With its yearly production of over 150 million garments, an annual turnover of two billion euro and a network of 6,400 stores in 120 countries, it’s hardly surprising that glamorous Italian fashion group Benetton is considered one of the most successful in the world.
The origins of the Benetton Group date back to the 1960s in Ponzano Veneto (Treviso) where the eldest of four siblings, Luciano Benetton, was working as a salesman. As the story goes, Luciano was inspired to start producing and selling colorful knitwear by his sister Giuliana who made hand knitted woolen sweaters in a variety of colors. Luciano decided to start selling them door-to-door and to local stores. The positive response encouraged Luciano to ask his siblings to join him in his new venture.
In 1965, ‘the Benetton Group’ was born. Luciano was, naturally, the chairman while one brother Gilberto was in charge of administration and the other, Carlo, ran the production side. Giuliana was made chief designer. A year later, the so-called “Brothers of the Rainbow” opened their first store in Belluno and this was followed three years later by another store in Paris.
Throughout the 1970s, Benetton consolidated its unique, flexible and innovative business model. Luciano Benetton experimented with a new production technique to decrease time and production costs and improve quality. The resulting “just-in-time” method was a milestone in global fashion history. The technique allowed them to make garments in raw wool and color them later, depending on the new season’s fashion trends. It enabled more efficient and faster distribution thus bringing advantages to the company and to the environment too.
Along with the implementation of new technologies, new brands were added to the Group’s portfolio: ‘Jeans West’ in 1972 and ‘Sisley’ in 1974. In 1980 Benetton opened its first New York store on Madison Avenue, followed by one in Tokyo in 1982. The Benetton business was initially confined to making sweaters in classic colors, but later Luciano decided to get the attention of the younger buyers by creating sweaters in bright colors and their slogan became ‘United Colors of Benetton’.
Benetton added cotton and denim to its original line of woolens and also expanded its men, women’s and children’s casualwear ranges. They then moved into toiletries, perfumes and home supplies such as kitchen accessories and baby products. Soon you could buy Benetton sunglasses, watches, bags, shoes, glove, hats, jewelry and even car parts!
The company’s core business remains their clothing lines which have the Italian characteristics of style, quality and passion. Casual clothing is marketed as the ‘United Colors of Benetton’ while there is also the underwear brand ‘Undercolours’, the glamour oriented ‘Sisley’, the leisurewear brand ‘Playlife’ and street-wear ‘Killer Loop’.
The Power of Marketing
By the end of the ‘80s Benetton communication campaigns were known all over the world, winning the Grand Prix de la Publicité Presse Magazine in 1985 followed by the Grand Prix de la Communication Pubblicitaire.
The collaboration with renowed Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani had a strong impact on the history of the company from 1984 to 2000. His provocative and original ‘United Colors’ publicity campaigns characterized by striking images unrelated to the actual products being sold by the company left the whole world stunned and speechless. For the first time an artist was expressing himself and his ideas about society through a world famous brand. The result was even more fame – and notoriety – for Benetton. The images were always linked with some social or political issue (from racism to religion to war) and and caused controversy and discussion whenever a new campaign was launched. The company logo was the only sign of the brand that was behind it.
However, the relationship between Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani, which was born out of a strong friendship, ended abruptly in 2000 after a shocking advertisement against the death penalty caused the cancellation of a contract with Sears. But the effects of the collaboration lingered on in a variety of other initiatives.
The Benetton magazine Colors was founded in 1991 under the supervision of Tibor Kalman and is now written in four different languages, distributed in over 40 countries and available online. It deals with different international issues from AIDS to the environmental cause as well as racism, religion and other key issues. Just like the ad campaign, it is full of controversial images its target audience being young people.
Three years later, Benetton launched Fabrica, their communication group research center. Fabrica offers young creatives from around the world (who can even apply online) the chance to develop their skills working in different sectors such as design, video, visual communication, music and photography. It allows everybody access to information, initiatives and activities organized in different countries.
More recently, in 2010, Benetton launched It’s My Time, the very first online global casting session. Benetton online had 3,000,000 page views in just a few days after the launch of the campaign.
Organization, efficiency, a clear brand image and effective advertising are all ingredients that have made the Benetton name famous. And such is the impact of the Group, that it is now used as a case study in textbooks at Harvard and Stanford business schools.
Benetton Group S.p.a.
31050 Ponzano (Treviso), Italy
Tel: +39 0422 519111
Fax: +39 0422 969501
Web: Benetton Clothing and Accessories