By Thomas Shambler
Now one of the richest men in Italy and President of Geox, entrepreneur Mario Moretti Polegato wants to match technology with good old fashioned Italian style.
What brought you into the world of footwear?
By chance! I was on a trip to Reno, Nevada, to promote my family's vineyard – I used to work for the family business. The heat was suffocating, and my feet were overheating. That's when I had the idea of piercing the rubber soles of my shoes to let them breathe. That's where the idea came from. I thought, 'why not create a product that has the same flexibility and strength of rubber soles, but lets them breathe?'
So you left the family business when you returned?
After I had got back from that business trip, I employed a team of five people in a garage to help develop this technology for rubber shoes. I immediately patented it, and created the first 'breathing shoe'. I pitched my invention to several well-established footwear companies without success, and so decided to manufacture my shoes independently. It started with kids shoes, then extended to men's and women's.
Now you've also expanded into apparel? Why's that?
We solved the problem of breathability in rubber shoes, and we thought the natural extension of that would be outerwear. That's why we've developed a new line of clothing that helps regulate temperature.
One of your more exciting partnerships is with legendary fabric manufacturers Barberis Canonico, how did that come about?
We wanted to make our formal collection really unique, which is why we decided to partner with a brand like Vitale Barberis Canonico. The prestigious textures they create, and their amazing process that has evolved over hundreds of years, we felt worked with our technology. The result is a formal look with the best fabrics, with all the comfort Geox has to offer.
The technology behind your brand seems to be put front-and-centre. So where does innovation come from? Is it entirely with the research and development team?
Our mission is to match high-performance technology with Italian design. We owe our success to our continual focus on that goal, and currently, Geox technology is protected by more than 60 patents registered around the world. Breathability is in our very DNA, and it means improving your everyday life with a contemporary style that you can actually wear, and that is comfortable. Each product we make has spent years of research in laboratories, and then blended with functionality and style of the very best Italian designers.
You recently partnered up with famous photographer Rankin to produce a series of photographs. What was the purpose of that?
We wanted to highlight the Geox Nebula – which is our iconic sneaker for men and women. It's designed for travelling the world and naturally, adapts to the movement of the foot. We decided to involve Rankin because only he could illustrate that philosophy through the perspective we had in mind. In his amazing series of 'live-life-to-the-full' pictures, Rankin definitely succeeded in communicating those products and values.
What's next for the brand? With the introduction of outerwear, are we going to see a regular clothing line anytime soon?
At the moment our priority is to continue innovating our existing technologies, and apparel in particular. At the moment, we want to become a reference point for outerwear.
Luxury retailers are pessimistic about 2016. How does Geox feel about the near future?
Italian design is famous and renowned all over the world for its style and quality of manufacture. I feel that Geox goes beyond this. Our goal is to satisfy an international client who is not only attentive to fashion, but also interested in technology and comfort. Today, I believe Geox is the only brand that combines all of these characteristics, and it makes me very optimistic.
Where do you want the brand to be in five years' time?
We're now present in 114 countries, and the market leader in some regions like Europe. Our next goal? To become the market leader in other regions. We're paying particular attention to areas like Asia and the Middle East.