Today we went back to the Catholic University of Milan to hear a presentation on sustainability in the fashion industry. Our presentation was interesting, containing a lot of information I did not know about the world of fashion and fashion sustainability. One thing that stood out to me was the difference between fashion and luxury goods. Fashion is something that comes and goes; it is not necessarily about quality but trends. Luxury is all about quality goods that are made to last. Luxury goods can be fashionable and trendy, but they don’t necessarily have to. Likewise, fashionable goods can be luxurious, but they don’t necessarily have to. Another thing that I found interesting in the presentation was the difference between retailers, premium industrial brands, designer brands, and luxury brands. Before the presentation, I kind of mixed all the brands together and divided them by price point instead of the major driving forces of creativity, quality, and production size, which also play a huge role in the classification of these brands. In reality, though, there is a huge difference between all of these types of brands. Luxury brands are concerned about creating products with the best quality and most prestige and exclusivity. Designer brands are driven by the designers and are focused mainly on creativity. Premium industrial brands are heavily focused on the brand image and are more affordable than the luxury and designer brands but are still quite pricy. Retailers are all about being fashionable and accessible in price. I find the categorization of these brands interesting because they are evaluated in ways I never would have thought of. When I looked at brands before the presentation, and honestly before this entire trip, I had no idea how these products were being made. I didn’t know there was a good reason shoes cost 300 euros or a knit sweater cost 5oo euros besides the fact that a famous brand was written on the tag, but I was completely wrong. My favorite brands in the world of fashion are designer brands because they allow for the most creativity. There is nothing like seeing the seemingly impossible visions of Valentino somehow materialize into a magical fabric creation on the catwalk of New York fashion week. The sky is the limit in the world of fashion, especially for the designer brands.
Francesca talked to us for a while about fast fashion, which I knew about somewhat already, but I did learn some new things about the fast fashion business model. For example, she said that the average cycle for a luxury fashion brand is about 9 months and the average cycle for fast fashion companies like Zara and H&M takes only 1 month before products are in the stores to buy. That shocks me because deciding on pieces to feature and how much to supply, even in small batches, seems like it should take longer to implement; nonetheless fast fashion companies get it done. Another thing that I learned from the presentation was that it takes 20,000 of kiloliters of water to product just one pair of jeans! To think that I alone have caused hundreds of thousands of kiloliters of water to be used just to create the jeans I have worn in my life is hard to comprehend. That stat is something that I find hard to believe, but it makes me really think about the impact all of my clothes have had on the environment during their creation process.
Some of the things that companies have been doing to keep up sustainability that I did not know about are engineering innovative recycled materials. I find it very interesting that wine can be used to make leather, as that is something that seems very impossible to me. Nonetheless, I am interested to see where these innovative sustainable practices will take us in the future. As companies continue to push for bigger profits, I will become a more socially responsible customer by pushing them to keep moving forward by supporting businesses that run more sustainable production processes.
There is a lot that can be done not only by the designer labels to implement sustainabiliy into their fashion materials, but also other components of the supply chain such as cotton farmers, warehouse distributors, etc., to all find ways to make their part of the supply chain as eco-friendly as possible. This is not just on the designers or shareholders. Sustainability is on the manufacturers, wholesalers, raw materials supplies, and customers to take action.
After the presentation, we reunited with our friends from the University and had lunch with them. I got to talk some more with them about some of our cultural similarities and differences, and they showed me around campus. After we left Catholic we explored the Armani Museum and then went for dinner in the Brera district. Italy has been a tremendous experience so far, and I’m looking forward to our last day in this beautiful land.