Ermenegildo Zegna: Fashion’s Family Giant

To coincide with the launch of BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent, we speak to Gildo Zegna, chief executive of Ermenegildo Zegna, on what drives the company’s culture.

Gildo Zegna | Source: Courtesy

MILAN, Italy — Since Ermenegildo Zegna decided to make use of his father Angelo’s looms in 1910, the brand has been in the care of its founding family. What began as one man’s passion to create the finest textiles with the purest of fibres has evolved into a global luxury group, with a product offering that includes fabrics used by much of the luxury sector, ready-to-wear lines, accessories, eyewear and fragrances. An early entrant into China and Africa, Ermenegildo Zegna has over 550 monobrand stores and revenue that stands in the billions, making it the largest menswear brand in the world.

But whilst the years have passed and markets have been entered and won, and the structure of the business has progressed, the Zegna family has remained a constant guiding force, and the family nature of the business its core tenant.

Current chief executive Gildo Zegna explains why his family’s heritage remains the beating heart of the business.

BoF: How important is the family heritage to the business?

GZ: Family heritage is extremely important, as it helps each of us remember what sets us apart from other luxury brands. As a family brand, Ermenegildo Zegna is passionate about quality, style and our pioneering vision, values set forth by my grandfather Ermenegildo when he established the company in 1910. As Zegna has grown from a producer of ultra-fine fabrics to a worldwide luxury brand whose offer extends from fabrics and menswear to luxury lifestyle accessories, the company retains many of the features that have helped develop its unique identity: a commitment to excellence, investment in innovation, and the ability to combine traditional elements in a contemporary fashion. These characteristics ensure that Zegna is continually able to accommodate our growing customer base, extending our offer to meet the evolving needs of the modern gentleman.

Personally speaking, the family is one of the most important parts of my life and I am proud that Zegna is currently run by the fourth generation. We are lucky that our grandfather left us with such a strong heritage: savoir-faire in craftsmanship, entrepreneurship, ethical values, passion for our work, discipline and the importance of the smallest of details, our commitment to honouring and upholding these values is rooted in long family tradition and forms one of the pillars of our success.

BoF: How does this contribute to Zegna’s success?

GZ: We have a saying that I feel is worth repeating: “Strong families make strong companies and strong companies make strong families.” The power of the Zegna DNA cannot be undervalued, and we expect each member of the family to acquire experience outside the company before joining the Zegna team. I feel this strategy has several advantages, but perhaps the greatest of which is that it gives us the opportunity to explore other realities, identify best practices and ultimately solidify our commitment to the company.

BoF: What kinds of people thrive in Zegna’s culture?

GZ: The family heritage that has driven our business since the beginning extends beyond the immediate Zegna family, permeating the entire Zegna culture. We carefully select everyone on our team and demand a great deal from them in terms of commitment, quality and sense of personal and social responsibility. The people who thrive within this culture are those driven by passion and the desire to grow and cultivate the business.

Zegna is also highly focused on growing the global team in terms of competency and creativity. This is achieved through initiatives such as the Zegna school, which offers word-class training and development programmes on a regular basis for our extended Zegna team, specifically designed to give our employees the skills, experience, knowledge and exposure required.

BoF: What are the skill-sets Zegna is currently looking to add to the company?

GZ: We are fortunate that the demand for luxury goods, excellence and high-quality products, continues to show worldwide and increase sales year after year. What this means is that the Zegna global team must be highly aware of what luxury represents for our growing client base. As market needs evolve, we evolve to meet them, our customers know Zegna is synonymous with innovation, modernity and sensitivity to hospitality within high-end tailoring as well as upper casual, accessories, fine leather goods and luxury lifestyle products. We’re seeking talented individuals who can help inspire and grow our increasing internationalisation, whose focus includes emerging markets and the special needs that characterise these markets.

BoF: Looking to the future, what excites you most about Zegna’s potential?

GZ: Back in 2011, Zegna opened its first retail store on the African continent in Morocco, followed by a store in Egypt. We discovered a significant number of customers were Nigerian; we ran a test in Lagos, followed by the opening of a full Zegna boutique, evidence of the strategic vision and pioneering attitude that drives the company, and our steadfast focus on meeting the needs of our increasingly global customer base. We were the first global luxury brand to open a flagship in Nigeria, and are now exploring other important African markets such as Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. The company has also taken steps to further expand in the eyewear and beauty categories. In 2011, Zegna signed a deal with Estée Lauder to develop new cosmetics and fragrances and announced this February a new licensing agreement with Marcolin to produce and distribute eyewear for both the Ermenegildo Zegna and Agnona brands.

In line with its founding values, Zegna has also just launched the Ermenegildo Zegna Founder’s scholarship. It will provide €1 million annually for a proposed 25 years, enabling talented Italian graduates to pursue postgraduate studies or conduct research outside of Italy. We encourage them to return to Italy, with their skills, upon completion of their programs, creating the conditions for a recovery, not just of the economy, but of the whole of Italian society.

This post is sponsored by Ermenegildo Zegna Group. To explore career opportunities at this company, please visit the Ermenegildo Zegna Group company page on BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.