‘Zegna has always had this sense of responsibility,’ notes Anna Zegna, granddaughter of Ermenegildo Zegna and president of the Zegna Foundation. Philanthropy has been part of the Zegna brand since its launch in 1910 and the company has become known for both its commitment to high-quality fashion and its charitable concerns. The two go hand in hand, says Anna Zegna, ‘like a weave when you create a fabric, everything is very smooth and consistent.’
This interweaving can be seen on the catwalk. Stefano Pilati, the brand’s head of design, took inspiration for his autumn/winter 2015 collection from the same ecological concerns reflected at the company’s wool factory in picturesque Trivero and in the work of the foundation. Models emerged from a lush tropical forest, striding down a soil-covered catwalk dressed in archive Harris tweeds, selected for their authenticity and recyclability. The show perfectly encapsulated the aims of the foundation: to improve the quality of life of people and communities, while also showcasing the company’s heritage appeal.
A natural beginning
Anna Zegna has been interested in the company’s charitable concerns since childhood. ‘It’s part of where I come from,’ she explains. ‘We were lucky enough to be born in Trivero where the landscape is lush. We lived in a house which had a garden, but, in a way, the garden for us was the entire mountain because my grandfather reforested it in the 1930s, so we were really participating in his vision and living it in a very spontaneous way – it was as if you were born in the woods.’
Set high in the mountains, close to Swiss border, the hamlet of Trivero is undoubtedly an inspiring environment. Trivero is also home to the Zegna factory, surrounded by Oasi Zegna, a freely accessible nature park established in 1993. The park was designed, says Anna Zegna, to give people ‘the opportunity to enjoy an experience in nature, an education but through experience rather than in a classroom.’ Standout features include the rhododendron valley, which bursts into colourful blooms in May and June, as well as the panoramic road, which affords spectacular mountain views.
Environmental projects are just one part of the Zegna Foundation’s extensive remit. The company is involved in projects in each of its markets, working to meet different needs in Italy, China, India and Africa. ‘In certain communities it really means the basics, such as digging a well in Africa near Kilimanjaro,’ explains Anna Zegna. ‘In other places it might mean having an impact on the environment, in others it’s vocational skills training. When the Foundation started we were much more separated, it was education or work, health or food. Today, when you work on one, you have an impact on them all.’
Zegna’s family vision has proved one of its great strengths. ‘I think it gives you a more long-term view,’ Anna Zegna affirms. ‘It’s characteristic of a family, you look at your children and you think of the children of those children and it gives a sort of continuity.’
As a result, the brand’s collections of sharply tailored suits, cashmere knits and overcoats have a timeless sensibility and the Foundation has a long-term approach, only taking on projects that will last for at least three years. The company often exceeds this target; Zegna has been working with the Care & Share children’s charity in India for nine years and has just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund in China. ‘It’s very interesting to see how a project evolves over the years,’ notes Anna Zegna. ‘That’s why it’s very important not to stay for just one year but to continue.’
Wherever possible Zegna collaborates with local organisations in order to achieve the most impact. ‘We never start a project unless we have been there and we have spoken to the people,’ says Anna Zegna. ‘Our values should mirror the other people’s values so that even if the language is different, the skin colour is different, the hemisphere is different, we still share a common goal.’ This commitment to doing things properly is echoed in the Trivero wool factory. Every piece of fabric produced is checked and meticulously finished by hand to ensure the highest quality product.
The Foundation’s latest project is based in Italy, working to relaunch a textile atelier for the San Patrignano rehabilitation community near Rimini. ‘It still uses hand looms and we’re trying to merge their knowledge with our experts who go to teach and explain how to create a fashion project,’ Anna Zegna explains. ‘The response has been amazing, the number of girls at the atelier has doubled and it’s actually making money. It’s been amazing to see that when you give them time and a vision, they really take it in and give it back to you 10 times over.’
With its commitment to improving the quality of life for people and communities around the world, Ermenegildo Zegna sets itself apart from other fashion brands. It’s an ethos that has a major impact on the way it runs its wool factory and, ultimately, produces its collections – and means Zegna will remain a byword for timeless quality for many generations to come.