Innovation, quality and tradition are just some of the words that feature very highly on Giacomo Valentini’s list when describing his company, which is more like a family. President and founder of the Orobianco Group, Giacomo has passion for creativity and drive for excellence that is reflected through his company and personal life.
In just under 18 years, Orobianco has gone from conception to being one of the most technologically advanced luxury bag manufacturers in the world. However, saying Orobianco is simply just a bag company is a massive understatement, especially with products ranging from helicopter engineering, Cafes in Japan, watches, sparkling wine and fragrances, just to name a few.
I sat down with Mr. Valentini, at one of his state of the art factories in Gallarate, Italy, to gain a better insight into the genesis of the Orobianco group, what the future holds and of course that all important “Made in Italy” tag.
ModeHunter: The best place for us to start is the beginning. So, how did the Orobianco Group begin?
Giacomo Valentini: Orobianco started as a dream and an idea 18 years ago, whilst I was travelling in the Tibetan region as a Cashmere consultant.Within this area was a goat, which produced one of the best cashmere products and was the lively hood of the people based there. The Cashmere goat is very important and the local people refer to it as their “white gold”.
White gold in Italian is oro bianco, so at that moment I made a bet with myself that if the name is not registered as a company, I would change my life and start a new business.
Upon returning to Italy I found the name was not registered, so this gave birth to my new adventure. To this day, you can see the Cashmere goat is still embedded within the Orobianco logo.
MH: Before this epiphany and life-changing trip, what was your focus?
GV: For many years before I worked within the chemical industry specialising in Polyurethane and also within the refrigeration industry.
I come from a family that has a rich history of business people. In 2014, my great-grandfather’s company will celebrate 110 years of business whilst my fathers company will celebrate 60 years.
I was involved in the family business but, unfortunately, due to large investments in the former Soviet Republic and Iraq, the company encountered financial difficulties. At the time, even though I was a manager for a multi-national company, it would have been impossible to recover depending solely on my wages so I had to start something new.
MH: So you had to start completely from scratch.
GV: Indeed, I started Orobianco from zero, with very little money in my pocket and just an idea. I noticed finance companies were investing money into fashion houses to boost the brand name and image. Very little attention was being paid to the production side, which in turn caused the artisans and small producers to suffer as they were historically know to sub-contract for these big companies. All the production was starting to move away from Italy, away from England and to countries with cheaper production.
My idea was very simple; I wanted to start collecting the experience and the manufacturing knowledge that was being lost, so I started designing within their studios and taking in all the historical expertise.
Later down the line, I was able to employ these craftsmen and start our own production within Orobianco, which is why at present Orobianco is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the world.
MH: Your versatile background and knowledge must have been priceless when starting Orobianco.
GV: Exactly. All my experience gained within the chemical, refrigeration and mechanical industries was transferred into my new venture. This is why within Orobianco you can find an amalgamation of technology. We are not simply a fashion manufacturer or bag manufacturer, we are a group focused on making varied quality products in Italy.
MH: How important is the “Made in Italy” tag.
GV: We have a great respect for the words “Made in”. In my opinion it is wrong to write off all products made in China or Vietnam, for example, as a “bad” product. What we simply focus on is a product that embodies our background and our experience. Something that accentuates our history. The “Made in Italy” is very important for us as it encapsulates all the artisans, history and knowledge. The same is for “Made in UK”; this is why we are entering into a new venture in which product will be made in the UK. In the future it is possible that we will also research products that are good to manufacture in Japan. Where ever it is, as Orobianco we respect and stay true to the words “Made in” and want people to understand the value of products being made in a specific country.
MH: Orobianco has grown substantially over the last eighteen years. What has been the core of your business model to ensure such growth?
GV: I like this question. As I mentioned, when I started Orobianco there was very little money and, unknown to many, I spent the first three years without wages.
I wanted to fully understand and develop the history and establish what “Made in Italy” represented. I then wanted to focus on exporting to one country and I chose Japan. In Japan, they require the highest standards when it comes to bag manufacturing, as well as, being highly specialised. Bags are very important within Japan’s society and it is something utilised by all genders and age groups on a daily basis.
I spent three years travelling to Japan just to understand the needs within the bag industry. I discovered there wasn’t a unisex bag in existence, so I created one.
The first ten years of Orobianco we only had eighteen members of staff and it was the most difficult, but I told them if we pass these first ten years the proper way then we will have the correct foundation on which to grow.
MH: So the ten-year test worked?
GV: Well, ten years is a short and also a long time. One of the limitations we discovered during that time was the artisans world is aging and there weren’t any young people in the system. What we wanted to do was to upgrade the system, so we employed the new generation who understood how to operate highly sophisticated machinery and employed the older artisans who were aware that the machinery could make their craft even better. So information was passed between the older and younger generations. We also we have a program which has produced it’s first graduate, the older modellers teaching the younger generation all the modelling and tooling in the traditional way.
MH: Taking the best of both worlds to keep helped with your growth?
GV: Exactly, we are looking for continued growth over the next ten to fifteen years and by educating the older generation and training the next generation we are ensuring the continuation of knowledge. Having a company is similar to an army. On the field you have generals who are older and more experienced and you also have the soldiers who have the energy. Companies are not something created just to put money into your pocket! A company is a network, a community, an opportunity to give jobs to families. Unfortunately I have lived through moments when some of my father’s companies had to close and even twenty years later the memory is still fresh.
I don’t just see myself as a president or shareholder of Orobianco, I am a skipper and I want to be a good skipper. The moment there is someone who is able to make the sailing better I will hand it over to the new skipper and do all I can to assist in providing the correct route to travel. My mission from now on is to create a team that take over after me.
MH: When you started Orobianco you were designing, how involved are you still with the design process?
GV: I love design and still am very much involved with the process. Because of the complexity of my schedule now it is difficult to sit at a desk drawing but thanks to modern technology I can scan my drawings whilst travelling and send them through to the office. Thankfully we have a design team that can then interpret the sketches and begin working on the designs.
Sometimes the team tells me we don’t even know how to create a something realistic from my sketches so there is a discussion and a process before the bag can arrive at production.
MH: Will there be a point where you hand over the design process totally?
GV: Coming from a sports background I understand that you cannot continue at the same speed and strength, as you get older.
I am very proud to have a talented design team who understand the importance of transmitting something from paper to an actual product. We have an archive of Thirteen thousand models documented on computer so in the future we will be able to reference these models to create new ones and also analyse the designs to see what we haven’t made as yet.
I am sure the team will be able to function independently of me within the next five years.
MH: Where do you find inspiration to create and come up with new ideas?
GV: I am always visually stimulated, especially when I travel. When visiting different countries I like to just sit and watch people walking by. I observe how they carry their bags and try to understand the needs of the people via the silent messages they transmit. Whether their bag doesn’t hold their laptop correctly or if the bag is too bulky; all of these things create ideas.
I also enjoy studying history, reading old books, studying art; all of these things give me ideas for my own interpretation.
MH: When you aren’t travelling for work or creating new designs what do you do in your limited spare time to relax?
GV: I have always enjoyed sailing and used to be involved with sailing competitions, which I haven’t had much time for lately but it is something I will get back into. Initially I will be part of the crew but I know how to be a good skipper.
I love Judo, which was part of the reason I travelled to Japan when I was eighteen and I am currently starting back Aikido training as it encourages fitness. I think it is very important to keep active especially as you get older.
I also read a lot whenever I can; I am always interested in learning and understanding more.
For more information visit www.orobianco.com and view the latest collections.