Giulio Bonazzi has spent much of his professional life transforming a family business into a global player in the textile industry and the circular economy. CEO and President of Aquafil, an Italian Nylon fibres and polymers company that produces the well-known regenerated nylon ECONYL® textile, Bonazzi is on the jury for the Special Sustainability Mention at the Archiproducts Design Awards 2022.
‘Where others see waste, I see a gold mine’.
This typical Bonazzi phrase encapsulates a vision that guides his company along the road to sustainability.
After years of investment in R&D, Aquafil first manufactured ECONYL® in 2011. This completely regenerated and regenerable nylon yarn is now one of the most sought-after products on the international textile market.
Often awarded for his commitment to creating a fully circular business, Bonazzi was appointed Cavaliere del Lavoro by Italian President Napolitano in 2013. Fortune magazine included Aquafil in its ‘Change the World’ list of companies undertaking today’s social challenges in their core business activities. Forbes Italy recognised Giulio Bonazzi as Top CEO for innovation, international competitiveness and creating a great work environment.
CEO and Chairman, Aquafil
How was Aquafil born?
Aquafil was born with my parents in 1965. The first Nylon 6 production came in 1969, but it was not their first venture. Nine years earlier, they had started a nylon raincoat manufacturing business with six workers and four sewing machines. After that, they went ‘backwards’, from garments to weaving. They bought nylon yarn, wove it and produced raincoats. Then finally, they moved from weaving to yarn, at first only for clothing, then for textile flooring.
Your company is based in Arco (TN). Have you ever been tempted to leave the Trentino mountains or even Italy and move to areas with greater manufacturing propensities?
Being in Trentino and Italy means accepting advantages and disadvantages. The greatest drawback lies in recruiting and ‘transferring’ employees to Trentino from areas that are much more attractive from a work point of view (certainly not for the quality of life). But today, Aquafil is a global company with talented employees in many countries worldwide. Trentino is at the heart of the system.
In a 2015 interview, your father, Carlo Bonazzi, said that you ‘landed on a prop plane and turned it into a jet’.
How did you face the responsibility of this ‘flight’, and where are you headed now?
I have not been alone in this adventure. I’ve been fortunate enough to be assisted by valuable collaborators. I grew up learning to be curious in a family of businesspeople; I really started from the bottom. Many personal and professional mentors who were examples of commitment and dedication, all devoted to the continuous search for quality, were my inspiration. I have great help and wonderful support from my wife, who has taken this journey with me, always by my side.
How has the ‘textile of yesterday’ conditioned the ‘textile of today’?
The history of textiles and all other sectors has always been linked to cost and beauty (fortunately!), otherwise known as service and quality. Today more than ever – without any ifs, ands or buts – it is necessary to consider a product’s end of life, to pay serious attention to its impact on the health of consumers and the planet, and social welfare. Anyone who does not understand the need for this change will face an inevitable demise.
From traditional nylon thread to a nature-positive design product. How and when did you come up with the idea of ECONYL®, regenerated nylon created from what nobody uses anymore (old carpets, fishing nets, discarded rugs, etc.)?
ECONYL® is an extraordinary journey that began more than 15 years ago. We first changed our organisation, strategy and ourselves, and we are just at the beginning, even if it doesn’t seem so. The challenges will continue, thanks to my collaborators and consumers who, with growing awareness, will continue to demand more sustainable products. Along the road, I have met extraordinary women and men with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss the environmental crisis (in general terms), which has been at our door for some time now. There are so many people with whom I have shared my vision, and thanks to whom I continued and will continue to work in this direction, which seems to be the only possible course of action.
Numerous brands in the design world use ECONYL®, like Tom Dixon, Object Carpet, Tarkett or Zanotta, which, for the 50th anniversary of the Sacco armchair, revisited it in a ‘green’ edition.
How did ECONYL® come into the design world?
Can you tell our readers about a particularly successful case history concerning the use of ECONYL® in this sector?
It is a short step from fashion to design. Both sectors have beauty as their common denominators – and textiles are how the two worlds can intertwine. Moving from Gucci and Prada to Tom Dixon and Zanotta comes naturally.
I can tell you a slightly different story involving the Noho Move™chair, in which ECONYL® is used as a polymer rather than a fibre. It started at Neocon in Chicago when the New Zealand design and engineering firm, Formway, met Aquafil. Attracted by our exhibition space, these designers posed a challenge for us. We worked on the project for three years to reach the final result, and it was at Neocon that the Noho Move™chair received the Best of NeoCon Guest Seating Gold and Sustainability Awards.
In a 2021 interview, you said that your company’s vision had changed since Roy C. Anderson launched Mission 20-20 in 1998 when he aimed for textile companies to be fully ‘regenerative’ and sustainable by 2020. At the end of 2022, can we speak of a truly sustainable and circular textile industry?
This is true. In 1998, I met diverse figures from the sustainable, circular and social world. Roy Anderson was the organiser and catalyst of many events, and along with him, I remember extraordinary people who still represent a source of great inspiration. Today, the industry is not yet totally sustainable. The journey has just begun with all the attendant risks, especially the mistake of relaxing and giving up. I say this to underscore that it will take commitment, perseverance, and, last but not least, help from our legislators.
If, in line with the UN Agenda, there is a Mission 20-30, what actions will it envisage for your company?
Our stated goal is to move from 40% to 60% ECONYL® production by 2025 to make products with 100% ECONYL® or Nylon from biomass processing within the next ten years.
How do you imagine the ‘textile of the future’?
The textile of the future will have to be socially and environmentally sustainable – and circular – otherwise, it will risk obsolescence. It will have to avoid using toxic products and solve the problem of microfibrils – among other things.
It will be a long, hard struggle, but we can prevail if we start with the right materials.
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