Bright ideas, raw materials
Sabrina Ciofi, ph. Sergio Lovati
Bonaudo is a special company, a top class entrepreneurial reality, technologically advanced and employing highly specialised staff, guided by a young and visionary entrepreneur. For over ninety years, Bonaudo has transformed raw leather into a quality product ready to be turned into accessories and luxury garments. Born as a tannery like many others, it has become a unique company in its sector, under the leadership of its president Alessandro Iliprandi, an entrepreneur who is just over forty years old. The revolutionary aspect in his leadership is the investment in his colleagues’ professionalism. At his side is Claudia Iliprandi, commercial and style director, the link between ideas, creativity, materials and product.
Alessandro, you are a young entrepreneur. How did you get to be in charge of Bonaudo S.p.A?
My grandmother used to trade in leather, and twenty-five years ago my father, who had carried on her business, bought some Bonaudo shares. That’s where my story starts, that was my launching pad. I joined the company when I was wentyfour and very soon I started renewing the product and the company itself, updating it to the new needs of the market. Having grown up in an entrepreneurial environment that had contact with the tanneries but was not one itself, I was able to think up a new strategy from a wider perspective.
From the very beginning I aimed at creating an epicentre of excellence, that would acquire and unify five tanneries, each one specialized in a different type of product, within two factories: one in Milan and one near Verona. Today, Bonaudo is made up of four companies in Milan, one in Veneto and one in Tuscany, in Santa Croce sull’Arno, which specialises in tannery using vegetablebased derivatives.
Why did you decide on such a difficult and unusual professional career?
Leather is a familiar subject to me, I heard people talking about it through my entire childhood. Plus, I have a personal passion for handicrafts and craftspeople, professionals who can transform even the simplest and roughest material into a luxury product, with their own hands. I’m fascinated by the process through which raw materials are elevated to something unique and precious.
How many people are employed in your factories in Cuggiono (Milan) and Verona? What does it mean to be the head of a limited company in the Italian fashion industry?
In our two plants we employ over 100 people directly, plus 40 more who work externally but exclusively for us. We are very proud of this, and equally very aware of the responsibility it brings.
At the base of my strategy there is much investment in local and national resources; even in hard times I always invested and developed. I never thought about relocating because I always believed in the value of a ‘made in’ that is a high quality product, manufactured in suitable, certified factories. We are an example of ‘made in’ that is totally manufactured in Italy in modern, technologically advanced plants staffed by specialised employees. The average employee age is twenty-five, which is a personal success and source of pride.
I stake everything on people, because I believe in the team, in group work. At my side I have highly competent and skilled coworkers, like Claudia, who is the commercial director of Bonaudo and is also in charge of style. I invested in people because I believe in social responsibility.
An entrepreneur who wants to make a high quality and technologically superior product has the duty to create a highly specialized and modern company, that enables young people to enter into employment that has real career potential. It is not true that young people don’t want factory work. If factories are old plants with no hope for professional growth, young people will stay away – but if companies are interesting work places, technologically advanced and providing real career possibilities, then young people are absolutely willing to work in a factory.
Where do you get the energy and inspiration to carry forward such complex work in a market that has instability as its fixed variable?
I get it from my travels, from the countries that I visit. In developing countries, I see great companies being started all over the place by young entrepreneurs with bright and visionary ideas. But none of them has our knowledge, nor our culture, which is something we have in our DNA and that sometimes we just don’t see. If we work with great research and innovation we will always be beyond international competition, because there will be no need to compete.
This gives me lots of energy, because I see big and very innovative companies in the market that I can stand up to, without problems, thanks to one product that is unique and absolutely unbeatable. To stay in the market you have to invest constantly, and remember that Italy is synonymous in the world with high quality.
The Italian fashion industry is divided into productive districts. Can one still talk about industrial districts? What are your relationships with the districts you belong to?
