July 15, 2021
Giovanni Vitaloni and Alessandra Girardi, owners, VANNI
Born in Turin 30 years ago, the parent company of eyewear labels VANNI and DERAPAGE became a benefit corporation in December 2021. With this new legal status, the brand now takes formal responsibility for the social and environmental impact of its business. As the firm adopts this commitment, we spoke to owners Giovanni Vitaloni and Alessandra Girardi to dig deeper into what this means for the future of the Italian eyewear house.
Q: VANNI has been in the eyewear business since 1987. Why did you decide to become a benefit corporation in 2021? Was there a particular event that made the company feel it was time to take this step?
A: The last two years of the pandemic have made us rethink our role in the world. The crisis highlighted how important it is to take care of the planet, and how we can face emergencies only with unity and humanitarian respect for the generations to come. We at VANNI didn’t want to let this difficult period pass in vain. It was therefore essential to refocus our objectives, just as every company should: our planet and our society is asking us to, and we want to continue to be a reference point as a model of good business. Not only: we want this model to be visible, and, above all, measurable. To be a “societaÌ€ benefit” means to assume the responsibility of our own actions in the production of eyewear (avoiding waste and negative environmental impacts) and in the relationship with our collaborators and business partners (respecting a code of ethics in order to stimulate participation in the project). Each year, together with our budget report, we must also produce a sustainability report to measure the progress we have made toward the goals we have set out. It is not a superficial makeover, but rather part of our redefined identity.
Q: At this stage, what can you tell us about what the new plan of action will be as the company embraces its new legal status? What will be the first key goals?
A: We have integrated 4 different aims into our statute, each equally important: we want to continue to bring quality glasses and services to the market, to improve the environmental impact of the product and of the processes involved, contributing to a business culture in the eyewear sector, to engage in the betterment of the environment and of the working conditions therewithin, placing people at the centre and, finally, to contribute to the positive economic outcome of operating on Italian territory. These are outcomes that we have always pursued and that we intend to advance toward through individual initiatives. The first step is to start from what already exists and to establish our position on each front. We are working to define a rating of the life of the product, “glasses from birth to death”, in order to improve our impact. This is our absolute priority, which is accompanied by interventions in the workplace: a healthy company environment is good not only for the individual but for the entire organisation.
Q: How are you working to reduce the environmental impact of your eyewear production?
A: A pair of Vanni glasses has a longer lifespan than the average pair of glasses on the market, and this notably reduces the effects of our product on nature. Translated into industry chain terms, this means controlling every phase of the production process, responsibly. The materials of the VANNI glasses are processed in a way that limits waste, slowing down the making of moulds and equipment, limiting packaging, and using recyclable materials as much as possible. The pieces remaining from the use of our celebrated exclusive acetate slabs give rise to CHARMS, a collection of surprising pendants and earrings. On one point we’re sure that we are particularly efficient: our glasses are realised only 400 kilometres from our headquarters, entirely on Italian soil. It’s not kilometre 0 production, but it comes close, guaranteeing the best of limited- edition production. Manufacturing on Italian soil means valuing skills that have been acquired over the course of decades, and to limit shipping: the glasses travel only the minimal necessary distance, avoiding the otherwise harmful Co2 emissions that would come from extensive air travel.
Q: What steps have you taken to improve the company’s social impact?
A: In terms of our social impact we are working on a code of ethics that all of our partners will have to share, to ensure an egalitarian treatment of all workers (respecting gender parity, workers’ rights, and fair pay). In January we launched a project that starts from the bottom with our organisational structure. We took the occasion to create points of contact with our workers through moments of listening, to check in on the duties and aspirations of each one. The intention is to contribute to a positive work climate, in which every single person feels appreciated. In this sense goes the undertaking of leaning on suppliers with an entrepreneurial significant social worth. Like with the shoppers used in our showroom: they are crafted by Colori Vivi, a socially conscious Turin-based fashion start-up that employs migrant women who are most vulnerable, using only recycled fabric from local manufacturers.
We have been fostering cultural activities rooted in our region: Vanni artist room project comes from a commitment to keeping its link to contemporary creativity alive and well, and through a fruitful collaboration with Artissima, the international contemporary art fair in Turin where the artists of the future are discovered.
Q: How do you think VANNI becoming a benefit corporation will contribute to the future growth and success of the company?
A: We want to continue to grow, obviously, but grow in the right direction, generating not just profit but value for society: we want to contribute to the common good with a humanist outlook on business, an outlook that places people and nature at the centre. We did not become a benefit corporation to increase profit, but because we feel the imperative to respect the younger generations, and our clients around the world; this will be our legacy. It is not a proclamation or choice based on convenience. In reality, we set goals for ourselves that will push us to work much harder than before, questioning the existing models without taking them for granted, or using shortcuts.
Q: How have your customers welcomed this initiative? Are you seeing more client demand for eyewear companies to become more socially and environmentally conscious?
A: Our clients are well aware and highly interested in these themes: we had never before been asked to account for the good and ethical manufacture of our product, but we now receive requests like this, and we are happy to be able to respond with absolute transparency. Many have congratulated the choice of becoming a benefit society. Unfortunately, what we see around us is a lot of green-washing: brands that suddenly become eco-something, without having changed their production practices whatsoever, inundating the market with persuasive marketing campaigns. They should be careful, though, because clients are not so naive; sustainability culture is growing. We take the time necessary to provide clarity, involving our clients in the changes happening in our company. We don’t promise miracles from one day to the next, but we assure a serious path toward responsibility, that we will share step by step with our customers around the world.
Q: Do you envisage more eyewear brands taking similar steps in the near future? Where would you like to see the industry evolving moving forward?
A: We are the first in the Italian eyewear sector to become a “societaÌ€ benefit”, and we see that in other areas actions like ours are more numerous, such as in the textile and service sectors. We are sure that this is a fast-growing movement, and we cannot be anything but happy about that; it will arrive in the world of eyewear as well. This is positive for all industries in our sector, which will lead to greater transparency and will start new initiatives in research, first of all on materials and production practices. Because each of us, in our lives and in our activities, can make a difference in shaping the future of industrial products, prizing only the most deserving.
Q: In what ways will the company's new legal status impact the development of the VANNI collections moving forward? Can you highlight any changes?
A: Given that our productions are trusted to third party partners we can lead a huge undertaking to limit waste in the design of our eyewear, through the choice of materials as well as in their processing. The collections are continuously evolving, and they take into account the new criteria that we are defining, from the initial sketches to the latest models. Therefore, we will choose production partners that share our vision of sustainability (for the product as well as the people behind it) and that are honest about their processes, so that we can together become promoters of change. During Mido we will conduct a number of surveys directed at our clients and partners, in order to increase awareness about environmental and social themes. We will listen to opticians and international distributors, as well as suppliers. One season will not be enough time to change the culture of our sector to the extent we would like to: it will take years. But in the meantime we’ve rolled up our sleeves and we are getting down to work.
Q: What are VANNI’s fundamental characteristics as an Italian company? Looking into the next 3-5 years, how do you wish to take these forward? Will your Made in Italy focus remain at your core?
A: Equipped with an internal style centre, VANNI guarantees a 100% Made in Italy production: the glasses are made from Italian components and raw materials, produced in Italian factories, and distributed in over 40 countries around the world. This is not in discussion, as our attention to a style without compromise, because we are convinced that our industry, rooted in our land and workforce, is the best that exists.