Looking beyond its own walls for innovative ideas and sustainable solutions is becoming more crucial for Safilo, Group CEO MR ANGELO TROCCHIA told Insight on a recent trip to Australia, as the Italian eyewear company edges closer to 150 years in business.
Although officially founded in Italy in 1934, Safilo’s origins date back to 1878 when a manufacturing site in the Venetian Alps began producing lenses and frames.
Today, Safilo is the largest eyewear creator, designer and worldwide distributor of sunglasses, optical frames and sports eyewear, second only to its Italian counterpart EssilorLuxottica. It operates several proprietary brands – Carrera, Polaroid, Smith, Blenders, Privé Revaux and Seventh Street – and more than 30 licensed brands.
From his Rome base, Group CEO Mr Angelo Trocchia oversees Safilo’s global operations, including 4,545 employees, five production facilities (in China, the US and three in Italy), a wholly owned commercial network of subsidiaries in 40 countries – including Australia – and more than 50 distribution partners in 70 countries.
Well-versed in managing big business, prior to joining Safilo Trocchia was employed with British multinational consumer goods company, Unilever, for 27 years, including 19 as vice president of marketing, and five as president and general manager of its operations in Italy.
Trocchia, who has been Group CEO at Safilo for four years, was recently in Australia on business when he sat down with Insight to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the firm as it seeks to establish itself as an industry leader in sustainability.
He says the concept of ‘no walls’, ‘senza pareti’ in Italian, is driving the company forward as it strives to uphold its values focused on people, sustainability and responsible innovation.
A qualified aeronautical engineer, with extensive experience living and working abroad, Trocchia is guided by the conviction that “any problem can have a solution, you just have to look for it”.
It’s a mindset that may bode well for the Safilo boss, who participates in a marketplace where end consumers and stockists are demanding more environmentally-friendly products and greater supply-chain transparency.
“We’re looking for innovation not just inside our walls but looking at what is going on outside. I recently went to San Francisco, as we’re looking at some organisations there doing interesting things,” he says, without giving too much away.
“Looking at what is happening around us is more crucial going forward. I’m an extremely curious person. It’s a fundamental driver for me. All solutions can be found. Speaking as an engineer, when you have a problem, you concentrate to find a solution. It’s how you approach the problem.”
Trocchia is now applying his experience to the eyewear industry, zeroing in on Safilo’s digital transformation and sustainability goals.
“Safilo’s two major strategic directions – to be a digital company and enact sustainability measures – are both part of a larger journey. I believe we need to be serious about sustainability, but I intend it to be a journey, not something we simply turn on with a key,” he says.
“Although I only joined Safilo four years ago, the fact that the company is still here, is an example of sustainability. We have a long-term horizon in front of us, and sustainability is at the heart of it. We’ve developed a strategic framework in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”
Safilo’s 2020—2024 Sustainability Plan has three dimensions: people, product, and planet.
The company has made significant in-roads into sustainability with the introduction of rooftop solar, a decrease in water consumption, and the elimination of nickel galvanic treatments in its optical frames production process, as some examples.
“We’ve got a three-to-four-year plan in front of us,” Trocchia says. “People are a critical element of any company. You need the best people to win in the marketplace, and to remain current in society. In terms of the planet, we’re looking at our manufacturing centres in China and Italy where we’re reducing our electricity and water consumption.”
According to a company report, rooftop solar installations have resulted in a 15.9% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. It also achieved a 15% decrease in water consumption and saved 6.929 gigajoules of electric energy (1924.7 kilowatt hours) in 2020.
“We have clear targets for our factories in China and Italy, to reduce electricity and water. It translates into something we can measure. We’re also aiming for our car fleet to be 100% electric vehicles. In Italy, where we have our largest fleet, they are hybrid vehicles. Our next step is for the fleet to all be electric,” Trocchia says.
But Safilo’s greatest steps in sustainability seem to be in its product’s raw materials, exploring innovative solutions to make its glasses greener. The company has established partnerships with several raw material suppliers, all specialists in their respective fields.
“In this carbon world, you can’t do everything by yourself; you need to work with the best,” Trocchia says.
Safilo is currently working with at least four external companies.
Econyl, a company headquartered in Trentino, Italy, manufacturers an innovative and sustainable material obtained by regenerating synthetic (nylon) waste such as fishing nets, carpets and textiles, which Safilo has incorporated in its Tommy Jeans brand.
Eastman, a chemical company based in Tennessee, US, is a global specialty materials provider and pioneer in molecular recycling. This year, Safilo launched Eastman Acetate Renew and Eastman Tritan Renew in its sunglass and optical product range. Both products are part of a broad portfolio of sustainable resins now offered at scale by Eastman. The material will be launched in Europe’s Spring/Summer 2022 for Safilo’s Polaroid range.
Building on a 20-year partnership with specialty chemicals company Evonik, headquartered in Essen, Germany, Safilo will begin using Evonik’s Trogamid TmyCX eCO material for premium sun lenses. The first launch will be with its BOSS brand.
Safilo has also signed a strategic partnership with Coventya, a French company with more than 90 years’ experience in the development of specialty chemicals for surface finishing treatments. Safilo will be the first player in the eyewear sector to exclusively use ‘Metal X’, a new innovative Coventya patent that allows the use of precious metals in galvanic treatments to produce optical frames and sunglasses to be reduced by 90%.
“Eastman, Evonik, Econyl, Coventya … we’re working on raw materials with these external suppliers, and translating those materials into our collections, closing the 360-degree loop,” Trocchia says.
The company says it has steadily incfreased the number of sustainable styles in its collections, both for owned and licensed brands. Several brands, including BOSS, Polaroid, Levi’s, Missoni and Tommy Hilfiger, are now using bio-based plastic and recycled materials.
“Some generations of consumers are more sensitive to the topic of sustainability, and some have become more conscious since COVID. We see that trend towards more eco-friendly and recycled materials. The signs are there – it’s becoming more relevant. It goes above product or brand,” Trocchia says.
Eliminating the use of nickel, a silver-white metal traditionally used in galvanic finishing treatments for eyewear, has been an important milestone.
The company says nickel-free treatments have been implemented across all production lines and comply with all its quality standards, often stricter than required by the current legislation.
“It’s logical to say let’s look to other people beyond us. It’s part of our strategic direction to collaborate on potential innovations in lens and frames materials. We will keep working with these companies and other suppliers because we’re very open-minded in what is such a technical field of expertise,” Trocchia says.
Outwardly open-minded, Safilo is not shying away from other social responsibilities too.
In response to the COVID-19 emergency, the firm repurposed some of its production lines to develop two types of certified Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) under the Polaroid brand. This included wrap-around, transparent protective eyewear, and a face shield designed for complete eye, nose and mouth protection.
“We launched Polaroid PPE products during COVID because we had both the capacity and the technology to do so. We produced and donated protective eyewear and face shields to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in Italy, Mexico, Spain, Singapore and here, in Australia. We didn’t make any profit – it’s a small example of Safilo’s social responsibility.”
While Trocchia is taking a step-by-step approach to Safilo’s sustainability objectives, he says the company is committed beyond 2024.
“We’ve defined a clear framework, a clear structured approach encompassing the three pillars of people, product and planet.”
And it’s as relevant here as it is in Trocchia’s native Italy.
“Flying here to Australia, this ‘outdoors’ country, reiterates that sustainability is crucial for local companies too. Safilo’s Australian subsidiary is a fantastic company, with a great opportunity. Watch this space,” he says.