Technological craftsman, green entrepreneur.

The future of Made in Itlay between quality and sustainability. Luca Sburlati, founder of Pattern.

There are entrepreneurs aiming to build the best companies in the world and others aiming to build the best companies for the world. Besides, there are many people perceiving sustainability as a limit, and others that see it as an opportunity. There are entrepreneurs who produce quantities and those who produce quality. Both as a manager and as an entrepreneur, Luca Sburlati has always chosen quality, innovation and sustainability. Graduated in International Political Science and at Bocconi MBA, Luca belongs to a new generation of Italian fashion entrepreneurs who believes in transforming the “Made in Italy” into the pioneer of sustainable fashion, globally. And every day, with all companies he owned, he works to achieve this dream.

Interview

You consider yourself a technological craftsman, but you are actually much more than just a craftsman. You are the owner of the leading company in the design and production of fashion items (Pattern) and, additionally, an entrepreneur, founder of the organic clothing brand N2R. How do you combine these two diverse souls (the managerial and entrepreneurial one)? And for you, how valuable is having an entrepreneurial approach at work?

As in geography, most borders today are quiete meaningless (although some people think the opposite). Thence, borders are considered with no meanings in all the so-called “evolved” organizations, which work within extremely dynamic markets, such the one of fashion. This also means that we must look at companies and organizations through very different perspectives from what we were used to do a few years ago. Besides, I think that today there is no real difference between a managerial and an entrepreneurial role. Personally, I was fortunate enough to work for large multinational companies as well as for Italian brands leaded by the old-fashioned entrepreneur. This allowed me to shape a personal way of seeing
the world where the essential elements are not so many: having assertive, positive and curious (always) people, willing to learn, investing in new technologies and thinking about the social well-being of all stakeholders. These are the necessary elements to build a long-term successfull business. Then, if you have the people who, in addition to these features, is competent and skilled, you get that mix that has been built up the beauty and uniqueness of the Made in Italy over centuries, which we often do underestimate. Here are our own technological craftsmen.

One of my favorite entrepreneurs of all time is Adriano Olivetti. At the beginning of Twentieth century he had already succeeded in combining technological innovation with a corporate social culture, creating a company that was not just an expression of the profit it made, but also of the people who made it profitable. The company you lead (Pattern) is an excellent example of corporate sustainability. Would you tell me what you did and what do you plan of doing to reduce your environmental impact and spread a culture of sustainability?

What we have already done is pretty simple, we “certified ourselves”, among the very first ones, according to the SA8000 standard in terms of Social Accountability, tracking all personnel, environmental and safety management issues both from the our point of view and from the supply chain. When we started, many people told us that they were useless costs, but I do think that it is exactly the opposite: reassure not to have fake Made in Italy is not only preferable but it is absolutely necessary for our protection, for our customers and also for the our country. This means having a specialized staff and choosing specific suppliers who want to grow with us. Others will decide not to invest in sustainability, and in the long-run, they will disappear. Italy has huge opportunities to become the sustainable fashion supply chain, but it must protect virtuous behaviours and punish the scammers, as happened within the wine industry many years ago.

What will we do? Some time ago we were not entirely satisfied and therefore, we have asked ourselves what had to be done and we decided what to do next. We have chosen to transform the company one more time, by adhering to the 17 UN Principles for a Sustainable World by 2030. Having chosen four of these principles, we have focused on a 5-year plan to become a “carbon neutral” company in terms of CO2 emissions through a series of actions which will also lead us to have significant economic benefits. A trivial example: we have turned all lights within our company into LEDs, low energy consumption devices, with a longer life and much more relaxing for staff. After all, we measure everything we do through sustainability reports, prepared according to international standards GRI, and we publish them, from 2015, next to the financial analysis on our website: hence, they are available to everyone.

Reassuring not to have "fake" Made in Italy is not only preferable, but it is absolutely necessary for our protection, for our customers and also for our country.

— Luca Sburlati

To launch some of N2R products, you have organized several crowdfunding campaigns which have all achieved their funding objectives. Crowdfunding is an excellent form of funding because it allows you to raise funds, and, at the same time, to advertise your idea and to create a network, without getting into debt or giving away part of the company. How did you organize your campaign? Do you think that it is the best tool to get fundings? Do you have any piece of advice to give to everyone willing to launch a crowdfunding campaign?

Actually, I do not know if it is the best tool. Personally, I do think that it is an extraordinary school of entrepreneurship, successes and mistakes that teach you how to drive future challenges. Certainly N2R has been a forerunner for many thigs, such as our Exemplary Brand acquired in 2015 which has become one of the most important bearers of the Italian sustainable sportswear, which is giving us a lot of satisfaction.

To the question: “Sir Branson, would you explain us the secret of your success in three words?”, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, replied: “People, People, People”. And, actually, people are the engine of any company. In the past you have worked as HR Manager, and today, you manage a company with more than 160 employees. In addition to each one’s CV, what are the skills and characteristics that you most look at in people? And which are the key ways of motivating the people you work with??

“People” is certainly part of the answer, everyone says it but, in reality a few actually do something. I have leaded companies with thousands of people and I am persuaded that, especially in our country, we still have a lot to do in this sense. HR very rarely is an actual business partner, and therefore, this is
another border to overcome. We must train both the personnel’s managers as well as the CEOs, who must know what HR is (not just in theory). Part of the problem lies in some entrepreneurs too, but today, with the Digital Transformation, this will change faster than we can even imagine, just see how important fashion shows are in our industry.

This works in some way as the Formula 1 MotoGP, where, when you see a winning Mercedes, you want to buy it (obviously, if you can afford it). Hamilton is not just a pilot, he is also an icon, just as twins Lisa and Lena, stars from the youngsters social network Musically, are Fendi’s icons, a brand which until a few years ago used to sell furs for middle-aged ladies. Hence, an HR works on behaviours (it would be fantastic if it happened also for those working for the final customer) and helps the management team having people who interpret them well, with passion and positivity. Finally, I believe that even the iron fist, usable in emergencies, in the long-term, brings to the destruction of value.

HR works on behaviours and helps the management team having people who interpret them well, with passion and positivity.

— Luca Sburlati

A few quick questions

If you could find a time machine (a working one …) and you could make one trip only, where would you like to live? In the past or in the future?

One day in the time of Trajan, another one on Mars.

What drives you to work more? Making profit and be successful (making money) or whether your job gives meaning to your life and might positively impacts the world (making meaning)?

Definitely the second, otherwise I would have made very different and much less risky choices. I also think that working to impact positively gives much more value to a person’s life. Recently, we have acquired and saved an Umbrian enterprise with unique excellencies in modeling and prototyping that was in danger of disappearing: this is something extraordinary that it goes beyond any economic value.

If you could have dinner with an entrepreneur or manager (from the past or the present), with whom would you like to have dinner with?

I would go for a dinner for three: Adriano Olivetti and Bernard Arnault.

Now you are turning the fashion industry into something much more sustainable, which other sector would you like to transform?

Design / Furnitures.

If you could write a single word on a big billboard in the main square of your city, Turin, which word would you choose?

YES TAV.

Like the products you sell, you are 100% Made in Italy. You have studied, lived and worked in Italy. Is there any other country where tomorrow would you like to live and work in?

Certainly in a Latin country. Barcelona or Paris would be nice.