This article was produced in association with Kask and KOO.
Full disclosure: the courtship required for this interview with Angelo Gotti, the founder of both KASK and KOO, has been going on for years. By nature, Gotti is a reserved person and prefers to focus more on work than on interviews.
There is a proverb in the local dialect that accurately describes this quality, so typical of the people of Bergamo: “Carater de la rassa bergamasca: fiàma de rar ma sóta la sèndér brasca”. In English, it would go something like this: “The character of the Bergamaschi people is rarely inflamed, but beneath the ashes, hot embers burn.” The popular old aphorism not only perfectly describes Gotti, but also his uniquely twinned brands.
Begun just 19 years ago, in March 2004, they achieved a remarkable turnover of €65 million last year. Impressive for two brands still in their teenage years. Due to a somewhat quirky accent that’s less musical when compared to other Italian dialects like Romanesco, Florentine, or Neapolitan, the Bergamaschi are often described as introverted individuals in Italian popular culture, people who don’t like to be in the spotlight but who, in the long run, distinguish themselves with their great steadfastness and pragmatism.
I meet Gotti at the KASK headquarters, alongside his general manager, Diego Zambon. He fits the Bergamasco template perfectly: reserved, modest, dependable, pragmatic. And it’s just not me saying this, his professional history speaks volumes.
The offices are located in a squareshaped building, situated where the plains meet the Alps, in Chiuduno, a small town to the east of Bergamo. To the south: the Po Valley, its industrial zones broken up with alternating fields of corn, cereals, and soybeans. To the north: vineyards on hillsides, producing excellent Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Valcalepio Rosso wines.
We find ourselves in a large room that serves as both a showroom and a meeting space at the same time. Every area I come across in this building is dedicated to function over form, and white is the dominant colour on the walls and furniture. Gotti is in good spirits, happy to talk.
Angelo, if you were telling your own story, where would you start?
Angelo Gotti: From the beginning. I started working at 16, in a company that produced helmets of all kinds. There, I went through all the typical phases of an apprentice starting from scratch, the same path that everyone takes. I did various things: assistant, warehouse worker, general worker, driver... Basically, I took on lots of roles and tried to learn as quickly as I could. After that, I started working in the technical office, or rather, I had to build it from scratch because it didn’t yet exist.
Are you passionate about technology and engineering?
AG: Very much so, I always have been. Paying close attention to technical aspects and small details has always been a personal passion of mine. I ended up being the first head of the technical office at that company, where I worked for 16 years. But I had a personal ambition to start my own business and try a different path.
In what way?
AG: I worked as a consultant in the development and design of helmets, mostly focusing on moulds and prototype development. My job involved overseeing every stage of the product’s design and development, including certification, which is very important in the helmet world. Nowadays, in cycling, we often talk about things like aerodynamics and technical performance, but we mustn’t forget that helmets are first and foremost a safety product. Between 2002 and 2004, I worked as a consultant for several companies. Then, in 2004, I founded KASK, beginning with offering product assembly services to the companies I had previously collaborated with. During those years, everything I did was on behalf of third parties. KASK didn’t have its own products yet, or any branding.
That was the same time that helmets became compulsory in professional racing, around 2003?
AG: Exactly. The UCI’s decision to make helmets mandatory in races indirectly led amateurs and, more generally, anyone who rode a bike, to become more aware of safety and personal protection. At that point, the helmet became an essential accessory for cycling.
Was that when your adventure with team sponsorships in professional cycling began?
AG: We started making helmets under the KASK brand in 2006. We never sought sponsorships with pro teams just to help sales, as many of our competitors were doing at the time. Pretty quickly we’d recognised the value of feedback from athletes when it came to designing new and better products. That was our motivation. We partnered with Barloworld. The sports directors Claudio Corti and Valerio Tebaldi are both Bergamaschi; they live nearby. In particular, we’d started working on a time trial helmet, and there was a close rapport with promising young riders like Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, who were living and training around here at the time. We used to meet them often, or speak on the phone to find out how the prototypes they were testing were performing.
Then Sky came along...
Diego Zambon: The first direct contact happened thanks to Chris Froome. Today, just calling a champion of his calibre on the phone seems unreal but that’s how it happened. He introduced me to Dave Brailsford and gave me his phone number. It all happened very quickly. We met a few days after the first phone call right here in our headquarters. I remember it was a Friday. The following Wednesday, the Head of Technical Partnership for Team Sky, Carsten Jeppesen, was already here in our technical office, and 10 days later, we were at the Manchester velodrome for the first tests with the team and the riders.
Was Sky’s approach different from other professional teams?
DZ: At that time, the British were at the cutting edge of cycling research. For us, working with Sky meant having access to a wealth of data, information, and facilities like wind tunnels, research centres, and universities that we could never have accessed without that partnership.
AG: From that first meeting with Brailsford, I mainly remember the feeling of being in the company of someone who was used to achieving goals. It was a very technical meeting, very pragmatic, and we only talked about working methods and the joint goals we could achieve together. As far as I can remember, money was never mentioned. They were looking for a technological partner to develop products based on their studies and years of research data. On our part, we were looking for a team to conduct serious research, not just visibility. It was the perfect partnership.
