Alcantara Spa, is an Italian company founded in 1972 now owned by Toray Industries Inc., the Japanese multinational giant chemical group.
Alcantara is a recognised trademark, a unique and proprietary technology, and a highly innovative and versatile man-made material with characteristics very similar to suede.This technology offers an unparalleled combination of sensory, aesthetic and functional characteristics. Thanks to its unique qualities and values, many leading brands from different fields including fashion and accessory, automotive, marine and aviation, interior design and consumer-electronics companies use it.
Within a recent event held at PAC (Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea) in Milan, the company presented the book "Alcantara - La materia dell'arte" published by Skira, curated by Luca Masia and introduced by a preface by Andrea Boragno, chairman and CEO, Alcantara, dedicated to an increasingly important number of collaborations in different fields including architecture, design, fashion but especially art, along with an exhibition and retrospective of some most prestigious art installation and design objects exhibited in most important worldwide museums hosted by PAC.
The book analyses how Alcantara has established a positive relationship of collaboration with designers and creative people from all over the world in the most diverse areas of design and how, thanks to all of these collaborations and involvements with art and design personalities (including, among others, Nanda Vigo, Alberto Biasi, Chiaru Shiota, Marcel Wanders, Gentucca Bini), Alcantara material has increasingly become an integral part of their creative process and the "media" through which each artist expresses his or her creativity.
Moreover, this unique material has shown further how versatile it can be and its vast ability to reinvent itself, "speak infinite languages," and always become "what you want it to be."
Andrea Boragno, chairman and CEO, Alcantara, who holds a degree in chemical engineering from Genoa University joined Alcantara in 1990 and is the author behind most of these art and design collaborations. He explained The SPIN OFF what new challenges this material wants to pursue for the future, while he talked about some of the most significant achievements of this material.
The connection between Alcantara and art is very important, as it has always had a privileged relationship with creativity and art.
Look at this installation by Qin Feng we exhibited at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, in 2020 within "Out of the Blue", it was all dedicated to calligraphy. Feng used special brushes to draw these signs on Alcantara pillars and created very special effects...
Through the years we have organized many exhibitions that then travelled all over the world, and it has been an increasing process that has started intensifying itself from 2010 on.
In the last 12 years we have experienced an important growth, even if this activity already existed in embryo. For instance, we first started with single artists maybe mostly with designers and interior designers and architects, and then it gradually increased and we passed from personal relationships with artists to relationships with museum and institutions.
We have been working with many museums all over the world, apart from Maxxi in Rome and Palazzo Reale in Milano, which are very important for us, We have worked with K11, Aurora Museum and Shanghai Gallery of Art in Shanghai, with Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, and Busan Museum in South Korea, but also with opera houses like Teatro Massimo in Palermo and Teatro Regio in Turin.
We have worked with more than 100 artists, all of very important ones.
You also did collaborations with fashion designers like Yamamoto and Lanvin? How important are they?
In terms of quantity fashion is not so important, but in terms of quality it is extremely important. In terms of quality also interior design, consumer electronics, aviation, boating are very important, but in terms of quantity automotive it is much more important.
Fashion is the environment where we can better show how we are a lifestyle brand. We don’t want to be an automotive brand. We are a lifestyle brand. Obviously our presence in the automotive is important as it offers much more important volumes, but we also operate in many other fields and especially in the high-segment of image products.
What about sustainability? Do you also offer more eco-friendly variants of Alcantara?
We have been strongly committed in terms of sustainability. We have been the first Italian company to become carbon-neutral in 2009, and among the first ones in the world, when no one already thought about it.
We achieved it through a process of emission reduction, that is a compensation process, as at the moment it is not possible to eliminate carbon emissions. That’s how we managed to reach carbon-neutrality. Obviously our whole process is entirely certified by external certified entities.
Did you also develop new material variants?
We have introduced an Alcantara material that is made up of 25% bio-polyester. At the moment we cannot achieve a polyester that is 100% biological because at the moment technology cannot provide it yet, but our target is to achieve it in five years.
What is this 25% biological part made of?
It's made with sugar cane waste. We have also launched a certified recycled polyester. Though, speaking about polyester is an extremely delicate topic as if you have a product made of polyester no laboratory all over the world can tell you if that material is a virgin material or a recycled one.
A serious approach to selling recycled polyester is to guarantee that by providing a sound certification that specifies that it is based on mass balance. Until we could not provide it, we couldn’t demonstrate that kind of product. And now that we managed that, I noted that our most environmentally conscious and demanding top clients have extremely appreciated this.
You spoke about recycled polyester, but are these materials also recyclable?
Polyester can be recycled, but in our materials there is also polyurethane. Therefore, the first step that needs to be done is a separation of the two materials. We have acquired a special technology, a pilot plant for doing that. Therefore, the technology exists, but we miss the industrial plant to scale this technology. Potentially it is recyclable, but the technology can’t be scaled yet.
You are still continuing to progress in terms of research, aren't you?
Yes we are. We do a lot of research. We own the biggest research center in Europe in the textile sector.
What are your next projects, apart from this book?
This book is a communication project, and we have many projects in terms of marketing.
Our recycled Alcantara has been accepted widely, and it has been appreciated by the market for the extreme seriousness we used to approach this type of products as, as I said before, this aspect is extremely slippery and biological.
We are also working on reducing our emissions. We are thinking to use biofuels. Furthermore, we have this objective, but we know that sustainability is a path, and we have to be conscious about it. Whoever says that his or her company is completely sustainable either they haven’t understood entirely what that means, or they don’t know what they are saying, or they are lying. Sustainability is a path that also requires a technological innovation because company has to take this path, but at this moment we are extremely focused on adopting the best practices.
Through external entities, we can demonstrate that everything we do is certified. We put emphasis on this as it is proved that in the last years greenwashing is widespread. According to an EU study presented in 2021, 42% of the claims stated by companies can be considered as greenwashing. We want to take our distance from that and show how everything we have been doing until now has been done very seriously, according to the best practices.