Don’t rule out lesser-celebrated cities as a base for your business. You need room to experiment and expand. And though the capital of Piedmont might have lain in the shadow of Milan, it is now proving to be a bright spot for entrepreneurs.
Creative types crave space. That’s what automotive designer Lowie Vermeersch was after when, in 2011, he came across a sprawling factory space sitting idle in Turin. In need of a headquarters for his new creative consultancy, the Belgian had considered his options – among them a move to Milan, with its formidable reputation as a design hub. The choice came down to two factors: affordability and, more importantly, quality of life.
“A space of this size would have cost me double in Milan,” says Vermeersch of his decision to base his start-up Granstudio in a huge structure once home to a business making brakes for the Fiat 500. “Then you have to consider how you want to spend your free time. Here you have a beautiful city centre and in five minutes you are in the hills surrounded by countryside; skiing is just over an hour away.”
Though Italy’s version of the Motor City had been in decline, with layoffs at Fiat in the 1980s and factory closures in the 1990s, other possibilities arose as industrial activity ceded ground. Hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics spurred a flurry of construction, including the building of Turin’s first metro line. In 2007 businessman Oscar Farinetti inaugurated the first Eataly supermarket selling high-quality Italian food in an abandoned vermouth factory in front of Fiat’s former base.
“There’s something incomplete about the city. For creatives, that’s a great draw”
The move to a post-industrial economy is best seen in neighbourhoods such as Barriera di Milano, which is home to Vermeersch’s Granstudio. The area is less frenetic than Milan: street parking is easier to find here and the telltale signs of gentrification are less of a concern. That’s what makes Turin appealing, says Barbara Villanova, art director at creative agency Bellissimo. “There’s still a feeling of something incomplete about the city. For creatives, that’s a great draw,” she says. Villanova and her colleagues also enjoy the collection of rivers that flow in Turin: rowers, joggers and cyclists can get a spot of exercise by day and venture out for a waterfront aperitivo at night. There is also easy access to some of the country’s most fêted vintners. “We have the [wine regions] Langhe and Monferrato on our doorstep and the sea in Liguria is within easy reach.”
Some might consider Italy’s first capital more provincial than Milan but quality-of-life metrics published by financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore show Turin gaining ground on its Lombard rival. It’s no surprise to Milanese native Stefano Testa, architect and co-founder of Leap Factory, a firm that sells prefabricated modular homes, including for mountains and extreme climates. “You have more greenery around you,” he says. “And if you need to go for a meeting, the high-speed train is a convenient 50-minute trip.”
At Cingomma, which makes belts, shoes, bags and other accessories using recycled bicycle tyres, co-founders Maurizio Sacco enjoys a large office and workshop within Docks Dora, a century-old warehouse. Inside, Sacco has built a makeshift climbing wall, which he uses to unwind when not sewing the soles of the brand’s popular Friulane slippers. “We have room to grow here, which for a young brand is vital,” adds Sacco’s colleague Monica Rofa. “That’s what Turin can offer. It gives you oxygen to grow.”