40 colori: bringing you sustainable fashion from como, italy
40 Colori is a family-owned Made in Italy mens accessories brand. 40 Colori’s bold accessories are designed in Shoreditch, London and handcrafted, for the most part, in their sustainable workshop in Como, Italy, which has been a part of their family for three generations. What is not manufactured in their workshop is sourced locally, from responsible artisans all located within 100 miles of their headquarters in Como.
40 Colori is committed to crafting each one of their accessories according to the highest quality standards, using top materials and those artisanal techniques that have allowed Italian craftsmanship to excel over the years. All of their high-quality materials are locally sourced from leading suppliers that distinguish themselves for their quality and responsible practices. The company is very invested in incorporating the best practices throughout their entire supply chain, putting environmental and social responsibility at the core of their business. This is where artisanal quality, ethical craftsmanship, and bold design meet to create truly unique accessories for all modern gentlemen.
Impakter talked to one of the two co-founders of the company, Gabrielle Giacalone, about 40 Colori, how it was born, their current challenges and future plans.
Q. What is the story behind 40 Colori?
Gabrielle Giacalone: The 40 Colori (pronounced in Italian: kwa’ranta ko’lori) story begins in the picturesque city of Como, Italy. There, in 2014, 40 Colori was created with the intent to provide men with colorful, high quality, ethically crafted Made in Italy accessories.
The concept of the brand started with a vision from a tie manufacturing company based in the artisan district of Como determined to share its quality products with the modern man. Since 1979, three generations of the Giacalone family have been creating Made in Italy accessories relying exclusively on the best artisanal production techniques and the top materials. After many years of crafting accessories for top international brands, the newest generation of the Giacalone family, that is, Giulia and me, felt it was time to move a step further.
In 2014, having at our fingertips artisan know-how, 35 years long working experience with top international brands, and modern creativity with innovative style, we decided to start a new colorful concept of men’s accessories: 40 Colori. This brand expresses our vision of high-quality handmade in Italy accessories crafted making exclusive use of the best locally sourced materials to assure exceptional quality and durability all while being as ethical as possible. We pride ourselves on the fact that all of our materials are sourced within 170km of our factory in northern Italy.
The decision to bring 40 Colori to London was thanks to the fact that we had been based in the UK for school. I graduated with a master in Development Management from LSE, and Giulia graduated with a master in Graphic Design from Bradford University. Following our graduation, we had to choose where to start our 40 Colori venture, and London won us over without much hesitation. Not long after we moved to London, we opened our first official 40 Colori boutique in Shoreditch in 2015.
In the photo: Sartorial elegance by 40 Colori Credit: 40 colori
How did the fashion industry change between the creations of 40 Colori, and now, and specifically referring to your grandmother’s experience, who originally founded the company?
Our grandma Santina founded the workshop in 1965, and since then many things have changed in the fashion industry. When grandma Santina originally founded our workshop, Made in Italy production was highly sought after. People were looking for large quantities of well-crafted goods that could last the test of time, and Italian craftsmanship was regarded as the gold star for this.
This was the case up until the fashion industry took a more globalized approach. Once places like China and India came into the picture for mass manufacturing, the artisanal industry was turned upside down.
Brands figured out that they could craft large quantities of goods abroad with cheaper (and often unethical) labor all the while making higher profits. This shift towards mass manufacturing created a ripple effect which affected the entire fashion industry.
That was a devastating shift. What was the reaction in the fashion industry?
Offering artisanal craftsmanship was at that point no longer as valuable as offering the lowest possible price point. Small artisanal workshops were not able to stay in business with the new competition. In turn, a multitude of small workshops had to close their doors. Our workshop was lucky enough to get through the tough times to get to where we are today.
Our initial approach to offering large quantities of quality artisanal accessories was no longer enough, so instead, we decided to adjust our offer to become competitive. We decided to provide what was missing in this globalized fashion industry; skillfully handcrafted goods of the highest quality (with no corners cut, cheap materials, or unethical labor).
We hired a team of skilled artisans, and together we mastered the art of hand-craftsmanship and focused on providing only the highest quality accessories, as this was something that could not be replicated with mass production or for a meager price.
This challenge of finding a new way to be competitive in the industry was, in a way, a blessing for us as we were able to find our niche and we have stood by it ever since. Thankfully, in the last few years’ newfound respect for well-crafted ethical fashion has started to grow. Consumers are expecting more transparency when it comes to the goods they buy, and this has put pressure on brands to realign their priorities with quality and ethics over low price and high margins.
This movement of conscious purchasing by consumers is in line with our ethical quality mission, which makes us very hopeful for the future!
