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Benetton Talks About RFID Plans

In an exclusive interview with RFID Journal, Mauro Benetton explains why he launched an RFID company, why the Benetton Group ran afoul of privacy advocates and how the group plans to use RFID in the future.
By Bob Violino
Jun 22, 2003—June 23, 2003 - The Benetton Group is no stranger to controversy. The Italian apparel retailer, based in Treviso, Italy, has been known for advertising that raises eyebrows as well as sales. But the company was caught by off guard when privacy groups called for a boycott of Benetton products after Philips Semiconductors put out a press release saying it was supplying Benetton with 15 million chips for RFID tags to be used in the retailer's Sisley clothing line.
Mauro Benetton

Mauro Benetton has played a key role in Benetton's use of RFID. The elder son of founder Luciano Benetton is director of marketing for the group. He is also president of Lab ID, a two-year-old RFID systems integrator based in Bologna, Italy. The company developed handheld readers, tunnel readers and RFID tags that could be used by Benetton and other customers.

Mauro Benetton spoke to RFID Journal editor Mark Roberti last week about the Benetton Group's interest in RFID, why he founded Lab ID, the privacy controversy and much more. Here are excerpts from that exclusive interview:

RFID Journal: When did you get interested in RFID and why?
Benetton: That happened around four years ago. I was reading newspaper articles that talked about the power of this technology. It could benefit anyone, for sure, but I was thinking about the potential benefits it could bring to [the Benetton] group. I started doing research on the applications of this technology. I told Marco Astorri [a Benetton employee who is now Lab ID's executive VP] to invest more of their time to get deeper into it. There was nothing real at that time. There were a lot of articles talking about the technology, but [RFID] was more of a technology of the future. I said, let's see if we can make this real. Let's do something that will enable the company to introduce this technology.

RFID Journal: Why did you launch Lab ID? Why not just do it within Benetton?
Benetton: When you are part of a big company like Benetton, focused on apparel production and distribution, no one cares about other things like this technology. They want to buy it only once it's working. When I tried to explain to them what it was all about, they said they might utilize it when it was ready. That's why I did it on my own. I believe strongly in this technology. Also, I wanted to do something by myself.

RFID Journal: Are you the primary investor in Lab ID?
Benetton: Yes, I am.

RFID Journal: Has the Benetton Group invested in Lab ID?
Benetton: No, they are only testing the technology at the moment.

RFID Journal: How much have you invested in Lab ID?
Benetton: For all the research we've done over the past two years, we have spent more or less $2 million, plus the investment in the machinery, which is a lot.
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