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Friday, August 09, 2019, 11:25
Italian corp an avant garde for green practice
By Pamela Lin in Hong Kong
Friday, August 09, 2019, 11:25 By Pamela Lin in Hong Kong

As the idea of cutting the carbon footprint in business has been embraced by more companies globally, CEO of Mainetti tells Pamela Lin why and how they are spearheading the green campaign.

Roberto Peruzzo, CEO of Mainetti Group. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Sustainability is becoming a constant theme in every industry, and garment hangers and packaging, which most of us take for granted, are no exception.

Italy-based Mainetti Group, a global manufacturer of garment hanger and packaging, has embraced the concept of sustainability to revolutionize the manufacturing industry by recycling hangers and making them with eco-friendly materials.

Unlike Italy’s meticulous craftsmanship and luxury brands, which are known far and wide, hangers that go with these luxury garments draw little attention, but they are necessary to present garments well.

Established in the 1960s in a small town in northern Italy, Mainetti was founded by four brothers who recognized an increasing demand of high quality and ergonomically designed hangers. At that time, the market was dominated by wooden hangers, which were expensive and bulky.

By doing it, you educate the generations to be more conscious of the environment

Roberto Peruzzo, CEO of Mainetti Group

Meanwhile, the company had begun its groundbreaking attempt to recycle hangers on behalf of its customers to minimize the carbon footprint, and from the mid-1980s, the company began managing reuse programs for its clients.

Mainetti is also a pioneer in adopting a “circular economy” in which resources are used for as long as possible to reduce waste, and then can be recycled and reused. In the system, biodegradable and eco-friendly materials are introduced that cause no harm to the planet.

As for nondegradable plastics, the group recycles and reuses them to make recyclable hangers, which are cheaper and more durable.

“Plastic is not a bad thing. It’s the one-time misuse of it which causes the problem,” Mainetti CEO Roberto Peruzzo said.

In the beginning, when customers asked Mainetti what they should do with the hangers after they sold the garments, “We said, ‘Don’t worry, we can take them back and make a new hanger or reuse it in the circle,’ ” he said.

Promoting the circular economy worldwide and also domestically through Mainetti’s global networks, the group set up branches, including recycle units and factories across the world, including China, the US and Europe, to ensure the locally recycled materials were being remanufactured into hangers and redistributed into the system.

“We can recycle the hangers 10 times or even more. The amount of carbon footprint being reduced is tremendous,” Peruzzo said.

“The retailers work with us in the circular economy and we make sure that the hangers are made in a way to have the minimum impact in terms of carbon footprint,” he said. From the collection to inspection, the local factory sorts out the qualified hangers, repacks them, and then reintroduces them into the supply chain.

Mainetti produces about 1.2 billion hangers annually while recycling 700 million hangers, Peruzzo said.

Springboard to mainland

Dating back to the 1980s, when China had just unveiled its reform and opening-up policies, Mainetti noticed a promising market that had enormous potential, and the group saw Hong Kong as an entry point for an even broader market.

The reform and opening-up policies, including export-oriented policies, were transforming China’s coastal cities into a cluster of garment and textile manufacturing bases.

Mainetti UK began exporting hangers to Hong Kong for the Chinese mainland distribution in 1987. In 1989, Mainetti began setting up manufacturing facilities in southern China.

In 2001, China became a member of World Trade Organization, and Mainetti saw garment manufacturers moving from Europe and other Western countries into China. “Then we thought the garment and textile industry in China will be booming as well as in Asia,” Peruzzo said.

In 2005, Mainetti opened its largest manufacturing center in Shenzhen, a site ideally located to supply customers located all over Asia.

“The branches in China then served for both exporting and serving domestic market,” Peruzzo said. He added that the annual turnover in China is over 1 billion yuan (US$144 million).

Peruzzo sees the role China takes in the group’s global strategy shifting from a single manufacturing center to a major base in Asia taking diversified responsibilities.

“Looking into our operation in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, now I see them as the leading centers for our new technology and for the development of our Asia market,” Peruzzo said. He added that most of the automation Mainetti deploys is from China.

