On our second day here in Italy, we took a trip towards the main part of Milan, specifically to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall and the Brera district, to see what we could learn about the fashion industry that the city is so known for.
For context, the Galleria, as it is colloquially known, is home to multiple high end luxury brand retailers, including Louis Vuitton, Versace, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, and Prada. These were the kinds of retailers that it seemed that if you had to ask the price of something you liked, it was probably too expensive for you to afford. With the rent for storefront in the Galleria being as high as 8 million euros, it is no wonder that these types of stores were the only ones present. The Galleria seemed to cater towards a more youthful, high class clientele looking to splurge on high fashion, as these were the only people we saw actually holding shopping bags apart from others who were merely looking at these prestigious brands. In terms of their positions within a supply chain, those housed in the Galleria are strictly for retail to customers, as no actual production of the brands clothes actually occurs within the storefronts of the Galleria. These stores would be components of a more horizontally integrated supply chain, as just one step of these companies’ supply chains are housed within these storefronts. Because of this, customizability was low for these retailers, outside of different colors they may offer for certain products, meaning that to some extent, customers took what was offered to them. What with many of the articles of clothing in these stores being, though with quality of course, mass produced, it seems that some of the clientele for these big-name retailers could be buying these clothes more for the brand than anything else. With little knowledge in high fashion, and without a wallet large enough to pay for any one article of clothing in these stores, the Galleria would have felt like the most foreign place I had ever been to even if it were housed in the U.S..
The businesses that we visited in the Brera district seemed much more down to earth than some of the more esoteric retailers in the Galleria. Our first visit was to the store of a master purse maker, whose last name I caught as Gravi, for which the store is named. This storefront was located on an ordinary street in the Brera district, and if the grate was covering the storefront as it was when we first arrived, you would never have guessed what was housed within. Inside was a mildly cramped front, where the purse maker actually sold his products. This was well and nice, but the real magic of this business was in the back of the store, where Gravi’s workshop was located. Here Gravi showed us how he constructed purses out of the pieces of leather he buys, accepting custom orders from his clientele, allowing them to control the purse’s material, color, and design. With Gravi doing both production and sales of his products in one space, this store could be seen as taking up a large portion of the supply chain for Gravi’s business. The clientele out in the storefront seemed to be slightly older than that of the customers at the Galleria, with some stretching into elderly territory. This seemed to speak to me that these people were slightly less concerned with the brand name of the clothes they wore, and possibly more about their quality instead. With the immense amount of customizability that Gravi offered, I felt the customers of this store were looking for a more unique look, with a bag that nobody else in the world conceivably possessed, which I feel I can relate to to some extent.
The second business we visited, named If Bags, also subscribed to this concept of the customer being able to essentially create their own bag. If offered bags that could be described as high end, leather drawstring bags, with customers being able to choose their bag such as the color of leather, type of accent material, and color of rope used. While the bags aren’t produced from scratch in the store as they were in Gravi, these decisions for customization could be made instore, representing a sort of middle ground between Gravi and the stores housed within the Galleria in terms of how its supply chain worked. If is a fairly young business, just starting out in 2012, and it caters to a similarly young clientele, with customers probably consisting of those around a college student’s age. With enough money to afford them, these sorts of bags look to be right up an active young person’s alley.
In visiting all three of these places of business, I found that the players of the fashion industry don’t come in just one form. They can all have different business models, and methods of production and distribution, and while may be more well known, multiple kinds of businesses in the fashion industry can be successful, so long as they produce quality products. For an industry that is sometimes viewed as extremely exclusive and cutthroat, this aspect of fashion is much more inclusive than I would have ever originally believed. With today done, I am looking forward to learning more about this industry and the people who work in it. As always, I’ll keep you posted!
Title Image: A wall of high end drawstring bags at IF Bags
Below: One of Gravi’s own handmade bags