Il Bisonte | International Ethics, Tuscan Beauty

Luigi Ceccon talks sustainability and impact-based consumerism

Written by

Mui-Hai Chu

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For over 50 years, Tuscan fine leather brand Il Bisonte has been committed to the production of responsibly sourced, high-quality leather goods. Founded by Wanny Di Filippo in 1970, the Il Bisonte brand has become synonymous with enduring sophistication for its timeless silhouettes and its commitment to ethical manufacturing techniques. Bisonte, which translates to bison, is a sturdy, peaceful animal from which the brand has drawn inspiration for decades: much of the Italian leather artisan’s cult following is drawn to Il Bisonte because it eschews seasonal trends in favor of products that are able to be worn for a lifetime, which is evidenced by the fact that many of the brand’s archival designs are still in heavy rotation today.

Il Bisonte’s philosophy insists upon impact-oriented production techniques, part of the environmentally friendly ethos that was instilled within the brand from the moment of its conception. All fabrics and leathers used in the designs are tanned, coupled, cut, split, skived and hand-stitched within a 30 KM radius of the Tuscany-based manufacturing plant. The cowhide from which the fabrics and leathers emerge is derived exclusively from the hides of animals already reared for food consumption, and then tanned using a vegetable tanning process. (The vegetable tanning process is unique because it bars toxic agents and heavy metals from production, which allows any products to be easily disposed of without a significantly long or harmful degradation cycle). Most of the substances used in the cycle are reused in other sectors– for example, the hair removed from raw hides is reused in agriculture as a fertilizer, while the sludge from the purifiers is reused to produce brick.

The brand’s current CEO, Luigi Ceccon, joined Il Bisonte in 2015, and has since shepherded it from its Italian artisanal roots to the phenomenon it is today– after being sold to its Japanese distributor in 2019, the brand saturated international markets and enjoyed somewhat of a commercial renaissance. Ceccon plans to expand to American markets in the near future. Attractive to the modern consumer looking to reduce their carbon footprint, Il Bisonte has established itself as a paragon of the ethical, slow fashion movement. We sat down with Ceccon to talk about Il Bisonte’s legacy of sustainability and the role of beauty in an increasingly environmentally-conscious future.

What qualities does Il Bisonte harness that makes you proud to be a part of the brand?  

I consider it a real privilege to head a company whose values are the same as those I believe in: absolute love for the quality of what we produce, respect for people and skills, responsible design, trust in suppliers and customers, and a commitment to building a better present and future for the planet. Il Bisonte is a community of people who share a responsible and optimistic worldview.

How do you approach the legacy of Tuscan craftsmanship? 

Since its founding more than 50 years ago, Il Bisonte has been the perfect world ambassador of authentic made-in-Tuscany products. Our extraordinary artisans are the direct heirs of generations of leather workers who have handed down the secrets of the craft from father to son. The most exciting challenge is to interpret this legacy not only as a way to preserve the memory, but also and above all to strive towards innovation. Our business model is one of digital craftsmanship which integrates millennia-old knowledge with the most cutting-edge management technologies.

What are the most imperative factors that go into the creation of a beautiful leather accessory or bag? 

A leather bag is always a big investment for a customer. So first off, it must be well-made, functional, comfortable and able to stand the test of time both in terms of quality and aesthetics. That's why all our products are made using the best raw materials and featuring timeless designs; they are immune to seasonal fashion trends. Il Bisonte bags and accessories are made to provide their owners with everyday luxury while lasting a lifetime.

What is it like to operate a sustainable business with locally-sourced materials in an age of mass production and immediate gratification?  

Immediate gratification has nothing to do with our customers' initiative to buy. Those who choose Il Bisonte have always opted for slow fashion, which means responsible production as much responsible buying. Sustainable consumption is an unspoken pact that has always connected us with those who love our brand. Of course, this choice has costs because it naturally compels us to place shared responsibility before pure profit. The same goes for our production chain concentrated in a 30 KM area around Florence. Investing in our small artisan workshops is much more expensive than relocating to countries outside of Italy, but it allows us to guarantee unique, unparalleled quality and to build personal, trust-filled bonds with all the people who work with us.