In addition, Mainetti has a group of experts based in China doing research and development by using the available resources on green, sustainable and compostable materials.

In Mainetti’s Shenzhen unit, the group is developing a new generation of hangers using cellulose pulp material that is ground from paper.

Upgrading and innovating 

Not merely recycling hangers and reusing plastics to make hangers, Mainetti cooperates with material research companies and startups to come up with brand-new eco-friendly materials.

Nano and Advanced Materials Institute Ltd, a material research center funded by the Hong Kong Science Park, is one of Mainetti’s partners.

The retail solutions provider also works with institutions to develop their ongoing research and development process. Due to the full-scale facilities at the factories in southern China, Mainetti also gets to test the feasibility of the materials.

“And Shenzhen is where we get the best chance to deploy the latest technology in different fields” Peruzzo said.

Inside Mainetti’s largest manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, there is a new center offering a hands-on environment for interacting with the latest end-to-end retail services.

The radio-frequency identification (RFID) system in the center lifts the efficiency and accuracy of stock-in and stock-out process. Compared with the bar-code labels and scanning, RFID system digitizes the inventory management and sharply reduces the manpower as the RFID tags can be detected and read remotely and simultaneously.

Moreover, the information collected enables detailed trend analysis for product profiling and optimizing product displays and placement in the store.

Mainetti CEO leads sustainable practice

Born in a northern Italian town close to Venice, Roberto Peruzzo began waste sorting in 1990s when the local municipality imposed the separation of garbage disposal based on the various materials of the garbage.

On a daily basis, Peruzzo sorted out the organic waste that is compostable, like leftovers and fruit peels. He called it “dry waste”, which went to a power plant to generate the energy. Then he turned to plastics, cans and glasses.

Among all the waste generated a day, only a small part — less than 20 percent — goes into the pile of actual waste that cannot be recycled, Peruzzo said.

Being meticulous is in the Italian DNA, which is also reflected in waste sorting, Peruzzo said. He recalled that the sorted garbage lies in transparent bags. “The people who collect them would pick up the bag, look inside carefully. If they discovered anything that is not recyclable, I got to open the bag and sort it out, waiting for it to be picked up the other day,” Peruzzo said.

“It’s a matter of education, I’m sure you would be in that circle quickly.”

Peruzzo said it was quite a good move for some major cities in China to start compulsory garbage sorting, and the most important part of the move creating the culture. “By doing it, you educate the generations to be more conscious of the environment,” he added.

Holding a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Padua, Italy, Peruzzo joined Mainetti Italy in 1987 as a production manager. Since then, he has taken different roles from general management to technical and product development.

In 2007, Peruzzo was appointed as regional director of Mainetti’s branch in the US. Later in 2016, he took the position as the global head of Mainetti.

Being familiar with hanger cultures in different parts of the world, Peruzzo commented that the US is still where the group’s main volume comes from as the country does mass production for lower-cost and commonly seen hangers. While in Japan, the culture requires you to design the hangers and packages in a dedicated and unique way.

In China, new technologies and innovations are being applied such as foldable hangers and newly developed eco-friendly materials.

“We get to communicate with the local retailers closely and suit their needs in garment hangers and accessories,” Peruzzo said. Mainetti has design centers in major countries of the continents.

The group was also the creator of “S”-series coat hanger five decades ago, and its “G” range hanger got patented in 1970s. Mainetti believes a quality hanger is essential to present and add value to the garment, both of which engage the customer and enhance their experience.

Continuing to lead Mainetti inheriting its sustainability and green manufacturing philosophy, Peruzzo, a veteran practitioner on sustainability, is also leading the group to diversify the products, from hangers to smart packaging. “We aim to become a one-stop shop for our customers,” he said.

In the era when e-commerce is thriving and changing the landscape, Peruzzo said the group, in addition to producing e-commerce packaging with environmentally friendly materials, also works closely with retailers that adopt a omni-channel strategy, using physical stores to link their customers while operating online sales.

Eyeing the opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, Mainetti hopes to replicate the successful recycling model in UK to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which has a population of more than 70 million.

Contact the writer at pamelalin@chinadailyhk.com

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