The picturesque harbor in Portofino seemed almost too small and ill-equipped to handle the two dozen 55-foot sailboats that converged on the Italian seaport last May for the final Ermenegildo Zegna Regatta. Captains of the competing vessels included Leonardo Ferragamo, Sergio Loro Piana, Tom Ford chief executive Domenico De Sole, L’Oreal CEO Lindsay Owen-Jones, and no members of the Zegna family. Rather than race, Zegna has sponsored the regatta for the past 25 years, primarily to raise funds for environmental causes that include safeguarding Mediterranean coral reef barriers that are being destroyed by excess fishing, and establishing a protected area in that sea for migrating whales and dolphins.
Zegna has discontinued the Portofino regatta, but it is not abandoning its support of the environment. It has aligned itself with local environmental groups in most of the 38 countries where it operates stores.
Zegna’s factories adhere to low-polluting guidelines and employ sustainable manufacturing processes, which include recycling the water in its textile mills and using nontoxic detergents to wash the cloth. “Our love of nature is probably in our very chromosomes, and it links everyone in our family,” says Anna Zegna, director of worldwide communications. “My grandfather, Ermenegildo, put markers down by giving thought not only to his business, but also to other people and the environment. That sort of thing has a formative influence.”
Ermenegildo Zegna, Anna’s grandfather, became an environmental crusader shortly after inheriting his father’s small wool mill in Trivero, Italy, and founding the family-owned company 97 years ago. Zegna also grew up in Trivero, a mountainous and once-picturesque area in northern Italy that had been desecrated by the timber industry. Throughout the 1930s, Zegna financed the reforestation of the bare slopes with more than 500,000 conifers and rhododendrons. During this time, he also funded the construction of a nearly 17-mile-long network of roads, known as the Panoramica, and more than 62 miles of hiking trails throughout the region.
In the 1990s, Zegna’s grandchildren spent millions of dollars installing a comprehensive system of pictographic signage in the area to help locals and visitors recognize and understand the flora and fauna species of the Oasi Zegna, as the area surrounding the company’s original textile mill is known today.