Geox unveils Eco down jacket, as founder Polegato repositions global brand
Mario Moretti Polegato has a dream: it is to make women fall in love with one of Italy’s most successful brands. That brand is called Geox, a label that Polegato launched two decades ago when he dreamed up the idea of “breathable” rubber soles for sneakers. In keeping with its DNA of technological innovation, Geox this week unveiled the New:Do, a first ecological down jacket composed of recovered polyester made from recycled plastic bottles.
Polegato is one of the great success stories of Italy, by a restless entrepreneur who took a gut-instinct idea and grew it into global brand called Geox, which posted annual revenues of €900 million in 2016, with a healthy EBITDA of €47.5 million.
Though he and his family are from winemaking in the Veneto region, and Polegato studied oenology, he made his break-through while in Nevada. “I was walking through a blazingly hot desert and my feet were overheating and I thought why not just cut some holes in the soles. Simple as that, with a good penknife. But when I realized it was effective, as soon as I got back to Italy I hired a few engineers and together we went to work!” says the proud Venetian over a cup of coffee. By developing a waterproof membrane with this tiny team, Geox revolutionized footwear in introducing the first truly breathable shoes.
Eventually, he patented the idea in over 100 countries and began rolling out Geox boutiques worldwide. Today Geox boasts 1,250 single-brand stores worldwide, including some 400 in China. However, due to its outdoors, performance tradition, Geox has always been mainly a brand for men, as male consumers currently account for about 60% of sales.
“Typically, in our industry women buy two thirds of all shoes, so we’d like to change that proportion at Geox,” explains the CEO in a freewheeling conversation on the terrace of Palazzo Crespi, a fabulous private Milan townhouse with two huge paintings by Canaletto on display.
“Today’s consumer is different. They will always want fine styles, but they must be healthy as well. I believe that combination is essential at Geox,” argued Mario Moretti Polegato, the CEO and majority shareholder of Geox, where he is busy managing this key transformation.
To that end, he hired Ernesto Esposito, an Italian shoe design veteran, and unleashed him in the creative department. The results -- presented at Palazzo Crespi on Milan’s storied Corso Venezia -- are fresh, feminine, quirky and, of course, healthy. From natty, perforated derbies; to faux serpent moccasins with partly rawhide heels and equestrian straps; to some marvelous revamped Getas done in mixes of ethnic weaves and beach windbreaker stripes; to elegant summery wedges in Godolphin blue stripes and woven raffia trim.
“What people don’t realize is that 95% of all shoes sold worldwide today are made with rubber soles – only 5% are in leather. But as we live in a world were people, rightly so, are more concerned about hygiene, in my view they will naturally gravitate to Geox, since our shoes are healthier. They don’t smell, unlike most sneakers!” insists Polegato.
Success has brought a charming existence. Polegato is the proud owner of Villa Sandi, a fabulous residence designed by the school of Palladio. Built in 1622 along the banks of the river Piave, Villa Sandi was even Napoleon’s headquarters for a time during the Italian military campaign. At Villa Sandi the family produces everything from award-winning prosecco, cabernets and even grappa -- all carefully stored in over 1.5 kilometers of underground cellars. It’s a vineyard known for its bio-diversity, right down to creating “insect hotels” to attract the right kind of bugs.
Polegato, however, is elegant enough to wear his success lightly. There is little of the arrogance that characterizes so many self-made men, partly because Polegato seems so rooted in his native Veneto – and in the vines that made his family successful well before he was born.
Whatever happens, Polegato wants Geox to remain what he calls a “family” brand. “We are at the center of what I call affordable luxury. Increasingly, it’s what a smart person wants to buy; we are providing that choice with a nice and elegant dollop of Italian style. Anyway, isn’t that what Italy is all about – affordable flair?”
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