Diego Della Valle, the owner and chairman of Tod’s, was born into a humble and hardworking family of shoemakers in post-war Italy and saw his father’s work pay off in the 1960s as his shoes became fashionable items in America.
After working with his father for several years, he launched a second brand of shoes in the 1970s, a soft-soled moccasin with a distinctive rubber-nub sole called J. P. Tod’s that quietly became a high-quality, low-key status item until the 1990s, when Tod’s exploded. Under Della Valle’s direction, Tod’s now encompasses brands, Hogan, Fay, Schiaparelli, and Roger Vivier. He also owns Serie A football club ACF Fiorentina, where his brother Andrea served as chairman, and has stakes in some of Italy’s most influential companies, together with funding productions at La Scala in Milan and the restoration of the Colloseum in Rome.
Alongside the philanthropic causes which he is deeply committed to, Diego Della Valle is focusing on what used to be considered luxury’s essence, quality manufacturing, amongst other things. From understanding how to take advantage of the sweeping technological disruption of the luxury industry, to building a futuristic factory in the tiny hamlet of Casette d’Ete, the key to his success is being a man who’s always been about the people, the people who work for him and his close friends and family. Known for his business acumen, and despite having achieved something like sopra-hero status in Italy, Della Valle still desires the one thing that everyone who has got it all needs, time to enjoy it.
He talks to us about this, together with other topics during an exclusive chat while in Dubai to present the opening of the new Tod’s boutique in the Dubai Mall extension, where an exclusive collection of women and men iconic Gommino loafers were created in celebration, taking colour inspiration from the famous hues of the seven UAE sands.
Tell us what challenges you are facing today?
If you don’t change the strategy you don’t have any problems. Now what we want to do is use our story but add more creativity and sense of life, but without losing our DNA. We are balancing between tradition and quality, as day by day we can lose the quality to marketing and creativity, and maintaining our quality is paramount as it is a pillar in our DNA.
In your opinion what are the important pillars for sustaining the success of a brand?
For many years it was step by step, but now everything has changed with the advances of technology. Things are moving faster, and we need to change our strategy to keep up with this fast speed. I think that we are in a new era and we are working to embrace that.
What are your thoughts on co-branding?
We do work on partnerships with other brands, and we are looking towards a collaboration with a special designer. We would plan for possibly two collaborations a season, which is very interesting as the customer loves the additional products and it is also a strong marketing movement of these times.
What are the prerequisites that you look for when choosing the right partner for collaboration?
Having the same feeling and passion, but what we also love is creativity, as when the partner starts collaborating it is possible for them to do what they want.
To what extent is philanthropy important today?
I think that for businessmen like us we have a responsibility to give back a part of our power, finance, and attention to others, especially for the future.
It is only natural for us and for our family to give back with these initiatives. First you need to do it because you like to do it, secondly because it is important, and finally because people love to know that a company, which creates luxury products, is sharing its profits with their future.
Tell us about the relationship between Tod’s and the Middle East?
More or less, it is a long-term relationship as many of our Middle East customers have been with us for years, whether they were shopping in London, Milan, or St Tropez. Now we are here with a boutique in the region where we are able to offer more, which is very important as the elegant community of the Middle East is key for Tod’s.
Can you share with us your thoughts on customisation, and how important it is becoming for your customer?
It is important for the relation between brand and customer, together with the limited-edition aspect. People love something special and individual, which is why we have created the exclusive seven sands collection of Gommino loafers, taking colour inspiration from the famous hues of the seven UAE sands.
What is the main message that Tod’s is projecting this year?
Generally, the message is about taking a sense of light life. We make products that are sometimes not indispensable, which will at one point give you a happy moment. People are looking for the experience and the story that they are learning, investing in moments and feelings.
Can you share with us a life lesson that you have learnt and would like to share with young Entrepreneurs?
We have to always remember the important and crucial things in life like the sense of honour and sense of duties. This is the basis of life across all people rich or poor since if you have those qualities then you are very strong in the true meaning of strength. It is important that when you are in the real game of business to keep your human qualities and don’t think that being aggressive is a sign of success and strength.
You also need to have a dream and then push a lot and work hard to capture it, as everything is possible to be achieved. Again, There is no need to be aggressive, just be determined.
What is something that you would still like to achieve?
Free time, as all my life I have been involved in business, day by day, seven days a week. I would like a day without an agenda!
Where do you like to spend your free time?
There is more than one, but I do love Capri and also Miami.
When you wake up in the morning what do you tell yourself?
I have a daily morning ritual when am home at Le Marche, an eastern Italian region where also our headquarters is based, where I sit in my garden for 5 minutes reflecting.
I don’t say anything, but I just reassure myself that even if I do something that isn’t perfect, it will be ok. I also think a lot about the people around me and my family.
What do you hate in life?
How would you like the world to remember you?
As a funny guy!
What is your vision for the Tod’s group moving forward?
I think that we are having a special moment in our business, facing a lot of opportunities. We have brands with a lot of potential, and although the market is aggressive we have strong products. It is like the second half of a football game. We need to do everything precisely in these next steps, and we will have an incredible chance.
How would you define Tod’s?