Inside Dainese: A chat with CEO Cristiano Silei

We talk Space and industry exploration with Dainese's very own superhero...

Inside Dainese: A chat with CEO Cristiano Silei

WITH more than 40 years of industry-leading innovation under its back-protector belt, Dainese could be forgiven for being a bit big for its armoured leather boots. But that is far from the case it seems, with CEO Cristiano Silei believing the brand to still have a long way to go in terms of personal protective equipment.

We caught up with the 49-year-old, who moved across from Ducati three years ago, at the launch of Dainese’s new Archivio.

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Cristiano, how have the last three years at Dainese been?

It’s been amazing, I am so happy here, it’s an amazing company.

So you joined at a similar time to the beginning of plans for the Archivio?

Yes, the Archivio has been in progress for almost 3 years. We’ve been talking about it since the day I arrived – it was Lino’s idea. I was super happy to give all the support he needs.

And Dainese has never had anything showcasing their heritage like this before?

I don’t think there’s anything like this in the industry. It’s industry leading, like Dainese has always been, and ideally we will continue to be. We are very proud of it. Basically Lino Dainese has invented a big chunk of this industry and every single innovation in motorcycle safety – after the helmet comes from Dainese. From the back protector to the composite gloves and the sliders, the aerodynamic hump, the airbag, it all comes from Dainese. Not everybody knows that, so I think this is a wonderful way to tell the story behind Dainese and AGV, the other brand of the family.

Do you think the Archivio will grow as the brand grows?

We don’t have much space for it to grow, so what it will do is continue to evolve. The Archivio is a living thing. It’s not a museum, that’s why we don’t call it museum, it’s called the Archivio and as you grow the Archivio continues to evolve and show whatever’s going on with the company.

Do you think it will receive a lot of interest?

We just went public about it recently and we’ll open to the public on 27th July. I think lots of people are going to come and see it and we’ll also organise as much diffusion of the concept as possible – especially working with universities. One of our intentions behind this is to get younger people interested in motorcycling and in everything we do. There’s a laboratory right here, which is intended for students when they come to visit from university to experiment in research and development and with all the things that we do.

So does Dainese have an internship program?

Not as such, but Dainese hires plenty of people from university. It’s all about nurturing young talent – just as we do in sport. Nurturing talent is one of our key missions.

Awesome. And how many suits are there in the Archivio?

There are over 500 suits in archive, but we actually have many more. There’s well above a thousand just in Molvena, which is the original headquarters.

How were they chosen?

Lino selected them based on the historic relevance - if you go through them you’ll see the who’s who of motorcycle history. They were selected with the intent to tell the story of our contribution to motorcycling.

Do you have a personal favourite item?

Some of the stuff in there is important due to its historical relevance. But to me, conceptually I think anything that relates to Space gives the sense of the direction we’re taking the company, which is that we are animated about the belief that the human potential is almost limitless, and our intent in general is that of enabling that potential.

So our research goes in all sorts of different directions and thanks to our experience and different feels and the understanding of ergonomics and the needs of the human body in different conditions, we are somewhat accompanying humanity in its constant, never ending research and pushing back of whatever the limit is.

So if you ask what my favourite piece is, I’d say one of the space suits would be my personal favourite.

One of the suits has actually been to space – the European space agency one with Thomas Pasquet. It’s been to space actually twice – first with a Norwegian astronaut in 2015 and then last year with the Proxima mission, with Thomas Pasquet.

So what’s next with the Dainese space programme?

We’ll see what’s needed. Obviously we’re not the leading party there but whatever is needed we’ll be there to support.

And personally, where do you see the brand going?

I think the brand is limitless, I really believe so.

With all this innovation, is Dainese expanding?

Absolutely, we’ve hired over 150 employees in the last 3 years, revenue is consistently growing double digits, and we doubled our profitability – we’re constantly growing.

