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The cabinet-making origins of Alf, today an internationally famous industrial group
The story of a company rooted in craftsmanship and headed towards the future in the words of its President and CEO, Cristina Piovesana
Cristina Piovesana, President AND CEO OF Alf Group
Cristina Piovesana, President and CEO of Alf Group, talks about the company, from its artisan roots to its future projects, via its success on markets outside Italy.
How and when was Alf founded, what have been the fundamental milestones so far and what relationship does the company have with the local traditions, including artisan-related ones?
Alft was founded in 1951, as a cooperative of artisan carpenters trained in the professional wood-working school that had been set up in the twenties in Francenigo (read more → Made in Italy by Alf da Fre The aim of this school was to teach a craft to a generation whose only other option would otherwise have been farming. In this way, a group of young carpenters came together with the aim of making furniture in a place that was starting to feel the drive of development after World War Two. In 1957, the two Piovesana brothers, my father and my uncle, took over the cooperative and decided to start up a business venture. Production requirements led these two entrepreneurs to immediately turn to the world of industry, where they were called on to combine serial manufacture, quantity and artisan origins. For the Piovesana brothers, turning to industry meant opening up to the possibility of new markets. The company started to grow rapidly and focused investments quickly led it to become an organisation able to satisfy the needs of foreign markets as well. Right from the beginning, Oliviero Piovesana was convinced that his company had to specialise in order to meet requests and suit different lifestyles. The idea was that of an international industry that on the one hand managed to maintain its knowhow, and on the other interpreted its product to suit different needs. It was this distinguishing feature that turned Alf into a leading industry on the international market. Another fundamental milestone was acquisition of Da Frè at the end of the eighties. Acquiring a company attentive to the relationship with craftsmanship and the cabinet-making tradition was a definitive confirmation of our matrix: being a high-performance industry, flexible and innovating, which at the same time continues to embrace all that is tailor-made.
Exports account for very high percentages of the Alf Group turnover, as it has for a while now enjoyed a strong presence on international markets with its furniture collections.To which and how many countries do you currently export, where are you most successful and how did this adventure start, one which other Italian companies have undertaken only recently?
Alf today distributes its collections in 80 countries worldwide. The foreign markets we work with the most are the United States, Europe and the Middle East. This adventure started in the seventies thanks to my father. Even then he thought it was a good idea to focus on different markets, even if he knew that it might have been difficult. And yet he managed to dialogue with various cultures, creating flexible collections that embodied the idea of Made in Italy and tradition and, at the same time, managed to suit lifestyles and functions on different kinds of markets.
In terms of furnishings, what does being an ambassador for Made in Italy around the world mean, and what does Made in Italy mean for you today?
Being ambassadors for Made in Italy around the world means, above all, exporting knowhow that is the result of combining an artisan culture and an organised, performing structure. This knowhow, inherent in Italian DNA, is the reason our products are so popular abroad.
What is the secret behind designing collections that satisfy the taste of cultures that are often very different?
It is very important to listen to others. This is one of the teachings that our founder has always suggested to all his collaborators: listening with a desire to learn. Knowing other cultures lets you satisfy functional and aesthetic needs that are different from our own, through our knowhow and our creativity. This implies being free, flexible and willing to change. Our technical office and our foreign sales offices work very hard to interpret and respond to the requirements of completely different cultures.
Your production is 100% Italian, proving that delocalising factories is not an obligatory step.What role does innovation play in industrial processes and how do you manage the hand-made aspect?
We have always looked abroad, but not in terms of delocalisation, which we see as a loss of identity. Our industrial process is in fact based on a fundamental artisan element, guaranteed by a production chain built over time that today sees the involvement of 70 specialist suppliers. Alf manages its industrial process, innovating and investing to ensure it is always on the cutting edge, able to satisfy the widest range of product requirements. Our suppliers accurately and specifically manage the artisan component, which is a must for us. This is why delocalisation is impossible for us. We are competitive because this is the focus of our investments. With Lotto1, our latest unit, we can produce entire collections made to measure at low costs. The needs of creative design become a production reality for us.
Interior design, lifestyle, atmosphere – these are keywords in Alf Group catalogues, which range from living areas to bedrooms through to kitchens.With the recent collection of dressers by Giulio Iacchetti, you would seem to have opened up a new path into signature design.Can you tell us about this new direction?
Our objective is to grow. Our company, today well established, reaches out all over the world. The natural step is to offer a product that tells our 65 years of industrial history, also from a creative point of view. The direction taken with Giulio Iacchetti is moving in this direction, using signature design to interpret the union of industry and craftsmanship.
Thanks to its rich catalogue, Alf Group can also provide services to contract and the hotel industry.Are these sectors that interest you, where you are already active?
Yes, we are already working in the contract and hotel sectors. This is a sector that we are developing with great interest, one that has always been an objective for Alf. Given our flexibility, it is our natural evolution.
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