MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Candeggio Valle Olona

From grass bleaching to bleach

Candeggio Valle Olona has its historic root in far off 1866, when Giovanni Pigni initiated his business bleaching fabrics for third parties in a small facility on the shore of the Olona River in Fagnano.

The technique he used was still the primitive one known as "grass bleaching", which consisted in using the bleaching action of the sun and of the oxygen left by grass on fields, onto which long pieces of wet cotton or linen were laid.

This business then continued with Giuseppe Pigni, a relative of Giovanni, and the latter's sons, Angelo and Gaspare, who in 1928 constituted the unregistered company, “Candeggio F.lli Pigni”.

With the transition from natural bleaching to that obtained through use of chemical additives like calcium chloride, the Pigni bleaching business began to take on the characteristics of early industrialisation.

After the night-time treatment carried out in special tubs filled with water from the Olona, the rolls of fabric were then laid out on rows of wooden poles.

During winter, they instead used an empty building, 20 metres high and heated with wood stoves, to hang the fabric to dry from the ceiling beams: the cloth was hung by workers, who carried it on their shoulders up steel ladders attached to the walls.

The businesses' clients were fabric sellers form Gallarate and Busto Arsizio, and the goods were delivered on a horse-drawn cart.

At the end of the 1930s, Giannino Pigni, son of Angelo and born in 1918, joined the family business, working alongside his cousin Carluccio, son of Gaspare and born in 1910.

When World War II broke out, he was called to arms, as were many of the ten to fifteen employees then working at the company. After 1943, he fled to Switzerland, where he met his future wife, Margherita Fahrni.

When the war ended, Giannino returned to Fagnano Olona and started working again as a bleacher, introducing an innovation that made some of the operations less laborious, such as the use of an electric motor to raise the piece in the dryer. Calcium chloride was replaced by sodium hypochlorite or bleach, a much more effective oxidant and still used today in this kind of industry. The cart used to transport the pieces was also replaced, by a Dodge truck left over from the war.


The founding and early development of Candeggio Valle Olona

Fiorentino Pigni, born in 1928 and brother of Giannino, with a diploma in textiles conferred in Como, joined the family business in 1946, working above all in the commercial area. In 1950 Giuseppe Pigni died, and his capital share was inherited by his son Gaspare Luigi, born in 1899. The years passed but the efforts of Giannino and Fiorentino, both employees, were never rewarded with inclusion in the family business: the “third generation”, at odds with the second, thus decided to open its own business, becoming the first generation of a new company. And so Candeggio Valle Olona was founded in 1957, registered the next year at the Chamber of Commerce of Varese as a sole proprietor business, owned by Fiorentino Pigni. Carluccio, although still young, died that same year. Candeggio F.lli Pigni, managed by people who were by then elderly, reduced its activity, then closing definitively in 1960.

Giannino Pigni then joined his brother's company, which transformed into an unregistered company. He had four children, out of which two males who would later, in the 1970s, take over leadership of the business: Claudio, born in Berna in 1950, and Adriano, born in Fagnano Olona in1957.

The new facility, equipped with bleaching tanks and automated drying systems, was no longer "downstream" but right in town, on Via Fornaci, far from the frequent and devastating flooding of the Olona, whose waters were for that matter increasingly polluted by the industrial waste of the numerous factories along the banks of the river. The increase of demand for fabrics for the home (from sheets to tablecloths) and the development of transport and communications translated into a strong increase in the quantity of fabric processed by Candeggio Valle Olona, whose clients included major national companies often operating in foreign markets.

In 1966, the businesses' activity extended to finishing, or rather processing aimed toward improving the appearance and properties of fabrics and yarn. In 1968, the unregistered company became the general partnership “Candeggio Valle Olona dei F.lli Pigni Giannino e Fiorentino”. The first drying machine arrived at the end of the decade, a voluminous machine used to automatically dry and fix the wet fabric coming from the bleaching tanks.


The development of finishing

With the increase in orders, each one of which could involve considerable quantities of fabric to be treated, in the early 1970s the business introduced a continuous production cycle divided into three work shifts. This did not include, as for that matter had always happened in the past as well, the intermediate stamping phase, between bleaching and finishing, which was done by external companies.

More due to his father's wish than for personal vocation, Adriano Pigni, before completing his diploma in chemistry, began working in the family business, while his brother Claudio led the life of a university student.

The latter, graduating in political science, was however the first to become a part of the business apparatus, in 1976, followed the next year by his brother Adriano.

In 1979, a new facility was opened in the nearby municipality of Cairate, in Bolladello, dedicated entirely to finishing operations (sizing, raising, calendering, etc.), which gave the printed fabrics the qualities requested by the clients. For its management, the limited partnership Finissaggio confezioni tessuti di Claudio Pigni & C was created, with Claudio as full partner and Giannino, Fiorentino and Adriano as limited partners Claudio's financial skill complemented Adriano's technical and commercial skill, the latter finding a "mentor" in his uncle Fiorentino.

In that same year, the business built a few apartments for its workers. In 1982, Candeggio Valle Olona, with 36 employees, became a corporation, of which Fiorentino Pigni became director, a post he would hold until 2009.

At the end of the decade, they built a large biological purification plant capable of treating 1500 square metres daily of refluent water coming from the bleaching tanks.


From bleach to plastic

At the end of the 1990s, the two Pigni companies, which between bleaching and finishing employed between 50 workers and occupied more than 20 thousand square metres of covered surface, comprised a dynamic, modern industrial business.

They had the most advanced machinery for continuous production, large spaces for stocking the partly-finished goods coming in and going out and a fast and efficient logistical system.

The numbers are those of a small-to-medium sized business that produces on a large scale: more than 3 million metres of bleached fabric (cotton, polyester, rayon) every week in the Fagnano Olona facility, meanwhile the site of other interventions toward the reduction of environmental impact (energy savings, equipment to destroy industrial fumes).

A sizable investment was also made, in 1995, in the purchase of a new dryer with sophisticated electronic and computerised devices.

The commitment of Claudio, administrative director and director of relationships with credit institutions, and Adriano, commercial director, increased still further in 1996, when the "family" added a third business, Fimas srl, with premises in Fagnano Olona and working in the plastic materials branch.

The new business was put under the leadership of cousin Alberto Pigni, born in 1972, graduated in economics and son of Fiorentino, who despite his advanced age continued to be interested in the activity of the "group".

The decision to invest in an industrial sector completely different than the original one derived from a desire to put the company to the test in new entrepreneurial challenges and to wisely use its financial, cognitive and relational resources, accumulated over a long history of success. But it was also dictated by the need to respond to the crisis of the bleaching industry, which after having reached its historic high in 2000, began a progressive and relentless decline.

This was due to competition coming from companies in Asian countries, especially Pakistan, which "whiten" fabrics at substantially lower costs.

When Giannino Pigni died in 2002, Candeggio Valle Olona had by then entered a phase of productive recession that would continue in the years to come.

In 2011, the company was enrolled in the Register of historic enterprises, which was created by Unioncamere as a way to honour the various centuries-old companies present throughout the Italian territory.

Today the company employees 15 workers and treats a quantity of fabric much lower than in 2000. The finishing crisis has been more contained, an area by now producing for the market and not only for the parent company. But the Pigni are making plans for other opportunities, which might one day involve the future generation.