Ideas are in the air. This is known to all. But not everyone is given the opportunity to catch the necessary thought and go from "searchlights" and "castles in the air" to its real embodiment. Mario Moretti Polegato, chief executive officer of Geox, managed to achieve the main thing - so that his idea would find a tangible embodiment, style and a recognizable image around the world. Not to talk about it with Mario when the opportunity presented itself would be simply stupid ...
Mario, please tell us how you ended up in the shoe industry after working for many years in the family business for the production of agricultural products and wine? And how was the idea of producing breathable shoes and the Geox brand born?
I grew up in a family that owned its own business, so after graduation (in the mid-1970s) I started working as a manager of wine production. The idea of creating a “breathable” sole came to me quite by accident. It was the time of the Nevada wine convention. Then I decided to take a break between business meetings and went for a run, wearing ordinary sports shoes. After some time, I felt that my feet were uncomfortable and hot. I took a knife and made several holes in each shoe, after which I felt much easier and better. It was at this moment that the concept of "breathable" shoes was born. Upon returning home to Italy, I took up the development of technology and, in the end, received a patent for my invention. However, initially I was not going to start producing shoes, so I continued to work in a family company and tried to sell my patent to large shoe manufacturers. None of them appreciated the enormous potential of this technological solution. But since I was just infected with this idea, I finally decided to start my own business. Of course, for this I had to leave the family business, and in 1995, together with four friends, we founded Geox, taking the first step into the shoe market.
I believe that it is impossible to stop innovations, and if your products are based on technology, then you need to constantly invest in them. Geox invests 2% of its own turnover in research and innovation, we have our own laboratory in which 15 engineers work daily to improve and search for new technologies. In addition, we constantly cooperate with leading Italian and international universities. Thanks to these ongoing investments, after the shoes that “breathe”, we introduced “breathable” clothes and sports shoes on the market. Today we are holders of 50 ready-made patents, some of which are improved versions of existing ones, others relate to new projects.
Mario, you have won several prestigious international awards, including Entrepreneur of the Year, Franchising Award and Innovator of the Year (2010), and recently even opened the Breathing Building in Milan. Please dwell on this unique concept? Can we expect the appearance of something similar here in the UAE?
We wanted to build a building for our representative office for many years. We needed a building that reflected Geox’s core concept - breathing technology and lightness. So our new modern concept store appeared, which is part of a general architectural project, including the Via Torino Palace, which has updated and decorated the appearance of the entire street. The opening of the building, held in February this year, was a historic event for Geox, and not only because we created the world's largest company store, but also because the building itself and its location perfectly express and emphasize our philosophy and historical values. And, of course, we called the building the “Breathing Building”.
The facade of the Via Torino palace has a powerful emotional impact and is completely extraordinary. As soon as you look at the first two floors with the windows of the Geox company store, you will see all the subsequent floors of the building, fully decorated with hundreds of steel plates in three colors: gold, bronze and copper. These finest plates are dotted with myriads of tiny holes that allow you to look inside without fear of spoiling the delightful multi-colored reflection of the sun's rays coming from the outside. Each plate is also equipped with a computerized movement system, similar to that installed on the flaps of aircraft, and allows you to open, close and control the position of the plate depending on weather conditions: something bright and constantly moving, to revive the look of the "Breathing building". Will something like this appear in the UAE? Never say never: the size of our stores is constantly increasing due to the need to exhibit more and more popular and important clothing collections for Geox, so we are constantly looking for highly profitable premises.
What is primary for you: “Made in Italy” style, ultra-modern technology or comfort?
In Geox, all three of these elements (style, technology and comfort) are fused together. Each of our works is the result of patented research conducted by leading Italian laboratories in collaboration with universities in Europe. Each new collection is created by the best designers in Italy. We are lucky, because Italy is one of the few countries where you can find all the know-how in the manufacture of shoes.
So, I can say that Geox is a double embodiment of Italian fashion and technology. Health and comfort arise from the first two elements, on the one hand, these are technologies that allow your legs to breathe, on the other hand, style and the latest fashion trends that allow you to feel confident.
