Day 12: Sustainability Rules

Today we had the opportunity to hear a lecture at Cattolica University by Francesca Romana Rinaldi on the subject of sustainability in the fashion industry. Learning about this topic in our pre-departure classes was a good introduction to the wealth of information presented today. The lecture was very informative and enhanced my understanding of fashion and sustainability issues and how they impact business models, which is something that I had not considered before.

Rinaldi explained in detail how the fast-moving fashion industry has inherent issues regarding sustainability.  There is a distinction between fast fashion and luxury. Fast fashion is produced in one month for retail stores like H&M and Zara, instead of six to nine months for luxury brands. From the moment that fast fashion orders are placed and then produced and distributed, the supply chain process has become faster and more condensed. Customer demands and habits have increased the rate and volume of production and use of raw materials around the globe. This is largely because the industry is now structured by months instead of the four seasons in response to customers’ buying habits. Currently, frequent shoppers purchase items with mindset of, “buy now because it won’t be here if I wait.”  By accommodating this demand, producers of fast fashion risk more because they handle the entire product distribution.

What I found to be most interesting is that though I was aware of a few of the differences in brand characteristics, I did not realize the distinct differences between categories.  There is a broad range in the fashion industry beyond fast fashion; Luxury, Masstige, Designer, and Premium brands. Luxury brands are exclusive products such as Gucci and Hermes. They have a high level of status associated with them, are generally classic instead of trendy, and are typically for the ultra-rich. These brands may take three years to complete a line from beginning to end. They carry a high value proposition (promise of excellent quality) to the customer and they are highly vertically integrated.  Masstige brands are a downward extension of a more exclusive brand that makes their products more affordable to the “masses”. Gucci, Hermes, and other companies have launched connections to extend their brands more. Designer brands tend to create quality clothing that are in line with current trends. Designers like Armani, Versace, and Prada are associated with this branding level. Premium brands are retail brands that generally create a strong image by producing a quality product with a focus on quality service for both customers and retailers.  These include brands such as Coach and North Face.

The rapidly growing industry has caused a chain reaction of events environmentally, socially, and financially forcing companies to change their business models in response to economies which have evolved from being linear to circular. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, is  leading the way to consciously respond to sustainability issues by implementing new and better standards based on the key concepts of “Reuse, Recycle, Repair, and Reimagine.” In response to the United Nations establishment of the “17  Sustainable Development Goals,” other companies have plans for incorporating sustainability into their business models as well. The areas of focus include gender equality, poverty, and clean energy – with the goal of making the world a better place. Over 193 UN member states and the global civil society have endorsed these 17 goals and are committed to transforming our world.

I agree that there is a significant need to address sustainability because in order to protect and  preserve the earth for generations to come, more environmentally conscious ways of production and distribution are necessary. It is also important to find ways to make longer lasting, recycled clothing since the amount of waste in the fashion industry is so high. Patagonia has the right idea by using recycled polyester in their product lines and it would be a significant step in the right direction if other brands followed the same innovative path. Often times, poor working environments and conditions due to irresponsible clothing production harms communities, water-ways, and other resources. Jobs, personal incomes, and lives are lost as a result of the damaging effects of dyes and pesticides on the environment in industries such as cotton farming and fishing.  This preventable aftermath of production is intolerable and increased awareness and action needs to occur.

After visiting with the ESN students, we got a tour of the Armani Museum, and went back to see the Duomo again. Tomorrow is our last full day here in Milan and we will be visiting Linea Pelle before we have the rest of the day to further explore Milan.


|| Alaina All’Estero – “Alaina Abroad” ||

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