What was it that struck you the most about Dave Brailsford?
AG: He had extremely clear ideas. He and his team knew that they had the skills and the knowledge base necessary to develop a new generation of equipment. They just needed a technical partner who was capable of using that data to produce what they needed. They weren’t just looking for a way to collect some money from a partner, they were looking for ways to turn their athletes into winners. Sky came into pro cycling with revolutionary ideas and a totally unique approach. For starters, it was the only cycling team to be wholly sponsored by a company from outside of cycling. And being a broadcaster, they had great media visibility from the beginning. That also meant great visibility for our products. With Sky, we were able to make an important leap forward in terms of quality, by combining our expertise with theirs. Brailsford had been Performance Director of British Cycling for a long time before becoming Team Principal of Team Sky, so he had a great network of collaborators, contacts, companies, and experts in various fields, which he shared with us.
Image: Getty Images
SHORT TAIL, INTEGRATED LENS – THE BAMBINO
It’s 8 May, 2010. Team Sky is at the start of the Giro d’Italia in Amsterdam, and Bradley Wiggins is wearing the first maglia rosa at the end of the race’s opening 8.4km prologue. His win came thanks, in part, to a revolutionary aero helmet, born from the mind and the hands of Angelo Gotti.
“We called it Bambino because for us, the birth of the product was like giving birth to a child,” Gotti says with a laugh. “At the team presentation on 4 January, 2010,” Zambon continues, “we still hadn’t signed a contract. It didn’t come until March, when the riders had already been racing and using our products for a few months. We were all so focused on developing new products, and so motivated to achieve the technical goals we had set, that both we and Sky almost forgot to formalise our partnership.”
Was that victory at the Giro special?
AG: At that time, that helmet was truly revolutionary. Before the Bambino aero helmets always had a long tail. But we’d designed it based on extensive research and data collected in the wind tunnel. So rather than doing what everyone else was doing, we developed a new product with completely different characteristics. It was all based on the specific needs, cycling position and the physical shape of Bradley Wiggins. The team’s approach, the philosophy of marginal gains, allowed us to question everything, even things that the industry took as certainties. But for us, innovation is always about safety, comfort, and measurable improvements; that’s the only way we believe we can be credible.
How important are manual skills and an expert eye today? All those qualities that we often call ‘soft skills’, and with the advent of artificial intelligence, too often downplay?
AG: For a helmet, the prototype development phase is crucial. And to make a prototype, proper craftsmanship is essential. It’s human experience, rider feedback, and the skills of the prototype maker that allow us to improve. Sometimes we’ll even draw ideas from products designed for different purposes. For example, the Bambino helmet began as a reimagined idea of a ski helmet, which integrated a protective lens.
DZ: The Bambino was the first helmet to integrate a visor fixed with magnets. The curvature of the lens matches the upper part of the helmet, allowing the wearer to use the helmet with or without the visor, without losing it. That’s a big advantage for triathletes, for example, who can decide at the last moment which solution works best for the race in front of them.
Is the human factor in the development of products like helmets and eyewear very important?
AG: Computers can’t tell us what’s comfortable or convenient. That’s something that only human experience and understanding can explain. When it comes to things like safety, aerodynamics, or thermodynamics, computers are obviously a great help, but with things like comfort, craftsmanship, and aesthetics, the human touch is irreplaceable. That which enables an athlete to achieve peak performance, but also allows an amateur rider to feel comfortable in a particular helmet or pair of glasses, is feeling. Knowing and having used many different products is essential to finding innovative solutions.
From cycling helmets to eyewear, what is the common thread?
DZ: KASK operates in the field of protective wear, not just in sport but also in the workplace. Our expertise in optics comes from that sector. With KOO (an acronym for Kask Optics), we aimed to transfer that know-how and experience from the realm of workplace safety to sports. KASK’s mission is to protect the person from the neck up.
What makes KOO eyewear unique?
DZ: Several factors. Firstly, we design them to be used with and without our helmets. They also offer a superior level of protection. And the quality of our Zeiss lenses, which can be photochromic as well as being anti-fog, and resistant to external agents and grease. We will also focus heavily on sports prescription lenses.
Before we finish, I have one last question for Angelo regarding the human aspect of his successful entrepreneurial journey. Angelo, what kind of adventure has it been to get to where you are now?
AG: I’ve spent most of my energy continuously innovating and working, I’ve never had much time to think about what I’ve achieved. Maybe we haven’t even properly enjoyed the milestones that we’ve accomplished over the years, which is a bit of a shame. It all happened so quickly. We’re a company that doesn’t mess around with words. For us, safety is important, and innovation means working hard to find technological solutions that bring tangible benefits to the wearer. This commitment has absorbed us completely.
Speaking with Angelo and Diego, it’s clear that every product or project of KASK and KOO reflects this philosophy: Every helmet and each pair of glasses must represent, in some useful and discernible way, the reasons it was built. The design of everything, and the feelings it will engender, must aim for a concrete result. They’re a steadfast and strong-willed bunch, these Bergamaschi.