Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), founded in 1663, is one of the oldest woolen mills in the world. The company is based in the heart of the Biellese region and now managed by the 13th generation of the same family. While it has always been committed in producing high-quality luxury Made in Italy fabrics for menswear, it has also constantly focused on caring about its environmental impact as explained by Lucia Bianchi Maiocchi, CSR manager at Vitale Barberis Canonico and a member of the family that manages it.
What sustainable strategies has VBC been focused on?
We have always been very keen about taking care of the environment that surrounds us as this is the place where we work, but also where we live. It has always been part of our DNA taking care of our community and as we hire 400 people it's our responsibility to care about them. For instance, our historical factory in Prativero has always been carefully monitored especially for the strong connection between man and the environment it has always represented for us.
Our commitment is not standing still as the respect for people and the environment are the true values that make our fabrics so special; they are our strength and the weft upon we are weaving our future.
Since the health emergency’s bursting out, our company’s priority has been safeguarding people’s health operating in our company. Since the beginning of March 2020, before the Italian government started setting rules, we defined and activated extraordinary protection measures and protocols to limit the contagion in both our Pratrivero and Pray factories.
As the 2020 worldwide panorama saw a drastic lowering of textile apparel
consumption, Vitale Barberis Canonico started a digitalization process by creating a virtual showroom and invested in a medium- to long-term R&D. We invested over one million euros in 2020 by installing ten new anti-noise cabins in our Pratrivero hub, increasing our workers’ wellness.
Did VBC set a roadmap out of its sustainable goals?
We have set some clear goals and defined our own specific responsible strategy, though for us true sustainability is not in the product but in the process.
Part of our main investments we are strongly focused on our productive plants as, for instance, we constantly filter and clean water, and give it back to the environment.
Among our main goals we are focused on there is the containment of water consumption, in particular through the development of innovative dyeing technologies and the creation of new technical devices we recover ultrafiltered water in processes not only for finishing, as is already the case. In 2020, we managed to reclaim 17% of the water we use, while we aim to achieve 40% water reuse by the end of 2021.
Among the other goals we have set for 2021, we aim to complete the implementation of the MRSL ZDHC [Editor’s Note: Manufacturing Restricted Substances List of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals, a list of chemical substances banned by International companies that produce textiles and leather for apparel] with the involvement of our value chain in the reduction and progressive elimination of toxic substances.
We also want to become autonomous in terms of using 100% electricity from renewable sources.
Where do you stand now in terms of the responsibility goals you aim to reach?
This process is extremely complex and requires much time and energies.
Obviously, sustainability has a cost and fabric manufacturers cannot stand it alone. We all have to support a part of this. When you see a very cheap price product, you have to ask yourself why its price is so low.
We think that true sustainability lies in the process. It's about knowing where and how products are made. Complete transparency of the value chain–from raw material to the store–is indispensable. Moreover, a system on internal traceability has to become interesting for the consumer too and we need to start creating a culture that explains where you produce your products and why that makes a difference.
Whose responsibility is it to achieve such goals?
It's important to create laws on this but unfortunately such laws exist only in Europe so far. Though, as said before, the path is difficult as it may also involve smaller companies and entrepreneurs we often collaborate with. In fact we are all receiving always more protocols, new rules and new laws to follow, thus creating an always more complex situation to be faced at all levels.
What percentage of all your products are eco-friendly? And how many of them could become so over the next five years?
Most of our fabrics are monofiber, made of wool, which in itself is already recyclable and biodegradable.
But you can't always say that a wool yarn is biodegradable because it depends on what substances you dye or treat it with...
In dyed fabrics most important are the main characteristics of the raw material, and wool is a natural material.
We have also started offering a line of sustainable fabrics we call H.O.P.E. (whose name is the acronym of How to Optimize People and Environment) and it originates from our century-old awareness. This range of sustainable fabrics aims to confirm our dedication to taking care of people and nature. It is a positive message VBC wants to launch in order to believe in a better, more livable and sustainable world.
Our environmental awareness is rooted in our 350-year past experience. This line offers sustainable fabrics that are the result of our long-term study and research as they are made with naturally colored raw materials like, for instance, Moretta wool, obtained from a Spanish breed of sheep, which stands out for the dark color of its fleece. It also uses Red Eri silk, a unique fiber that is sustainable and cruelty-free and in a natural unusual orange color, as it is harvested only once the butterfly has left its chrysalis to find nourishment from nectar and to reproduce.
It also uses natural pigments carried out by infusing plants, flowers, leaves, roots, fruits and even bark to release their dyes to give fabrics new colors. Among them there are Indigofera, the natural indigo plant, Robia, a herb which can create orange and Bordeaux hues and Gaude, a plant that once it is dried produces a very bright yellow effect but can also be combined with always new different color variants.