In the world of high-end skinwear and hosiery, Wolford stands out as a brand that successfully weathered the complexities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this challenging period, not only did Wolford navigate through a substantial lockdown, but it also executed a strategic move by selling its Austrian headquarters for €72 million. This strategic decision has not only freed Wolford from debt but has also positioned the brand to thrive in an ever-evolving global market.
Wolford’s storied history spans over 70 years and includes pioneering the iconic «body» product, which witnessed increased demand during the lockdown. The brand boasts a rich heritage of collaborations with renowned runway designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Emilio Pucci, and Vivienne Westwood. However, despite these achievements, the company faced financial challenges, with multi-million-euro losses in recent years, despite a respectable turnover of €137 million in its latest fiscal year.
Leading the charge at Wolford is Silvia Azzali, the Chief Commercial Officer. Azzali, a seasoned industry professional with experience at luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and La Perla, has set her sights on making sustainability the cornerstone of Wolford’s revival.
Azzali returned to Wolford in 2019, motivated by a desire to restore the brand’s core DNA and heritage. She sought to reestablish a deep connection to the brand’s roots, which had, over time, become somewhat diluted. She observed a series of strategic shifts, including an excessive focus on chasing the elusive «millennial consumer.»
Azzali’s vision for Wolford’s future is multi-faceted. It involves rejuvenating iconic styles, with a special focus on the timeless «body» – an essential accessory for women across generations. She believes in product category innovation and plans to build on the brand’s legacy. Wolford introduced the world’s first «body» in 1987, a revolutionary product that set trends and attitudes in the athleisure market, remaining popular to this day.
Additionally, Wolford holds the distinction of being one of the first brands to embark on significant collaborations with renowned designers, well before it became a common practice, exemplified by partnerships with Chantal Thomas, Thierry Mugler, and Jean-Paul Gaultier in 1983.
More recent collaborations include projects with Vetements for their January 2020 and September 2019 fashion shows, with more exciting collaborations on the horizon.
Silvia Azzali’s extensive experience has equipped her with valuable insights into market responsiveness and customer engagement. Her tenure at Moschino, for instance, provided her with the skills required for a «See now, buy now» approach, involving the creation of capsules that are fast, flexible, and tailored to specific markets.
Azzali aims to replicate this approach at Wolford, capitalizing on consumer trends and market demands. Furthermore, she recognizes the significance of digital and social media in reaching and engaging with customers. Azzali was impressed by the way Jeremy Scott at Moschino utilized digital channels for fashion shows, transforming Moschino into a top-five brand for its innovative shows. Jeremy Scott’s visionary yet approachable approach also encompassed sustainability, making him one of the early advocates for responsible fashion practices by discontinuing the use of fur and certain leathers.
Sustainability is at the forefront of Wolford’s future growth strategy, an essential element accelerated by the global pandemic. The crisis highlighted the urgent need for change, with images of clear blue skies and returning wildlife to cities. Wolford has been a trailblazer in sustainability, earning a Cradle to Cradle certificate in April 2019 and championing the circular economy since 2007. The brand is committed to designing products with a life cycle that supports either complete decomposition or complete reusability.
While the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges, Wolford’s agility and innovation came to the fore. The brand swiftly converted production facilities to produce face masks, aiding hospitals in Italy and selling masks online. Despite temporary store closures, strategic planning enabled Wolford to adapt and continue serving its customer base.
Under the ownership of Fosun Fashion Group, Wolford enjoys strong leadership and unwavering commitment to success. Azzali envisions a future where Wolford’s legacy and dedication to sustainability take center stage, even amid the challenges posed by the pandemic.
In summary, Wolford’s journey towards profitable sustainability, guided by Silvia Azzali, promises a compelling narrative of resilience, innovation, and a commitment to preserving the brand’s heritage while embracing the future.