Thirty-two years ago, Brunello Cucinelli entered the fashion world with 30 cashmere sweaters and an admittedly bizarre message of luxury helping humanity. "I had a dream to make the life of my employees more dignified," he says. As his eponymous firm has grown into a $200 million business producing everything from ready-to-wear to accessories like this hand-stitched, water-resistant leather suitcase, he has stayed committed to that vision.
At first glance, it may be hard to understand how a $3,868 piece of luggage helps the world, until you realize that Cucinelli's business has been the saving grace of Solomeo, a village of fewer than 500 residents in central Italy. Cucinelli employs the majority of the town and keeps local button manufacturers and leather and cashmere providers in business. He lunches with his workers daily and commits 20% of company profits to humanitarian work. He has restored a medieval castle and built a community theater. And his philanthropy extends stateside; he's renovating a children's park on New York's Bleecker Street. "I want to embellish the world around me, and this way, my employees feel part of a project that won't last just three or five years, but 500 or 1,000 years," Cucinelli says. "I don't feel like the owner of Solomeo; I am just the custodian." brunellocucinelli.com
A version of this article appeared in the December 2010/January 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.