Lanificio Leo (wool factory) imperfection as a value

Culture as a strategic entrepreneurial lever

At 770 meters above sea level, sweetly located in the valley guarded by Mount Reventino, the village of Soveria Mannelli houses one of the accesses to the Sila Mount, between the provinces of Catanzaro and Cosenza. A whole world under a microscope, a strong territory with irregular geography, where peace and rural simplicity are a comfort to the soul.

In harmony with the landscape of a generous Calabria, Lanificio Leo (wool factory) intertwines its life with that of the inhabitants of the area, their ancient habits, and their industriousness. Emilio Salvatore Leo, architect and owner of Lanificio Leo, takes me on a journey back in time to the Italian Nineteenth Century.

After Goldsmith art of Abruzzo another article for Borghi Magazine, the magazine of the villages and territories, the charm of hidden Italy.

The wool potential market in Calabria

Emilio’s great-grandfather understood that there could be a potential market in this territory: a cold rural area, unheated houses, the woolen clothing necessary to survive the climate, the massive presence of Gentili sheep (merinos type), breeds that until the 1970s were predominant in Italy.

Leo, who had seen the plants built by the Bourbons in the Salerno area in the first half of the 19th century, decided, with an entrepreneurial spirit, to build the first industrial wool processing plant in Calabria. A real economy of scale in the territory. The parallel is that with the oil mills: abundant raw material, almost the entire community exploits this resource and someone provides a mechanical service for production.

A great industrial reality that lives only in the territory and for the territory

You can almost see the herdsmen arriving with wool, waiting for the transformation inside the factory and bringing back home the thread to produce their own. Sometimes someone leaves the wool and takes a semi-finished product, a blanket, a bit of fabric to sew and pays the difference. A great industrial reality that lives only in the territory and for the territory.

A closed market that doesn’t need exportation. Lanificio Leo is a large industrial reality in Calabria, with a plant of more than 1000 square meters and almost fifty workers: a small FIAT Calabrese, with a siren that marks the time for the whole village.

“A small FIAT Calabrese, with a siren that marks the time for the whole village."

Emilio Salvatore Leo

Lanificio Leo, imperfection as a value

Culture as a strategic entrepreneurial lever

Then the world changes. In the ’50s and ’60s in the area of the Sila we had countless realities that could give rise to an industrial district. But the central government chose the sheep breeds for the dairy industry, giving priority to the Sardinian breed, a sheep with good milk quality and lower wool quality. The advent of new goods, the increased spending capacity, the lack of education and management did the rest.

In the 1970s, Lanificio Leo, a long-established company with more than 100 years story, reduced production to zero and retired the last workers. The company never really closed down until Emilio’s father, Peppino (now 96 years old) took over the building and machinery from the rest of the family and launched an SOS.

The agglomeration of nineteenth-century scrap metal

Emilio Salvatore Leo is an only child: Emilio was the name of his grandfather, Salvatore the one who identifies him: nomen omen say the Latins. He studies architecture and instead of going away he realizes that the agglomeration of nineteenth-century scrap metal, those fascinating machines that still work, are an industrial heritage to be valorized. The foundation of the company is a great value for all, a value to start from

Lanificio Leo, culture as a strategic entrepreneurial lever

Culture as a strategic entrepreneurial lever to bring the factory back to the center of attention of the territory. The cultural mechanism works: the conditions are created to get the company back on its feet. In 2008 Emilio Salvatore Leo started a small production using, for some processing, the old machines. The others cannot be used (due to the current legislation) and become part of a beautiful museum.

Lanificio Leo, using its storytelling as a marketing tool, has gone from a territorial product to a beautiful brand history. The history of Lanificio Leo and Calabria travel the world. If they hadn’t started like this, there would have been no story to tell because numbers, unfortunately, come before dreams.

"Revolution must take place in people's heads"

Emilio Salvatore Leo

Lanificio Leo, imperfection as a value

Culture as a strategic entrepreneurial lever

And for such a sector, mortified by globalization, by the increasingly performing low-cost fabrics, by the total absence of a regulatory strategy and of a protection of the territory (as in other countries such as the UK), it would have been the end.

Today the Leo wool mill is a beautiful reality with 5 stores in some major tourist areas of Calabria, including the airport of Lamezia Terme, where 70% of the whole production is sold. The remaining percentage goes to the rest of the peninsula and to Europe. Ten people work in the Lanificio between production and distribution. Lanificio Leo uses the 1930s machinery and the Turin-based Coppo knitwear machines, which were popular until the 1970s.

Lanificio Leo uses the 1930s machinery

The design of the collections is coordinated by Emilio Leo. In some cases, internationally renowned designers are involved, who make a real experience of the territory: they live in Calabria, breathing the air and giving wonderful examples of cultural contamination.

Plaids, blankets, mats, curtains, table furniture, knitwear, all collected in a catalog focusing on the concept instead of on the color of the season, and where history and timeless elegance coexist: resuming the value of the traditions of the territory with durable products, not status quo products!

Internationally renowned designers are involved

We live in a social context where a bourgeoisie, alas, culturally globalized, prefers to spend on mass and branded products. If the territories woke up, the turnover of companies like Lanificio Leo could increase and invest. To be “not too far away” still costs a lot.

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Gallery: Lanificio Leo, imperfection as a value