Fashion & Sustainability

                This morning we took the metro to Cattolica Univeristy, where we had an intriguing presentation about fashion business models and sustainability in the fashion industry by Professor Francesca Romana Rinaldi. She was very knowledgeable, and even wrote a book on the topic called The Responsible Fashion Company.

                One of the first things we learned about was the difference between fashion and luxury. I found this interesting because I originally thought the terms could be used interchangeably. Fashion has seasons and trends. In recent years, seasons have been losing meaning because customers are traveling from the north to the south so weather changes quicker than the seasons do. To battle this, companies are starting to reconstruct by doing months opposed to seasons. Trends on the other hand are becoming faster and bigger. Fast fashion is also becoming more popular. Clothing stores such as Zara and H&M are fast fashion companies. This strategy uses what they see on catwalks for inspiration to produce products. They then buy the clothes in advance and get their clothes in a month or less to start selling opposed to waiting 6-9 months. Fast fashion is risky though: the companies do not necessarily know what clothes they will be receiving and oversee their own distribution. To reduce risks of not being able to sell clothing, they only order small batches of production. For example, Zara may only purchase 10 products of each model at every store. As a customer, you won’t wait to buy it in case it runs out. The scarcity effect makes fast fashion more attractive to consumers.

                Luxury on the other hand is a completely different industry. Companies with luxury products focus on timelessness, heritage, and exclusivity. Their products are directed towards rich individuals and usually include watches, jewelry, cosmetics, leather goods, writing instruments, and more. Luxury brands include Gucci, Cartier, and Bulgari. There tend to be few products and long production processes. In the last ten years luxury brands have been extending their product lines and going from prestige to mass production to make some products more accessible to different consumers.

                Before today, I thought that brands like Gucci, Prada, Coach, etc. were all “designer” brands. Today I learned that there are different brand models which I thought was very interesting. Each model has different goals and each brand fits in depending on their values and their products. The brand business models include luxury (which I described above), designer, premium industrial brands, and retail. Designer brands each have a specific designer and grow through product line extension. They focus on prestige, image of the designer, name, quality, and seasonal product fashion. These brands include Valentino, Prada, Versace, and Armani. Today we visited the Armani museum, and I could see these values reflected in his amazing work. Next are premium brands, which include brands such as Diesel, Coach, Gant, The North Face, and Max and Mara. These are considered the “in between” brands that focus on brand image, good price/good quality ratio, service, and time-to-market. A lot of these brands started as family businesses but have become publicly marketed in recent years. The last is retail, which includes stores that usually promote fast fashion like Zara, H&M, and Gap.

                Next, we learned about sustainability and corporate social responsibility. This was interesting because sustainability is becoming more and more relevant. For example, I am very familiar with the brand Patagonia in the United States and its goals. In the presentation, she brought up how Patagonia is the leading player in sustainability in the US. Because this is a company that I have bought products from, it was interesting to learn about it. They argue that profits are not enough, and take the triple bottom line approach, which is finding the right balance between people, profits, and planet. Increasingly, companies are picking up on the sustainability trend, but some only do so to attract customers. “Green washing” is the process of just painting the surface green. Companies will not do too much to change sustainability, but will make those changes very public to make it obvious to consumers.

                I was also intrigued and saddened to learn about the true cost of cotton. Chemicals and pesticides are used, which lead to chemical accidents and even death. An estimated 40,000 people die every year in the cotton industry, mostly in India. It also wastes an extreme amount of water. To put it blatantly, fashion is not sustainable (but it could be). The use of organic and natural fibers, vegetable dyeing, green certifications, and more could all help the environment. It was also interesting when she brought up Stella McCartney because we just saw some of her designs at MF1 yesterday. Stella is inspired by vegan principles, and does not use any real fur or leather. Speaking of leather, there is discussion of whether or not the switch could be made from animal to leather. This really caught my attention because I can’t even think of how they would do that! It also makes me wonder about how it would affect the animal leather industry. For companies such as the Leather School that use only animal skin, wine leather would definitely be a source of competition for them.

                As the trip draws to a close, I have taken some time to reflect on my experience and my current attitudes and beliefs towards travel. I have been to Europe once before on a high school trip to France. I do not think I appreciated that trip as much as this one because I did not take time to learn as I went or immerse myself in the culture. I have really enjoyed traveling with a large group of peers and have made many new friends that I hope to stay in contact with throughout college. I have also learned A LOT. The company and site visits have all been extremely interesting to me. My two personal favorites so far have been the Leather School and the Tailoring Company. I chose to come to this country because of personal interest and curiosity. My parents have been to Italy and it has always been a place I’ve dreamed about going to. This trip exceeded my expectations! I also wanted to learn about the fashion industry in Italy, which I did. My interest has been sparked and I am even thinking about joining the Fashion Business Club in the fall. Before being selected for this program, I did not know a lot about Italy’s culture other than they loved food. The pre-trip meetings really helped to prepare me for the culture as well as what to expect for the professional background of Italy. I have learned so much and had such an enjoyable time that I am going to seriously consider studying abroad in Milan in the future.

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