I think belonging to a district has its plusses and minuses, although I see more positive aspects than negative ones. Of our two companies, one is in a productive district, the other isn’t. Synergy, exchange of information, structures aligned with the sector that they operate in, specialised professionals, product culture, and logistic advantages that allow for working with tight timing are all plusses of being in. Outside the productive district you need to encourage organisation, research and training because you can’t count on specialised labour. Being in and out gives us a privileged point of view and the ability to see the positive and negative sides, and make the most of our resources and those of the territory. Industrial districts are so important that tanneries are opened only in shoe-production districts, where they are part of a system – a benefit that unfortunately is starting to disappear in Italy.
What makes you different from the other tanneries?
Alessandro Iliprandi: A Bonaudo project is made with Bonaudo products and Bonaudo style. From personnel training to product there is a continuity that respects my entrepreneurial strategy and the company philosophy that I created through the years. This is where Claudia’s work fits in perfectly. She takes care of products and research as I take care of strategies.
Claudia Iliprandi: Certainly our approach to research distinguishes us – specifically in my work this means thinking and behaving like a creative and a designer – together with the ability to translate ideas and aesthetic images into products. Our research is continuous, and this means we travel a lot, we are in constantly analysing the worlds of fashion, art and design, and closely following the work of the best Italian design schools. All this input is then brought together for reflection and discussion with our staff, to create items and colours. I have always been personally in charge of the development of our colour charts. It’s a big job that, in the end, produces the Bonaudo style.
Who are your clients, Claudia?
As commercial director of Bonaudo S.p.A, I work with all the luxury brands andcompanies that represent the top niche of the market and give primary importance to the quality of the prime materials, the artisan work and Made In Italy – from Italy to France, from England to the United States and Russia. I go face to face, mainly with designers and creatives regarding aesthetic and stylistic sensitivity, together we study and discover solutions to transform their ideas from paper to a market reality that corresponds to the needs of a very demanding client.
How do you communicate the particular nature of your work to the end client, seeing as it is a semi-finished product and not a finished one?
We have always placed our bets on what is new, on the avantgarde, and on talent. We have published books by Italian poets, supported the careers of young artists and presented the collections of emerging designers, built special projects with sector magazines and sponsored independent publications. Twice a year, during Anteprima, the international leather trade fair in Milan, we invite our clients to an event during which we present an element of excellence in Italian creativity. Last September we sponsored the yearbook of one of the most important Italian fashion schools, Ied Moda Lab Milan. It was an artbook made using the projects of the school’s best students. During the event at Palazzo Isimbardi, an historic and very special location that we were exceptionally allowed to use, we presented Marco Russo and Victoria Wurer’s collections – two graduates who I personally followed in their thesis projects, for the accessories and garments made of leather.
Alessandro, what will be the role of trade fairs in the next decade?
I believe trade fairs will continue to be important in emerging countries, where there is a hunger for knowledge and where there are new corporate realities entering the market. In Europe and in the United States, fairs will gradually lose their importance: for years now, collections have been developed at different times, because fashion has brought forward its dates and increased the number of collections. The trade fairs’ timing no longer corresponds to the system’s timing, nor to the client’s needs.
Claudia, how do you position yourselves as regards young designers and new emerging brands?
Our position is that of a dialogue that is always open with the young designers and the graduates who are coming out of the international fashion and design schools, and who will be tomorrow’s stylists. I follow them personally, I help them in the search for materials, in the identification of the market segment that best suits them, I go to their presentations and to the end of year fashion shows at the best European schools. Recently I gave support to Rolando Rocchetti with his thesis collection – he has just graduated in fashion design and is featured in the pages of this edition of PIZZA. We collaborate with Saint Martin’s in London, the Royal Academy in Antwerp and the Haute Ecole des Beaux Artes in Geneva, providing leathers and assisting the students in their final projects. I believe in the youngsters and I am convinced that they should be given a chance. When a company is open in this way to everything that is around it, and it approaches work in this way, it is no longer just work but it is pure passion, it’s like writing poetry.
Alessandro, what are the key words and actions of your future strategies?
Investing in organisations and people, because I strongly believe that a good product can only be made in organised and technologically advanced environments, always bearing in mind that people are the real patrimony.