In total, there are about 800 employees at Dainese, with over 100 in the R&D department. Between Tunisia, Molvena and elsewhere we have about 350 making helmets, protection and suits – this is only part of the production – and we have global suppliers for other sporting items.

How is profitability split between different sports?

Right now motorcycling is the vast majority of our business, but skiing now is going very well, we have relaunched the collections and our focus there in the future will be growing more than proportionately

Skiing could be important and then we have our other ideas as well.

Will it overtake biking?

It will grow faster obviously; we’re big in motorcycling before skiing so we still have time. I think Dainese is much more than a motorcycle brand. It’s a brand that is there to walk side by side with the rest of us, enabling our potential.

Have you looked at any other areas? You’ve done space, how about deep sea diving?

We haven’t considered deep sea diving, but why not, eventually.

But we have plenty right now to develop so we are focussing on those – especially skiing, horseback riding and cycling.

As you’re opening up your heritage to the public, are there any plans to make your production process more accessible?

We will make it easier for people to come and visit the headquarters in Molvena so they get a sense of how people work there, how the suits are custom made and the craftsmanship that goes behind it, I think that is the next stop.

I recently spoke to Dainese’s Racing Director, Marco Pastore, and he mentioned that Dainese is developing an off-road motorcycling airbag?

We like to look at everything, I’m not going to tell you the future, otherwise it gets spoilt.

How important do you think the airbag is?

I think the airbag technology is as fundamental as the helmet is, so eventually one day as regulations evolve I think people should not ride their motorcycles without the proper protection and as now helmets are mandatory, one day it will be the same with other protection devices. This is a trend that’s already happening, for example in France riding gloves are now mandatory. Eventually riding shoes and boots and I think eventually one day nobody would consider leaving the house to go for a ride without the proper little airbag.

Will sensors on motorcycles be standard in future and are you partnering with any other motorcycle manufacturers?

It’s a possibility. I think it’s a possibility. We are open to partnerships.

Would you say the airbag is as important an evolution to motorcycling as the helmet was?

Well I wouldn’t be able to compare as obviously helmets protect the head – the centre of operations…

I wouldn’t say it’s as important as the helmet, but it’s much more revolutionary, because it’s an intelligent garment. Because the helmet is not intelligent. Ideally what’s inside the helmet is. The helmet is just a shell around a part of your body, while the airbag system is an intelligent system that knows whether to operate or not. So I think it’s more revolutionary as a concept than the helmet per say.

And tell me about the Safety Jacket?

It’s a jacket for workers who work at heights. We’re working with ENEL, the national electricity company, and they have equipped a number of the workers with this.

Is Dainese working in education of young people to raise awareness of wearing protective equipment?

I think it’s super important to raise awareness, especially because when we are younger we don’t think about consequences of what we do, or we think less about that than the fun or excitement that we get from stuff we like, whether it’s riding motorcycles or other equally dangerous endeavours. I think it’s important that we consistently pass the concept that protecting yourself is not nerdish behaviour, actually not doing that is pretty stupid, you know, anyone that understands motorcycling, especially the professional riders they understand that you would never ride a motorcycle without protection, it makes no sense, it’s not intelligent. The more you know about that, the more aware you are, the more you want to have the best gear – not just any protection. There’s protection and protection, you know you want to have the right protection.

And Dainese is seen as a very cool brand  - is brand image something you’re focussing on?

We don’t work much on the image because I think the image needs to reflect the reality, I think we work very hard on the products and all the technology. And design is clearly one of the most important things that we focus on always. Traditionally you see that from this place, to get a sense of how important design is for Dainese, so not just for the products.

For us neither form or function comes first. Form highlights function for Dainese.

And finally, it goes without saying but would you consider Dainese to have revolutionised sporting safety?

Definitely, we’re at the forefront of the industry. Anything that was to be invented has been invented by Dainese. It’s not just that we are at the forefront of the industry, we have defined the industry and we will continue to do so, at least to our best.