What qualities must the maisons that are making the bags have? Do you seek personal creation or the ability to stick to tradition? 

Il Bisonte is a company with a great history that is refashioned every day. We continually treasure tradition and invest just as much energy in innovation. Our historical archive holds more than 2,000 prototypes from the 1970s to the present and is a constant source of inspiration. Some of the most innovative models in our latest collections distill the best of this extraordinary tradition and reinterpret the aesthetics and functionality while focusing on the present. With this in mind Il Bisonte does not outsource the vision and development of its collections to designers, but rather employs designers who fit the brand's values and contribute to its evolution.

What is your attitude toward the natural resources that are required to create an Il Bisonte product? In your time here, have you experienced revelations or higher appreciation for the world that supplies us with what’s needed to live and to create?

Il Bisonte has always focused on responsibly managing natural resources, on eliminating waste, and on production techniques that have less impact on consumption and the environment. Our commitment to this is symbolized by choosing to use only vegetable-tanned hides, the by-products of food consumption, and which would otherwise become waste to dispose of. These are leathers which are processed using natural ingredients such as tannin powder derived from the bark of trees and that don't use substances harmful to humans or the planet. This choice provides for both the unique beauty of our leathers, which acquire a magnificent golden patina as they age, as well as the building of an authentic and alternative circular economy that allows us to better manage the natural resources we use in manufacturing our bags and accessories.

How do you think about building community and your involvement in Florence?  

Florence is the city where Il Bisonte was born and where it maintains its roots. Our headquarters, showroom and flagship store are located here. All our laboratories dedicated to production, restoration, logistics and digitization are a few kilometers from the city.
Florence is unique in the world for its beauty and art and this has always stimulated us in our corporate journey. Three years ago we donated a forest of 50 thirty-year-old oaks to the Municipality of Florence for a park within the city. Near our Palazzo Corsini office overlooking the Arno, for the past year now we have a new favorite place. It's called Orti Dipinti and it's the only community garden in the world within a UNESCO-protected area. The people who visit this magical place cultivate ancient fruits, vegetables and spices and learn to perform small, daily, eco-sustainable actions. Thanks to Il Bisonte's contribution, Orti Dipinti is equipped with advanced tools to manage water resources and intelligent control systems that make it possible to use natural resources with maximum efficiency. The next step will be to build an educational greenhouse which will allow ongoing training activities to be carried out for young people and adults and especially for children from local schools and university students, including international ones. Through our site, we tell the stories of Orti Dipinti and the heroes and heroines throughout the world who commit to social and environmental issues every day.

Aside from selling products or being fashionable, what purpose do you believe artisan creation serves the community or one person's life? 

Craftsmanship is a fundamental part of and closely linked to the territory that embodies it.
An artisan's work is one of community and interconnection. Artisans are not anonymous cogs in an assembly line. They are specialists who articulate the traditions of the very area that preserves and hands down knowledge and dignity over time, helping to create communities where success is measured both in economic terms and collective well-being. The term circular economy finds its source in such craft districts.

Are there any aspects of Il Bisonte that you believe stem directly from Italian culture and way of life? 

Absolutely, yes! The area around Florence where we operate is one of the best representations of Italian culture and lifestyle, and especially since the Renaissance has contributed much to it. Our products, in addition to being produced only in Tuscany and thus made in Italy, are also inspired by the beauty of Italian architecture, art, and landscapes. Our most recent collections are named after Tuscany's most magnificent castles, Florence's historic theaters, and the city's museums because their essential and harmonious designs stem precisely from the timeless classicism and bold innovation that distinguish Italian savoir-faire.

What are your hopes for the future of Il Bisonte? 

Solid growth that's in keeping with the values we have always expressed.

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Mui-Hai Chu, Il Bisonte, Fashion, Flaunt Magazine, Luigi Ceccon