Fashion and Sustainability Lecture: A Day in Milan

This morning we attended a lecture at Cattolica University, our host university in Milan. The lecture was taught by Professor Francesca Ronaldinho, a faculty member who also teaches at Bocconi University. Both Cattolica and Bocconi are member universities of the Milan Fashion Institute. Our lecture today centered around both fashion business models and sustainability in the fashion industry.

One interesting topic today was on the difference between fashion and luxury and how they can overlap. Fashion focuses on trends and seasons. What is in fashion is always in flux. Luxury centers around timelessness and exclusivity. Luxury styles are typically more classic and timeless. When you combine luxury and fashion you end up at the idea of luxury brands. Luxury brands are centered around providing very expensive quality items. Often their items come with luxury services to maintain them. Also luxury brands have a large amount of vertical integration because their brand is centered around providing a quality product that justifies their high retail prices. Designer brands are similar to luxury brands excepting the fact that luxury brands look to provide a timeless product where as designer brands look to provide a quality product fitting the current trends. Premium brands are the step in between luxury and retail brands. They are a quality product with a strong brand, but they are more affordable and accessible than a luxury brand. Finally we have retail brands. Retail brands have greatly influenced the fashion industry through adopting the fast fashion production model. Fast fashion is centered around using runway designs as inspiration and bringing these designs to through production and to the stores within two to six months depending. Luxury designers spend about three years prior to a runway show building and planning the products they will create for the season. Because fast fashion cuts out these steps and instead uses current trends it is able to have a much faster production time, however it could not do this without the trends from designer fashion lines. Despite this consumers of luxury and designer fashion are asking for faster production times from these companies.

Another topic we touched upon was the idea of sustainability in fashion. Today we were informed that the fashion industry causes the second largest amount of damage to the planet of any industry. In first place is the oil industry. Because of this the UN established Sustainable Development Goals. This would apply to many types of organizations including the fashion industry. These goals introduced the topic of sustainability on a worldwide scale. There is now a movement to move to a triple bottom line approach to business with those bottom lines being people, planet, and of course profit. A few companies in the fashion industry have made big moves to develop an environmentally friendly and sustainable approach to fashion. One such pioneer is the company Patagonia. Patagonia has worked hard to account for as much as possible of their supply chain. They also create garments out of recycled polyester and will recycle your garments after you are done with them if you bring them back to their stores. In a way polyester can be much more sustainable than even organic cotton because cotton only has one use whereas polyester can be recycled. A large reason for the switch towards sustainable fashion is due to the demand of the consumers and potential employees. The younger generations are more aware of the need for sustainability and so they look for companies that share their values when they shop of search for employment. This has caused some companies to create sustainability plans to be enacted by 2030. The problem is that this has also inspired “green-washing” in some companies. This is the appearance of being environmentally friendly even if the practices are only superficially helpful or the company still has much more of a negative impact on the environment than a positive one. Companies who participate in green-washing are missing the point of sustainable practices and should be implored to do more to reduce their environmental impact. Generally there is still much to be done in terms of making fashion more sustainable. Fortunately there are players in the fashion industry who want to move towards more sustainable practices and inspire change in the industry as a whole.

Fashion is an industry that is much larger and more influential than people might expect. Trends in the behaviors of fashion consumers reflect changes in consumers as a whole. Conversely the fashion industry can be largely influenced by current events and the state of the world. It is fascinating to see how much the fashion industry has the ability to affect change. I hope that key players in the fashion industry are able to move the industry as a whole towards more sustainable practices. This change may influence other industry to move to more sustainable practices as well and have a positive impact on the world.

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