Herno has been focused on lowering its environmental impact since 2010. The Italian family-owned outerwear company founded in 1948, has evolved to become an urban outerwear brand since 2005 and has just recently stepped into the activewear segment by acquiring a majority quota of the active sport brand Montura. The deal happened in partnership with Nuo, whose shareholders are the Agnelli family's company Exor and WWIC-The World Wide Investement Company, owned by the Hong Kong family Pao Cheng.
Claudio Marenzi, president and CEO, Herno, (and president, Pitti Immagine), explains how his company continues facing the challenge to reduce its footprint.
When did your company start taking an environmentally focused path?
It happened in 2010, almost by chance, as I wanted us to become energetically autonomous and produce our own energy at zero impact.
Herno is based in Lesa, on Maggiore Lake, inside a restored factory from the 1800s on the Erno torrent (hence the name of the company) which was a source of electric energy for us, but that was not enough. That’s how I decided to install a photovoltaic plant that produces the exact amount of the energy we use. That upgrading required a one-million-Euro investment, a significant amount, in times when our company's yearly sales were €15 million, differently from today as our yearly revenues are €130 million.
Since then, what else did your company do to become more sustainable?
Sustainability is a journey and essentially is an industrial path, apart from marketing choices and offering a desirable product.
After installing the photovoltaic plant we started changing production machines that required less energy, and reduced the impact of our collection by selecting fabrics differently and redefining our productive process from scratch. From that moment on, every step we took was studied to reduce our impact as much as possible.
Above all, a company has to calculate its impact and progress.
As in 2014, they discovered PEF (Product Environmental Footprint), a European Union protocol that calculates one’s own product’s imprint during its whole productive process. Together with chemical manufacturer Radici Group and knit fabric manufacturer Eurojersey we managed to offer the first PEF-certified garment. We could do it as the three of us had started calculating our productive process’ main parameters like, how much CO2 we produce, how much water we consume and similar data…
Until a company doesn’t measure its emissions, it doesn’t know how to reduce its impact. In measuring all this, we may sometimes accelerate, and sometimes slow down. For a company offering waterproof garments like ours, for instance, selecting the right chemical substances, colors and waterproofing treatment is important. Since 2014-2015 some of our values have lowered by three-four times, others, instead, have remained stable simply because they haven’t developed any less harmful technology yet.
What about the product? Did you reach any specific target?
We have launched Herno Globe, as the most advanced expression of our “sustainable sensitivity,” by following the highest sustainable criteria for today, like, for instance, using materials that are made with recycled, recyclable, biodegradable or entirely natural substances.
The consumer is caring more for this type of products today, and not only the young. Today, we could not think of offering products that polluted like in the past, although sustainability has a cost more, which is not much recognized.
Who is mostly responsible for helping sustainability progress?
Sustainability is mostly made by industrialists, not by entrepreneurs. It’s mostly supported and done by those who manufacture and own productive plants. Though it’s not much profitable as it requires a lot of energy and attention and needs to be taken care of every day.
Who pays for this extra care? Is Herno Globe more expensive than the rest of the collection?
No. It was our objective not to offer our more sustainable pieces at higher prices as the transformation process is the same and what makes a difference are the materials they are made of. The higher cost of the fabrics is absorbed by us by reducing our margins.
Along with it, the ethical aspect is important. It’s time to start talking about more sustainable EBITDA. A too high EBITDA might originate either from a management that squeezes its own supply chain upstream too much, or because someone is cheating its final consumer–or both–which is not correct either.
Are certifications useful? Can consumers trust them?
They play a significant role as they guarantee if a company is careful in following specific sustainable practices or processes. Though, unfortunately, many companies achieve certifications, rather than for the sake of preserving mankind, for selling more. Instead, they should help to give mankind the opportunity to wake up tomorrow.
We have joined Fashion Pact and, among its various aims, we want to reach decarbonization by 2050. We are also trying to develop a sustainable praxis in everyday life and become carbon-free in the most serious possible way. Our Herno Globe line is made up of about 15 pieces. Our aim is that our whole Herno collection, which is made of 400 pieces, becomes sustainable, too.
By now it’s not possible as the right tools and chemicals for making a complete collection like that are not available yet. Today, out of the 100 fabrics we use, only 6% can meet the standards we want to follow for Herno Globe. The aim is to use 100% sustainable fabrics, while the productive process is already highly sustainable.
For transporting our collection we use trucks that use biomass, substances of natural origin. That can make a difference, but they cannot travel for long distances as that fuel is not everywhere. Some significant change is requested to industrialists today. In the past, the industrial production was only tied to efficiency and cost containing. Now you also have to consider the sustainability variant.
How could the whole fashion market lower its environmental impact?
Herno is based in one of the most amazing places of the world, on Maggiore Lake, with mountains, rivers, hills all very near and the sea at one hour from here… It’s a very beautiful place. If everyone loved his or her own garden, sidewalk or neighborhood, and kept it neat and clean, the whole world would be a much better place.