Interview to Mario Fulvio De Maio, President of Confindustria Avellino tanning section

Mario Fulvio De Maio
Mario Fulvio De Maio, Owner DMD Solofra, President of Confindustria Avellino tanning section

Research and innovation, the key to the future. The goal pursued by the Solofra district is to develop new eco-friendly tanning techniques. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the leather supply chain is destined to change as well.

Specialized in the tanning of sheep and goatskins, the leather district based in Solofra covers an area of around 115 square kilometres, southwest of the Avellino province. In addition to the town bearing the same name, it comprises also Montoro Inferiore, Montoro Superiore and Serino. Featuring 150 tanneries and 2000 workers, said district generates an annual turnover amounting to 500 million euros, exports accounting for over 75% of the revenues (data provided by UNIC). Synonymous with top-notch results and quality in the international leather supply chain, the companies headquartered in this area have gained a strong foothold not only nationwide, but also in the European, Far East and the US markets, thus providing the world’s most prominent fashion and luxury brands with their articles. Mario Fulvio De Maio – DMD Solofra’s owner, president of Confindustria Avellino’s tanning division and new member of the Experimental Station for the Leather and Tanning Industry’s board of directors, outlined the goals pursued by the Solofra district, aimed at improving new eco-friendly tanning techniques.

Mario Fulvio De Maio, you lead the delegation of the tanneries based in the Solofra district. What are the new challenges that this business cluster must tackle in order to recover market shares?
If you had asked me that before the lockdown, the answer would have been a little easier. At the end of February, we had clearer ideas. We were excited because, at Lineapelle, we showcased futurist collections featuring hides tanned with new technologies, in compliance with sustainability and environmental standards, similar to traditional leather. The ultimate goal is to safeguard collective health and to provide an increasingly innovative product, and the so-called “wet white” tanning, chrome- and metal-free, is the next frontier for a cleaner future. However, right now, a few months after the exhibition and after the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, there are no certainties.

The leading luxury brands set the rules when it comes to eco-sustainability. What is the state of the art, research-wise, concerning the production process of the local companies, aimed at leading the sector towards the implementation of lowimpact techniques?
The products manufactured a few years ago in the Solofra district, now are copied at lower costs in India, Pakistan, China. To build up the sector’s future (once again referring to a situation prior to Covid-19 crisis), we must invest in more and more cutting-edge, yet eco-friendly collections. Research and innovation are the keywords for the future. We have kicked off three research contracts, one with Salerno University, another with the Experimental Station headquartered in Pozzuoli, and the last one with both institutions, so as to develop new sustainable tanning techniques. We have several goals: to reduce water (a resource that will gradually decrease in the years to come) and chemicals consumption, while focusing on energy saving. To improve some of leather’s features such as elasticity. It is imperative to act faster than multinational corporations in order to avoid depending on their patents as well as speculations. We must be the masters of our fate and there are plenty of tools that can help us shape up the local tanning industry: smart researchers, top-notch laboratories, an amazing team. Today, what does the

Solofra district need to make the difference internationally?
We chose to meet immediately after Lineapelle in order to draw up wide-ranging initiatives. After this lockdown period, still “torpid”, we organized a meeting with the district’s representatives to understand what to do next. We are aware that our customers are going to register a marked decrease, over 35%, in terms of production volumes and turnover, that is going to affect the upstream segments of the supply chain. We have pointed out some measures that might help: to increase the customers’ portfolio, to invest significantly in innovation, to change selling strategies. In anticipation of the cancellation of the September exhibitions, we must be ready to modify our modus operandi, for instance, by sending directly to the clientele the samples for the new season, by uploading the product catalogue on the e-commerce platforms. We know that leather requires a physical contact that digital tools cannot provide, but, for quite some time, we are not going to resume pre-pandemic behaviours. Such an experience is expected to leave a mark on our lives, both on a private and on a professional level, and it will take years to recover fully.

What kind of roles should companies and institutions take on in order to foster the sector’s growth, internationalization and competitiveness?
The required tools are already available as well as promotion and internationalization incentives. However, right now, the government, due also to the EU decisions, has backed down, focusing more on an aid-based policy, without supporting the industrial sector. Enterprises must get back to business, as work gives to people the chance to earn an income and, consequently, to spend their money. Citizens’ income, emergency income, layoff funds. To stay at home, waiting every month for government support, is a grave mistake. It is estimated that 270 thousand companies will not resume their activities, a striking figure that is going to affect all of us. We must remain vigilant (when it comes to credits, goods’ recipients, and so on), so as not to be overwhelmed by a weak market and by a system that is not working. Completely unaided, we are coping with market shares loss, the costs for the ordinary wages guarantee fund and those for the implementation of health protocols, the latter resulting not only in expenses for PPEs, but also in an inevitable productivity drop as the employees are forced to wear gloves and face masks during summer months. Furthermore, discounts are in high demand: stock devaluation is tightly linked to demand loss. I would be very satisfied with a balanced budget, that is, no revenues, yet no deficit as well.

In 2019, a friendship and cooperation Memorandum was signed between the Chinese city of Shenzhen and the Campania-based leather supply chain for the development of the Chinese as well as of the domestic leather footwear and accessories sector. In the light of the pandemic, what difficulties are you facing when it comes to finding collaboration tools and occasions aimed at promoting the innovation and growth of the Solofra district and of the whole industry region-wise?
I was one of the supporters of said meeting. Last December, during our visit to China with the Experimental Station’s general manager, Edoardo Imperiale, we laid down the foundations to foster Chinese investments in Italy. Our products are in great demand in China, and the synergy between Italian creativity, passion, inspiration, and their incredible manual skills is feasible. It is an ambitious, yet well-grounded project. We are confident that both parties are eager to resume the cooperation interrupted by the pandemic, we just have to wait to get back to the conditions prior to Covid-19.