multimedia  › Business and economy

Luxury leather company Piquadro to speed up reshoring

by Giulia Crivelli

The road to Gaggio Montano in the Bolognese hills practically ends right at Piquadro’s headquarters, at 700 meters above sea level. In the distance you can see mountain tops that will soon be full of skiers, even though there’s no snow yet. The best way to reach the company’s stores and showrooms in Milan is by the Frecciarossa high-speed train, and then by car: it takes more than two hours, and that’s if the traffic and trains are cooperating.

“I often ask myself why I didn’t choose to leave my hometown and expand my headquarters by moving the factory and offices to an easy-to-reach industrial area,” recounts Piquadro founder, president, and GM Marco Palmieri. He started the business in 1987; for the first ten years they were third-party producers, but then in 1998 he decided to launch his own brand of purses, bags, and small leather goods.

“We are never going to leave Gaggio Montano: if we did, then none of the people who work here would come with me—and without those people who gave this business its soul, we are nothing,” he explains. “We are leathermakers, and some of our production is outsourced. But our brand’s real value and uniqueness is tied to this land, the passion of the people who saw our name grow, and to our Apennine culture”.

The design office has always been located in Gaggio Montano, but for three years—well before any talk of reshoring was brought up in conferences—Palmieri began bringing outsourced production back to Italy. “Our costs have skyrocketed in Asia, and the logistics have always been a problem. And now more so than ever: the big container moving companies have been experiencing an economic crisis, and that’s very dangerous for all international sellers,” Palmieri explains.

“But there’s more: in recent years the luxury sector has grown double-digit thanks to Chinese consumers. Nowadays, the high-end market has slowed down: the growing middle class is buying more and more. Consumers want premium, accessible luxury brands like Piquadro, and instead of ‘Made in China’ they want to see ‘Made in Italy’”.

It makes sense, both economically and emotionally: “China is becoming an important market for Piquadro, and they will help bring our exports above the current 25%—we can’t risk arriving on the market with ‘wrong’ products. And there’s also this: increasing the number of purses we make in Italy is the best way to discover ourselves and where it all comes from: our creativity, originality, and our ability to work in teams.”

In 2016, 70,000 of the 500,000 purses made under the Piquadro name were made in Italy, with Italian leather. Furthermore, the heart (or rather, the brains) of the operation is located in Gaggio Montano, where an automated system manages the clients’ shipments. No matter where a Piquadro product is made, they are always shipped to the Apennines in order to be subjected to rigorous quality control processes, then packaged and sent.

“There are no obligatory durability or usage standards; we, along with other producers, have researched machines that test backpacks and purses to their limits. It’s as though we prepared them for an ultramarathon, knowing full well that they ‘only’ had to walk,” claims Palmieri. “Among our many tests, perhaps my favorite is the Tumble Test: the product gets stuffed full, closed, and left in a -12oC freezer for 4 hours, in order to simulate the low temperatures in an airplane’s cargo hold. It then gets placed in a large cylinder, similar to a giant clothes dryer, and is subjected to 50 tumble cycles.

After 25 turns, we take a brief pause to examine the product for any breakage, holes, cracks, or tears.” They also test how well a product’s colors withstand water and sun exposure, and they check the pH of peoples’ skin after coming into contact with a Piquadro product.