In the photo: Product accessories for a gentleman’s lifestyle Credit: 40 Colori
40 Colori is based on two essential values: ‘high quality’ and ‘ethics’. How do you put those principles in practice?
As mentioned before, 40 Colori only sells goods crafted with the highest quality. There are corners that can be cut to save time and money, but that is not what we started 40 Colori for. Instead, we employ highly skilled artisans who really only know high-quality craftsmanship, and we give them the means to make beautiful accessories.
We source amazing materials locally from highly respected producers, which ensures quality. We work hard to find the perfect balance between ethics and quality. We never want to compromise quality but we also want to ensure we are conducting our business in the most ethical manner possible.
An example of when we found this ethical quality balance was when we were faced with the question ‘to leather or not to leather’. Conventional leather is all but a sustainable material and the chemicals used to treat (tan) rawhide are extremely dangerous for the environment, especially when improperly discharged in the water supply.
We explored and tested many sustainable substitute materials, such as vegan leather, but unfortunately we couldn’t find an option that was meeting our quality standards. Given the lack of alternatives, we decided not to give up leather but instead to find a leather producer that shared our same values and concerns for the environment.
We now source all our vegetable tanned leather from a small town in the outskirts of Florence, which is known as the heart of the vegetable-tanning district in Italy. The vegetable tanning process takes several weeks compared to a few hours of conventional tanning. It relies on natural tannins from bark and fruits instead of toxic chemicals, such as chromium, eliminating toxic pollution into water waste and ensuring that our leather goods can be safely disposed of at the end of their life.
Staying ethical is clearly a very complex challenge. How do you address it?
Ethics in the fashion industry comes in many forms. We have taken our Ethical approach and created two pillars to underpin it: transparency and sustainability. Full transparency on our side is essential, as we believe that, to make the best buying decision, our customers should have access to objective and comprehensive information on our products and our brand. For this reason, we are committed on documenting each step of our sourcing and manufacturing, including complete traceability of materials (from farm to shelf) and full disclosure of the processes and suppliers behind our products.
The same respect that we have towards our customers we also have towards the environment and the people involved in our supply chain. We have invested ourselves into reducing our environmental impact to the minimum: among other things, we ensure that our supply chain is short and entirely local, we only use organic rather than pesticide-intensive cotton, and we make use of production processes that are not machine intensive.
We also have created a line in our collection, which is entirely crafted with end of roll and offcut materials. By using this approach, we do not create excess waste by commissioning a new material to be crafted; instead, we finish rolls of amazing materials that would otherwise have been wasted. We are continually looking for new ways we can be ethical and sustainable in every aspect of our business, so this keeps us on our toes.
As an independent startup, what are the main challenges you are facing?
We have faced many challenges, but we like to think that we are stronger and smarter because of these learning experiences. The biggest challenges we are facing are getting people to trust a small brand like ours and keeping our creativity at its best.
Building a reputation takes time in fashion, but it especially takes time to get on people’s radar as a small independent niche brand is floating in a sea of competition. People who have never heard of your brand may not want to give you a chance even when you offer exactly what it is they are looking for! Gaining recognition is a challenge that can only be overcome with patience and hard work, and that is precisely how we are tackling this.
Secondly, we challenge ourselves every season to ensure our creativity is always evolving. We do not want to offer our customers the same products every season thus we need our creativity to be ever growing. This challenge motivates us to be our best and create new designs, which are better than anything we have crafted before.
Throughout the years we have learned a lot about our creative thought processes, and we are continually learning how to improve and strengthen these skills.
In the photo: The tie making process by an artisan Credit: 40 Colori
Any new projects for 40 Colori? A secret plan?
There are some exciting new ventures 40 Colori is working on, but this shall stay a secret for the time being. Be sure to keep an eye on our website during the summer for some big announcements!
We are currently working to expand our reach internationally so everyone can have easy access to 40 Colori’s products. After a year of trade shows, we are now stocked in close to 50 stores worldwide.
Cultivating these wholesale relationships takes time but having the ability to share our products around the world with shops that appreciate our mission is extremely rewarding. We are excited to announce that 40 Colori will finally be stocked in the US starting in September this year.
We have met a great collection of independent shops in the US who will be adding 40 Colori products to their curated selections with our AW18 collection. We will be releasing our new SS18 collection in March, and this will be the first collection where we will be offering our handcrafted sartorial waistcoats online. We have an exclusive selection of one of a kind waistcoats currently in our shop in Shoreditch, but we are now bringing these online after many requests.
Editors Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com