Italian innovation: Houston, we have an innovation
- WTI Magazine #135 Jan 16, 2021
The year is 1969. The Cold War has moved into space and the United States has decided to write history with Neil Amstrong's first lunar step. Proud advertisements and posters of that event spread throughout the nation in the form of blow-ups, newspapers and flyers.
Giancarlo Zanatta is in New York. Nine years earlier, he and his brother Ambrosiano had founded a shoe factory called Tecnica in Nervesa della Battaglia, a small town in the Veneto region of Italy. They grew up in the workshop of their father Oreste, and shoes have been his passion since he was a child.
In the last few years they have decided to add mountain shoes to their work boots, and since it has turned out to be a fast growing sector, now that skiing is the fashion as a mass sport, the two brothers export to many countries. And while Giancarlo is in New York to do business, he is fascinated by the figure of this man with huge shoes, leaving huge footprints with the claim "we are on the moon". And that's where the Italian genius rises.
Upon returning to Italy, he decides to develop a new model inspired by that footwear and that phrase. Zanatta has to invent it from scratch, so he opts to modify the already revolutionary Tecnus, the first modern "double injection" boots developed in 1965 by Tecnica. From there he takes his cue for the plastic covering, which will therefore be in nylon. This is where the "moon boot" was born, characterized by a thick and comfortable lining that allows multiple sizes to fit together, because it adapts well to the shape of the foot through a system of crossed laces that recall the boot. It can be size 3-4 or 5-6 or 7-8 and so on, it can be ambidextrous and will have such a character that it will be recognizable. It's a gamble that turns out to be a winner.
As soon as Moon Boot "lands" on the market, they run out of stock. The shoe is light, comfortable and inexpensive; it can be reused for several years in the snow because of the multiple fit and is also trendy. Over the years as many as 25 million pairs of moon boots will be sold, representing a cult of those years: from the Beatles, to Caroline of Monaco, through Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, everybody have them.
The small company with once just 15 employees is by now a leading factory in the world winter ski sector but it is not enough, as the fashion for snow begins to fade and years without snowfall impose a change of course. Giancarlo Zanatta has the foresight to reinvent himself in the sector and Tecnica invests by acquiring strategic companies in the market such as Lowa in 1992, to enter the German market, and Nordica in 2002, to be able to supply competitive material for athletes in winter disciplines. This was followed in 2003 by Rollerblade, with the clear intention of changing the strategy beyond the seasonality, to address a young and sporty public. With the acquisition of Blizzard in 2006, the Tecnica group became a leader in the sportsystem sector, reaching in 2014 the victory of the Olympics by dressing the Austrian skier Mario Matt.
It seems to have reached its peak, in one of those stories where the grandfather founds a company, the son makes it great and the grandson sells it. Statistically, only 31% of Italian companies make it to the third generation, and many of those that close do so 5 years after the transition.
Giancarlo Zanatta is a strong man, one of those who, even when age would suggest quitting, continues with passion to teach it to others. He has chosen not to leave the company all of a sudden, but to teach his son Alberto, who like him has always had a passion for footwear in his blood, but who is also a son of the times he lives. To the scholastic and genuine English of his father, Alberto contrasts a more structured and prepared resume, attentive to economic innovations such as "Lean Thinking", and to current issues such as sustainable production or the alternative of sport to social networks.
The passing of the baton from Tecnica's no.1 to his son is inevitable at the age of 80, yet there is still a way to innovate, because as Giancarlo Zanatta says "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams, and the best way to predict it is to keep inventing it".
Alberto Zanatta's concrete goal is to bring the Tecnica group to dress also in the daily urban life through partnerships with high fashion, and he has had great results such as the EY Award as Entrepreneur of the Year 2019, Fashion and Luxury Category. Recent collaborations with Moncler and Jimmy Choo go in that direction and have allowed, even in COVID time, to contain losses in an acceptable way, and then restart in 2021.
The Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics have been moved to 2026 because of COVID, so it's not hard to imagine that a strategy is being thought of right now to be able to dress a young, sporty audience. Just like in that winter of 1984, when the Moon Boot became such a symbol that it won a permanent exhibition at the Moma, the Milan Triennale or a place in the Louvre in 2002 as one of the 1000 design objects symbolizing the 20th century.
Zanatta's history teaches us that a group is solidly built day after day, but that everything starts from a dream. A dream that must be daily innovated, rethought, cherished, taught and transmitted.
To do great things, it is necessary to aim for the moon.