For cashmere capitalist, dignity is bottom line

Tue Nov 10, 2009 7:11pm EST
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By Philip Pullella

SOLOMEO, Italy (Reuters) - Motivated at age 15 by the tears in his father's eyes when the former farmer was forced to accept a factory job, Brunello Cucinelli is anything but an orthodox capitalist.

His colorful cashmere brand is defying recessionary shrinkage across the luxury sector -- a feat achieved while creating ideal conditions for his workers.

He has converted most of a stone 14th-century town in Umbria into a factory where no-one punches a time clock, lunch breaks are generous and the only rules pasted on the walls are quotes from philosophers and writers.

"I believe in real capitalism. The company has to make profits," he said in a sprawling, spotless office lined with shelves of spools of cashmere on one side and philosophical treatises on the other.

"But I want to try to do it with the ethics of human dignity."

Consultants Bain & Co. forecast global sales of luxury goods this year will fall by about 8 percent to 153 billion euros ($229 billion). But Cucinelli, who can collect more than $2,000 for a single garment, is still expanding.

In September his privately held Gruppo Cucinelli opened a new mono-brand store on Rome's exclusive Via Borgognona near the Spanish Steps. There are plans for 10 more by end-2010.

Revenues in 2009 are forecast at 154 million euros, around seven percent more than last year. It's a slowing trend from double-digit gains in both sales and profit in previous years, but puts Cucinelli in select company: Hermes and Louis Vuitton are among the only luxury brands growing this year.   Continued...

<p>Italian clothing designer Brunello Cucinelli holds raw cashmere wool in the Umbrian village of Solomeo October 7, 2009. Picture taken October 7, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>