Canton Ticino: the Swiss fashion valley




Once upon a time there was a textile industry in the Canton of Ticino. Like any self-respecting fairytale, the story of textiles and clothing in the region begins by recalling the distant past. And the unhappy second chapter of the tale, which saw the end of a sector that gave a lot to the region in terms of businesses, employment, shared wealth, and exports between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s, remains clear in people's minds.

In those times, the industry mostly comprised shirt and underwear factories, and a few garment makers. Slowly but surely almost all of these small and medium-sized enterprises died out, overwhelmed by foreign firms that produced clothes at a low cost (and a lower quality). The void that remained lasted for roughly a decade. Then came an unexpected recovery, but this time with no looms, sewing machines or laundry presses in sight. What arrived in Ticino was an industry or, to be precise, a system. This was the 'fashion system', a distilled blend of professionalism, business acumen and creativity that has seen the region export its success all over the world.

The first company to settle in Ticino was Ermenegildo Zegna. This was 1981, and the situation in Italy was not favourable for industry by any stretch of the imagination, with constant strikes, protests and trade union action slowing down work. In order to maintain its high production standards, the famous Italian brand set up premises in Ticino and to this day it has manufacturing buildings and offices in the region. Since 1996, Gucci has also been in Ticino, where it manages the international logistics for its Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent brands.

One step ahead of its rivals, the company was among the first to see the opportunity to optimise the services afforded by the Ticino region, with a view to increased innovation, efficiency and profitability. Over the next few years, other renowned labels also made an appearance, including Akris, Armani, Guess and Hugo Boss. The most recent arrival is VF International, which appeared in 2005 and today employs over 600 people in management and various design and development operations for several brands, including Eastpak, Lee, Napapijri, The North Face, Timberland and Wrangler.

Magnetic attraction

A combination of various positive factors led these companies to the decision to set up premises in the Canton. The competitive tax regime on offer is certainly a strong magnet, but the area's attractiveness goes beyond this. The strategic geographic location of Switzerland's Italian canton plays a fundamental role. It is located near the international fashion hub of Milan, as well as acting as a point of access to northern Europe.

Furthermore, the Swiss system offers exceptional political and institutional stability, a competitive and flexible labour market and complete security, all factors that provide fertile ground for businesses to flourish.

It should be remembered that the fully globalised fashion system relies on efficient commercial networks, cooperation and, above all, logistics, so that collections can reach every corner of the globe on demand.

Organisation like that offered by the worldwide logistics companies based in the Chiasso area, for example, is therefore essential. These large multinational shipping companies are able to guarantee rapid and secure delivery of clothing collections to boutiques all over the world.

Meanwhile, alongside the numerous advantages for companies, personal aspects should not be overlooked. In Ticino, company managers can expect a high quality of life, social security, public order and personal freedom; excellent healthcare; and even school and university places for their children in English-speaking institutions.

This is how the canton of Ticino proposes to breathe life back into the region's fashion fairy tale, ensuring a happy ending for all.

VF Corporation calls Ticino home

As a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel and footwear, VF Corporation is focused on serving consumers around the world, wherever they choose to shop. The company has a diverse portfolio of more than 30 brands, and annual revenue in 2013 of $11.4 billion.

But it doesn't stop there. VF has laid out a clear path for growth, with the goal of becoming a $17-billion company by 2017. Key to reaching this milestone is international expansion - a proven catalyst that has brought VF much success. The company, which is nearly 114 years old, entered Europe in the 1950s and made its way to Switzerland in 2005. Last May, it opened a new international headquarters in Ticino.

"At VF, we're highly diversified across brands, products and geographies," says said Eric Wiseman, VF Corporation CEO. "But our one-company approach to doing business gives us a unique and powerful competitive advantage. To be successful at this, we respect each brand's DNA, allowing them each to have their own story. But we also have an open company business mode - we encourage collaboration and dialogue so that brands can learn from one another and share best practices."

At VF's Ticino headquarters, 7 For All Mankind, Napapijri, The North Face, Reef, Smartwool, Timberland and Vans are all under the same roof. Each brand has its own space where it can work independently, but the building is designed to guide people from different places into common areas such as coffee stations and meeting rooms, in an effort to encourage people to see one another and interact.

Not just an administrative office, the building also features eight mock-up stores, three showrooms, four design rooms and three tech labs. In a style that brings the outdoors inside, the headquarters truly embodies the spirit of its brands with features including a rooftop workout facility, views of the mountains, trails for mountain biking and running, a reflection pond and even a gondola.

"For our associates, this is a place for creativity and collaboration," says Wiseman. "For our customers, it is a chance to interact with our brands. And for our shareholders, this is an opportunity for growth and success."

So why Ticino?

"Ticino is in a central, attractive position and it is easy to find talent, given its proximity to Milan, which has a great deal of fashion expertise," says Karl Heinz Salzburger, vice-president, VF International. "The area has a friendly business community and offers a wonderful quality of life for our associates - from the welcoming people to the gorgeous lakes and scenery."

To preserve the beauty of the Swiss landscapes, VF constructed the facility with environmental responsibility top of mind. Building features include renewable energy sources, solar power, eco-materials, geothermal HVAC and minimal overhead lighting. Additionally, the location is at the site of a future train station, which will encourage commuting by public transport rather than driving.

Today, VF's 15,000m2 Ticino office boasts 700 employees representing 35 nationalities. But there is a possibility that the location may double in the size in the next few years, adding two more buildings and increasing the staff to more than 1,200 people.

"At VF, we're in it for the long-haul in Ticino," said Salzburger. "We have brought the core of our business here - planning, design, development and marketing - and we plan to continue to grow here, building on the great relationships we've made."

"We're proud of what we've accomplished," adds Wiseman. "We're excited about where we're headed and Ticino is the perfect place to continue the story."

The strategic geographical location of Switzerland’s Italian canton plays a fundamental role in its success.
In a style that brings the outdoors inside, the headquarters truly embodies the spirit of its brands.