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Aldo Group: In the Company of Kindness

By
  • Christian Layolle

On a trip to the Canadian city of Montréal, Aldo Bensadoun found himself fascinated by the city and its progressive, free spirited culture. The Frenchman immediately transferred his studies from Cornell to McGill University and, in 1972, launched Aldo as a shoe concession within a local department store. Today, the company owns multiple brands and operates a white-label business that produces footwear and accessories for a diverse portfolio of clients. The Aldo Group is present in over 90 countries and operates almost 2,000 stores.

Aldo has been a staunch activist against AIDS since the mid-eighties, donating 100 percent of the proceeds from dedicated products to local and international HIV/ AIDS programs, as well as making annual charitable donations. Douglas Bensadoun, the Aldo Group’s chief creative officer explains how the initiative is indicative of the company’s founding principles of love, integrity and respect for all. We sit down with Douglas Bensadoun to find out more.

BoF: How would you define the Aldo Group’s DNA?

DB: The DNA of the company comes out of the founder's values of infusing a socialist ideology — a kinder, sharing, giving and communal ideology — into what can be a very ruthless capitalist system. The world exposition in 1967 took place in Montréal amidst the progressive politics that came through in the 1960s. That's when my father moved to Montréal, and was taken up by that whole revolution. His big battle was reconciling the ideology of a more socialist approach to society with his desire to work within a capitalist model.

BoF: How are those values expressed?

DB: If you were working at the Aldo Group, the two refrains you would hear the most often would be: love, respect and integrity, and reaching your full potential. I've worked in a few different companies and I think that the value that is the most differentiated is the idea of having love as one of the company's values. That means caring passionately and being enthusiastic from the inside out. It is about loving what you do, loving your neighbour and loving yourself enough to really try to reach your own full potential and help those around you reach theirs.

BoF: How do you ensure that people's potential is identified and nurtured?

DB: I think a big part of it is education — continuing education programmes in disciplines that we feel are in line with their career aspirations — as well as in line with the types of exposure that we want them to experience. With regards to financing people's supplementary education, there are twelve people I can think of over the last 12 months who have gone to six-month programmes. Four of them actually went to Harvard, a couple of them went to England (one went to Cambridge, one went to Oxford) and several of them went to McGill and Concordia in Montréal. The company culture benefits from their exposure; we're very strict with regards to the people who are lucky enough to get that education, reporting and presenting it back.

BoF: How are the Aldo Group’s values reflected in the wider world?

DB: Within the Aldo Group, you have Aldo, Call It Spring, Little Burgundy and Globo, all different banners and each one of those banners has a dedicated cause. The most famous one for the flagship and for the company at large would be Aldo Fights AIDS which we've done many campaigns around, and have raised around $12 million in the last 20-25 years.

BoF: What are the next big goals for the company over the next 3-5 years?

DB: I think that it really revolves in two areas: one being consumer-centricity, the other one being brand building. The people who we're trying to attract are those who can help further the consumer-centricity of our vision and our need to build the brand. People in the areas of brand development and consumer insights, and that can also expand the international scope of our vision.

We have very high omnichannel ambitions, whether it be wholesaling or retailing. Regardless of channel, medium, digital or otherwise, the idea is to become more meaningful in each one of those countries and each one of those channels. We need expertise in the areas that will allow us to accomplish that.

BoF: What are the key characteristics of a successful Aldo Group team member?

DB: We pride ourselves on the ability to attract top international talent. Over the past six months alone key executives such as our new chief executive, chief marketing officer and general manager of ladies footwear have joined the team, hailing from Sweden, Italy, and Spain respectively. The Aldo Group is known for its passionate, productive and motivated team, and it's a reputation we take to heart. We have very little patience for apathy as a company. If you generally don't care and you're looking for a 9 to 5, then this isn't the right space for you. With the expression 9 to 5, I mean it from a mental standpoint. I think it really has to do with passion; it has to do with a twinkle in your eye with regards to having fun, and in having a true passion for product, for experience, and for the customer.

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