5 Reasons Why Zegna Is A Brand With A Soul
Ermenegildo Zegna’s dedication to social responsibility is as complex and authentic as the fabric it weaves.
Brands speak about giving back all the time. Some do so by launching charity-specific collections, others do so by sponsoring initiatives. Italian luxury house Ermenegildo Zegna more than talks the talk — its Fondazione Zegna paves the way for people who try to walk it.
Fondazione Zegna was created in 2000 by Anna Zegna, image director for Ermenegildo Zegna and grand-daughter of the founder. A family foundation, its objective is to improve the quality of life for communities and individuals by becoming a steward for the environment, culture, society and supporting medical and scientific research — an undertaking inspired by the company’s founder who believed that ethics, business and aesthetics could work together, and were integral to producing a high-quality product.
Even back then, Zegna’s commitment to sustainability and the environment was apparent. In the 1930s, Zegna planted half-a-million conifers and rhododendrons to create the Panoramica Zegna and Oasi Zegna, as it is now called.
In our previous interview with her, Anna spoke very frankly about Fondazione Zegna’s work: “Talking about the foundation, I don’t like to use the word ‘pride’. In a way it is exactly the opposite — you become very humble in understanding that you cannot solve everything.”
But although the foundation believes it can’t solve everything, it strives to do so with numerous initiatives through its main pillars: environment, society and education, health and culture.
On the focus of sustainability with the Zegna family, Anna said: “There has been a movement from pure philanthropy into sustainability in the sense that in certain areas, yes, we still have a philanthropic approach, but in the major projects it is more looking at it as a whole where you have an impact not just on one aspect of the life of a community but on different areas, such as health, education and the natural, environmental aspects. This for me is very interesting.”
One such initiative is a partnership with Italy’s National Trust. The Zegna family has collaborated with the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) since 1975. As part of its efforts to save the environment, Fondazione Zegna has been working with the FAI for more than 10 years on several environmental projects in Italy, including Villa Della Porta Bozzolo in Varese, Castello di Masino and its park near Turin, and Bosco di San Francesco in Assisi.
The latest project of the two organisations is Podere Case Lovara at Punta Mesco. With 45 hectares of farmland, the area is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cinque Terre National Park, between Monterosso and Levanto. Punta Mesco will help promote the economy within the area through a mix of social and civic benefits. It will also serve as a model for sustainable management for other areas in Italy.
As part of the project, 2km of existing dry-stone wall will be restored, 5,000 square metres of olive groves will be created by adding 80 new olive trees, as well as a vegetable garden and orchard. Featuring the use of sustainable technologies, Punta Mesco was designed to be energy-saving and compatible with the landscape of Cinque Terre. Sixty percent of its power will come from renewable sources and water used in irrigation and sanitation will come from rainwater and purified waste water.
In China, Zegna has also worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for more than a decade. One project as part of this partnership was the Qinling Nature Conservation Panda Corridor in aid of the endangered giant panda.
Society and education
One of Zegna’s biggest partners is the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref). Together with Amref, Fondazione Zegna gives aid to East African communities by providing access to clean drinking water through building infrastructure, reducing the spread of diseases caused by malnutrition and inadequate hygiene and sanitation by 30 percent, restricting the spread of malaria by 20 percent and increasing forest cover by 10 percent through replanting and soil conservation programmes.
Care & Share is another partner in Fondazione Zegna’s efforts to address the issues of society and education. Based in Andhra Pradesh, India, Care & Share provides education to children living below the poverty line. Through this partnership, Fondazione Zegna and Care & Share helps improve the lives of people within these communities by providing paediatric care, food programmes, school building and salaries to local teachers. To date, Care & Share has saved more than 1,000 children on the streets, 165 infants, HIV+ and AIDS orphans in Andhra Pradesh. It also provides more than 5,000 meals a day in its Daddy’s Home and Butterfly Hill campuses.
Fondazione Zegna’s philanthropic efforts also extend to the healthcare sector. Its China-based partnership with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been in place since 2006. A centre for the research and treatment of diseases that plague children, such as paediatric cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, St Jude’s offers free treatment to uninsured families. In China, Zegna and St Jude’s work together to develop therapies for needy children. It also aims to introduce these therapeutic protocols across other hospitals in the region.
As part of its efforts to combat the global AIDS epidemic, Fondazione Zegna has partnered with Creathe Onlus to help people affected by HIV to safely conceive children at a lower risk of transmitting the virus to their offspring or to their partners. One such project under the partnership is the SW-IUI (Semen Washing with Intrauterine Insemination), which enables couples to safely conceive if the man has the virus.
One of the first partnerships formed at the inception of the Zegna foundation, Cittadellarte — Fondazione Pistoletto and Fondazione Zegna have worked together to provide education and resources to young artists and academics around the world. They aim to create a global network for social change through blending enterprise and art. As part of its collaboration, in 2005, both foundations presented ‘The Interior Island: The Art of Survival’ at La Biennale di Venezia.
As part of the 20th anniversary of its entry into Turkey in 2011, Fondazione Zegna pledged to support a local Turkish charity, the Mika-Der Foundation, that helps children under the care of social services and child protection through sports, music and theatre.
Zegna Group efforts
This mission to give back isn’t exclusive to Fondazione Zegna. The Zegna Group is also financing a programme called the Ermenegildo Zegna Founder’s Scholarship with a total annual investment of €1 million. In addition, Zegna sets aside approximately five percent of its annual net profit for philanthropic initiatives.
Why the expansion of such activities outside of the traditional charity route? The previous approach with straight-up charity, Anna says, “was to go somewhere and build infrastructure, then all of a sudden we’ve built nice houses but now, who is teaching the people to study? And how can a little boy grow without a balanced diet? If he is malnourished, can he have a normal brain evolution? Every problem is linked to the next one. When you realise this, you go deeper into the project”.