factory, the company will progressively hire 300 to 350 new workers in two to three years.
Located on a surface area of eight hectares, and covering a 140,400-square-foot space designed by Milan-based architecture firm Piuarch, the building previously housed the Fornace Brunelleschi kiln. Works started in the area in August 2018 to clear and prepare the construction site.
Both the perimeter and interior walls will be made of glass and the courtyards will be enhanced by local varieties of plants and flowers. Fendi is aiming for the factory to achieve the LEED Platinum certification. A series of buildings connected with squares and stairs and located at different levels will be integrated into the Tuscan hillside. In addition, Fendi has conceived a public park in the same area, opposite the kindergarten, featuring playgrounds and following the same approach of biodiversity of the factory’s landscape.
“It’s wonderful, I am so happy,” enthused Venturini Fendi. “We are growing despite these difficult moments [connected to the COVID-19 pandemic]. There are growth prospects, and at the center of it all is our Made in Italy.”
“The heart of a company is the factory, and it’s always an emotion for me when I go to a factory. I know this will be a place integrated with the landscape, where people will be able to work in harmony. There will be a lot of glass and so much light, you’ll be able to see the hills outside, it’s very poetic. There will be an osmosis between the inside and the outside.”
She also said she was happy the factory would help repurpose an old building. “There is no need to build more.”
Addressing the new web site, Arnault said that at every LVMH house, the “new mind-set for every manager and management team is to put sustainability on top of a priority list. In the past few years the way of thinking has shifted and it’s now unthinkable for sustainability not to be factored in, whatever the project. We see it in building a new factory like this, and in the way most designers integrate this in their work. Eco design is becoming a top priority. From the cradle of the idea to the grave of the product, recycling and making new with old, sustainability is becoming inherent in the way we do our business, and we take pride in this because it’s not new for us.”
He credited his father Bernard Arnault’s initiative in 1992 to create a sustainability department “when the topic was not à la mode, and because it’s been rooted in the group for so long and infused in its values, now we are able to see everything with this in mind. We cannot decide one day to become green or eco-friendly on these topics, you need to have it in your roots to be real and more and more it feels natural.”
Brunschwig echoed this and said that Fendi realizes that transparency is increasingly important in this area. Accordingly, the company is pledging to “shed all possible and available information on activities and results on three axes: supply chain, environment measures and community.”
The most modern way to approach sustainability is “to talk to everybody, to communities, employees and clients, everyone is motivated by these subjects.”
“We acknowledge we are not perfect,” underscored Arnault. “We are absolutely conscious that with the scale of our group, with tens of thousands of suppliers, we cannot be absolutely perfect, we tend to be clear and not to pretend that we are absolutely irreproachable. We show good faith through transparency, asking people inside or outside that if they see anything out of the ordinary or not on the right track to alert us. This is one way to improve.”
Brunschwig touted the quality of Fendi’s sourcing and its commitment to employ increasingly more natural materials, such as BCI cotton. The second step will be the use of entirely organic cotton, he said. To wit, along with employing cellulose-based fibers for lining and packaging, among its different initiatives Fendi is also introducing the FF Green Interlace capsule collection, an evolution of the leather design introduced for spring 2020. The FF jacquard canvas will also be made with the same formula. Fendi’s Peekaboo and Baguette bags will be available in certified FF cotton and recycled polyester, with the Interlace technique. The fabric is cut into individual strips, which are then assembled, and hand knotted together. The knots are then folded on the opposite side and the bag is finished with a maxi metal needle.
“I wanted this to be as natural as possible,” said Venturini Fendi. “This is all genuine, not a marketing ploy, because it’s very serious, starting from the foundations. There is a lot of work behind it, and a change in mentality.”
Sustainability also means supporting the community and Venturini Fendi and Brunschwig have been endorsing Fendi’s “hand in hand” project. Selected artisans, one in each Italian region, were asked to offer a unique interpretation of the Baguette, collaborating with the brand’s own artisans. Venturini Fendi enthused about the potential of the project, which helps preserve and transmit unique craftsmanship not only from generation to generation but around the world. The first designs derived from the project were shown during Fendi’s spring 2021 show last month.
Fendi has also long committed to the education and training of young talents through the Massoli Academy in Rome, which trains new tailors, and the participation in the LVMH Institute des Métiers d’Excellence training program.
“This is a great example of how practices can be shared between companies [under the LVMH umbrella],” said Arnault. He conceded that brands that are part of the group compete with one another, “except on these topics, they understand that in this case we need to share and be altruistic. Brands fight for locations, designers and employees, it’s a healthy consequence of decentralization; however, we mutualize our strength on important topics and Serge and Fendi do it well and I say it with great pride.”
Arnault continued by saying that LVMH needs training programs such as the Institute des Métiers d’Excellence. “Without shame, I can say that we could not continue our business without properly trained programs and they are directly linked to the success of our business. This is the right thing to do and robotization is not even in our mind. Italians should collectively be aware of and recognize more their treasures, and ensure they survive.”
Helping communities also meant that Fendi has supported storied glass company Mazzucato from Murano, Italy, whose business was hurt by the pandemic, by acquiring and disassembling 37 of its chandeliers to create new decorations for Fendi’s Christmas windows in cities such as Rome, Shanghai, Paris, London and New York. The decorations will be crafted from 49,340 square meters of leather waste coming from Fendi production plants together with sugarcane-derived foam obtained through processes using recycled and regenerated products.
Furs — a core and storied business for Fendi — may not be seen as sustainable by some, so asked to comment on this, Brunschwig said that “for Fendi, fur is a sustainable material, there is no question about it. Of course, the survival of the species and the well-being of animals is very important, there are certifications. We buy from farms that have the highest standards and we improve as we speak.”
Arnault was open to discuss this. “It is very important to tell the truth and this is a sensitive topic. Of course, we’ll do everything we need to do to be even more compliant to the [already] highest standards of certification. However, we should not be naïve. It’s not that if a group like ours stops to make fur people will stop to buy fur and I much prefer to sell fur to those clients but fur done in the right way. I won’t lie, yes, [the animals] die, but they are treated with the respect and humanity they deserve and with the standards that we put in this work — it cannot be done better. I’d rather be the bad guy and to sell it to the customers when done the right way than to let others do it in horrible conditions and do their business like that. I know it’s a difficult statement to hear but I am ready to take the consequences.”
Brunschwig also touted Fendi’s added value of craftsmanship in the development of the brand’s fur designs, and “giving customers the freedom to choose.”
The executive said the new web site will continue to update information and progress on sustainability, but Arnault pointed out that the group and its brands focus on “short-term goals, contrary to a lot of our friends and competitors whose claims and objectives are set for 2050 — far enough for the goals never to be seen and if they are not reached nobody will remember them. We want realistic and measurable goals, so that progress can be verified. I am not a fan of incantation and setting unrealistic, far away goals. I much prefer that people can come and point their fingers at us if we have not achieved our goals.”
Arnault said the group has received “a lot of help” from LVMH special adviser Stella McCartney. “She is our little red demon or blue angel, almost every day she has hints, ideas and suggestions and makes us meet the right people. It is very enriching because she is so knowledgeable about this topic.”
“The beauty of it is that everybody is interested in sustainability, it’s everybody’s problem,” said Brunschwig. “Customers ask more about how and where the product was made than its price,” said Arnault.