This is the story about how Delebio, a small village close to Lake Como, has become one of the world’s epicenters for the production of snowboarding equipment. Exactly here are the headquarters of Union Binding Company, a brand that produced bindings that has changed the concept of what could be described “only” as a technical piece of equipment without an identity.
Producing exclusively bindings since 2005, Union became highly specialized in this type of production (today the volume of sales data is close to 200 thousand pieces per year) clearly becoming an authority on the subject, but there’s more: thanks to the vision of the founder Martino Fumagalli, the brand introduced something unusual when talking about a piece of equipment such as a binding, which until then was marginal: creativity.
“The door of the company has always been open: anyone could come in and put an idea on the table.”
This is how historical collaborations were born, such as those with American rider Danny Kass, who put everything on the spoiler, from key rings with charms to a binding covered in velvet, up to graphics that are now legendary. But there’s even more: over the years there has been a collaboration with the beer brand Pabst Blue Ribbon (today on eBay one of those bindings can be worth up to 5000 dollars) and with KFC, a Japanese accessories brand that requested the production of purebred leather spoiler (another thing unthinkable today at the beginning of 2022), DDC, ASYMBOL, AIRBLASTER and many others.
“There’s this guy in Canada who collect them, he has got about 40 and still look for them anywhere in the world, if he can’t find them in China or Japan, he start pressuring our Seattle office! Some of these collaborations helped us take our company to the next level, in other cases we have helped other brands, because of the fact that we are distributed in more than 40 countries.” The strongest markets are clearly United States and Canada, now closely followed by Japan but, above all, by China where winter sports are really growing fast, instead in Europe lead markets are the ones of Germany, Austria, France and Italy.
Martino Fumagalli, who is one of the founder of Union, has over 30 years of experience in the world of snowboarding, and before starting the Binding Company he founded Drake and, later when he sold the brand in the late nineties, he worked for Northwave, where he met the current American partners. From there, the next step was the purchase of the board brand Capita and the creation of Union. “Our first binding has been the Force, and from there we started working mainly with the United States, which gave us a strong identity. The real big difference from the bindings used back then has been realizing a totally white product with a single logo, a minimal twist that was unprecedented at that time.”
Union has a factory in Delebio and owns one in China, but the beating heart of the company is Italian: the research and development department is located here. Here are the 3D printers for prototyping and here are carried out all the resistance tests for new products, here new materials are experimented and innovated: for example, Martino was responsible for introducing some details made in “Forged Carbon”.
“It is a material that Lamborghini and us started using first. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a beautiful story: we have our American offices in Seattle and one day I read in the Seattle Times an article about an experiment they were carrying out at the University of Seattle on carbon fibers and there was an Italian who was taking care of it, I called him and the next day we started collaborating. It is a beautiful material, maybe even too much for snowboarding, as it fits on 500.000 euro machines, but using it in snowboard bindings was a great challenge. Another product I’m particularly proud of is the new ULTRA model with a midsole very similar to the one used in running shoes: even the graphics are a bit reminiscent of some models, such as Hoka’s. But the thing I am most proud of is that all our bindings have always been faithful to the first model: there has always been an evolution, never a revolution. Our strength has been to combine style with technical know-how, and bring this combo on an international market.”
Both the factory in Delebio and the one in China were built with the aim of being carbon neutral thanks to a powerful system of solar panels, in addition, the factory in China concentrates all the independent suppliers in a single four-floored building. “It is a quite unique thing because there is no logistics and there are no costs or waste related to transport, there is a direct quality control.”
And what about raw materials?
“We have been working on packaging for next year in order to reduce it as much as possible: we have diminished the volume of a box by 30%. For the soft materials of some binding components, it is easier to use recycled fibers, but for the hard part it is difficult. At the moment we are experimenting with some “green” materials but first they must pass all the various tests to be introduced on the product and on the market, we’re almost there. The greenest thing of our products is essentially one: one of our bindings can last up to 10 years.”