Are there any Geox shoes that you are particularly proud of?
I am proud every time I see a man shod in Geox on the street.
Please tell us about the news of 2010?
This year we released a shoe collection named after the Empire State Building to celebrate the opening of one of our largest stores on 34th Street in New York, located near this famous skyscraper. A characteristic feature of these shoes, released in a limited series, are heels decorated with Swarovski rhinestones. Today they can be purchased at leading Geox stores around the world.
What is your vision for the further development of the Geox brand after the end of the first decade of the 21st century?
For a company like technology-based Geox, a constant research investment is natural.
The original patent has been improved several times already, and the "breathing" technology was first applied on rubber soles, and then on leather soles, and most recently - in clothes and shoes for playing golf. We are constantly working on finding new materials, new products and improving existing materials.
As for new projects, the clothing line, the production of which began only a few years ago, has already gained popularity among buyers. Today, clothing represents about 10% of the total turnover of the company, but we plan to increase this figure to 50% over the next few years. Another project related to sports: last year we launched a line of golf shoes with a “breathable” and waterproof sole. This opens Geox a small window into the sports shoe segment, so this recently appeared project needs serious work and further expansion.
Geox shoes are now represented in more than 130 countries. What markets do you consider to be the main target ones for your brand?
In less than 15 years, Geox has become a leading company in Italy and ranks second in world rankings. Our main market is still Italy, followed by Germany, France and Spain, as well as many countries where Geox takes its first steps. With the invention of “breathable” shoes, we have qualitatively updated the market, and in the future, all shoes in the world need improvement. My dream is to see how the Geox brand becomes the number one brand in the world.
Are there statistics showing the longest distance you can walk or run in Geox shoes?
No, we do not have such statistics. Perhaps we should ask our customers about this! However, we carry out tests of Geox shoes in our laboratory, checking its resistance to extreme weather conditions, as well as the strength and waterproofness of materials, and other parameters. For example, we immerse shoes in water for several hours to check their tightness, or test them as if a person weighing 100 kg were walking in them, and then check the condition of the shoes after a “walk” of 200 km, or reproduce the effects of human sweat, and so on and so forth.
Tell us about your social activities, starting from diplomatic relations and ending with charity?
I have a friend Bill Gates with whom we have similar experience. Nobody initially believed in our ideas, so we both started our own business. We both built empires that started with a simple idea, and we both want to share some of our energy and strength with those who are not so lucky.
As Honorary Consul General of Romania, I help many Italian entrepreneurs to open their own business in Romania, and also work to strengthen relations between our countries. Together with Confindustria (National Industrial Association) and UIL (Trade Union), we created the non-profit organization “Il Ponte del Sorriso” (“Bridge of Smiles”), whose goal is to help Romanian children from poor families or living in inadequate sanitary conditions.
Mario, you have a lot of hobbies - horses, high-speed driving, various sports. Where do you usually like to relax?
I usually spend my holidays in Croatia. There I make small trips on a yacht in the company of my old friends. I have such a hectic life that simple things and talking with friends give me true pleasure on vacation. We enjoy dinners at local restaurants where you can taste excellent traditional dishes, or just sit with friends in the garden talking with a glass of good wine.
Since my whole family is passionate about horses, we own an equestrian club in Montello Hills, a quiet place where you can relax and enjoy wildlife. Try to guess the name of my horse ... Of course, his name is Geox!
As a member of the family of winemakers, which wine do you prefer?
No doubt Prosecco. This is a young sparkling wine, similar to champagne. It is perfect as an aperitif, as well as to dishes of various cuisines.
What cuisine, besides Italian, do you like?
I love Italian cuisine, but if I need to choose an alternative, then I will focus on Thai.
What would you like to wish our readers?
Believe in the power of ideas, because "an idea costs more than a factory."
Thanks for the conversation, Mario. I wish you new ideas and further success ...