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Women in the chocolate factory: the history of Zàini in Milan

A long story, full of great women

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Zàini is an industrial company with a long family history behind it. A story similar to that of many other large Italian companies that, thanks to the commitment of entire generations through the most unpredictable aspects of history, have managed to make their name flourish and grow to become true households in the world of historical commercial activities.

A long story that of Zàini, we were saying, and, above all, a story studded with women. Female figures who, thanks to their strength and resourcefulness, establishing lasting relationships of mutual trust both with the staff and with the clients, have made a monument out of their work, demonstrating what goals can be achieved when a will of iron joins a great sense of humanity.

Already at the time of its birth, more than a hundred years ago, back in 1913, Luigi Zàini’s successful enterprise boasted a staff composed almost for his half of women. Twenty-eight, against the thirty-two men. The tasks that the female employees were responsible for were the most delicate: they were employed in the wrapping department, that is, those responsible for what we now call packaging; while other female workers were essential in the gums and jams department.

The sector of the industry that dealt with the packaging was fundamental. The packages were the face with which the chocolates and candies signed by Zàini presented themselves to the world. And the workers were responsible for it, taking care to raise even more the high quality standards of the company that became recognizable by the care with which each product was packaged and advertised, thanks to the intervention of the most famous graphic designers of the time.

But the company’s history is still long and there is the figure of a woman, one of the first Italian women entrepreneurs, who is destined to make history: Olga Torri. Luigi Zaini married her in the mid-20s. She was a kind and very elegant woman but she hid behind a cordial smile and the charm of a dame from another era, an iron will that led her to take over the company when her husband passed away in 1938. For all the 40s packs of sweets, candies and chocolates became more and more refined, taking on delicate Art Nouveau patterns.

Olga Zaini led the company founded by her husband for almost twenty years: a company that had grown and flourished over time, entering the daily lives of many thousands of people across the country. The lady had an apartment built in the large courtyard of her factory, to bring together the house and the business and facilitate the management of both, and entrusted the four sons to the indispensable nanny Emilia, who together with the cook, the housekeeper and the four scions of the Zàini household, spent her days experimenting with new desserts in his home kitchen.

Emilia was the name that Olga Zaini gave to the already famous block of dark chocolate, part of Zaini’s fortune, which until then had been called “Block”, an extraordinary chocolate made in order to be melted without milk, as it was and to be used in desserts. That the choice of Olga Zaini, to rename the “Block” of fondant with the name “Emilia” had been dictated by a sense of gratitude towards the lady who had taken care of her four children, is more than evident. With the economic boom of the 50s, the block of chocolate Emilia became a permanent presence in the pantries of millions of Italian kitchens.

After the Second World War, the factory, completely destroyed, saw a new light thanks to Olga, who involved in the reconstruction work all the workers of the factory, to guarantee everyone a stable salary. In 1955, when the company was re-established, Olga Zàini gave the command to her two sons, Pietro and Vittorio, who sailed it towards the twenty-first century. In the ’90s, the son and daughter of Vittorio Zàini, Luigi and Antonella, took over the family business and founded in 2013, in honor of the patriarch Luigi, the Zàini Milano chocolate shop, in via de’ Cristoforis, the same street where 100 years first the first factory was built.

Even today the Zàini company cares about women, thanks to the project “The new women of cocoa” that supports the cocoa farmers of the Ivory Coast, with the construction of a factory of craft soaps where the household processes of soap production were modernized, giving these women the opportunity to become more autonomous economically and socially.

We talked with Dr. Antonella Zàini, a woman of the third generation Zaini, engaged in the family business, to ask her some questions.

What was the role of women in the life of the family factory?

The women in Zaini, in the factory but not only there, have always been in the majority, both for the need to have staff with good dexterity and for a cultural factor, the company, which has always recognized the merit and respected the work of its employees regardless of “gender”. As in any other company, especially in previous decades, the top figures were not feminine, but the influence of my grandmother has been strongly felt and we still feel it now, just think that our Head of Chocolate Department is a woman as well as two of her three shift supervisors.

How did the female sensitivity of Olga and her collaborators affect the production and packaging of Zaini products?

My grandmother was certainly a person of good taste and a certain elegance always hovered in the departments. As you can see from the vintage photos, the female workers are always in a white coat, but each one of them has its own style, more sober than cheeky. This sensitivity to beauty was also reflected in the graphics, which in those days were masterpieces, for which we were consulting external illustrators.

The figure of the family nanny, Emilia, has survived in one of your most iconic products. What other women protagonists of family life at Zaini have left their mark over the years?

If we talk about leaving a sign, I would say that only my grandmother left it. Otherwise we are a very private family!

And how do you see the Zaini woman of the future?

In our factories, women are making space for themselves even in the departments of greater responsibility, I would like one day to see a woman at the head of the plants or the commercial management. For the rest, both my brother, who is at the helm of the company, and me only had sons!

Thank you very much from the editorial staff of Flawless Milano!


Editor’s note: This article is proudly sponsored by Luigi Zaini S.p.A. and promoted by Flawless Milano. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make Flawless Milano possible. 


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