Luxury Fashion and Sustainability, Day 12

This morning we once again visited the Cattolica University to hear an academic lecture from a professor named Francesca Romano Rinaldi. Among the things she discussed were business structures for fashion companies luxurious and standard as well as sustainability practices at all levels of the fashion supply chain. What I found most interesting from the presentation was how fast fashion completely revolutionized the timeline of the fashion industry. I was also fascinated as an engineer by the different ways companies are answering the call to sustainability in innovative but environmentally-conscious ways. Finally, I would like to discuss how Italy has affected my view of fashion and my perception of traveling as a whole.

To better understand how fast fashion revolutionized the industry, it is important to first understand the conventional timeline of fashion trends. Normally, the colors, textures, and styles of a summer trend will be agreed upon by experts two years ahead of time. For the next eighteen months, stylizing and production may take place. Six months before the release date, the clothing is shown on the catwalk. In fast fashion, companies don’t plan so far ahead of the season. Instead they watch the catwalks and respond to trends in the six months before the line is released. The shorter timeframe is why the system is called “fast fashion.” Production of the clothing must take place in close proximity to the designers so they can monitor the process and answer issues along the production line quickly. The risk of this system is that the clothes fast fashion companies produce may not even be popular, in which case the upfront investment on production would be a waste. Thus fast fashion companies manufacture only small batches to psychologically trick customers into buying the clothes, because it seems the clothing will sell out quickly. This psychological trick, called the scarcity effect, is what fascinates me because the creation of demand within the consumer is done under their awareness. Things like this show me I am never done learning about the business of fashion.

One surprising thing we learned today was that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, right after oil. To curb the polluting byproducts of fashion manufacturing, the United Nations has encouraged all textile companies to become significantly more sustainable by the year 2030. What was fascinating to me was the innovative ways large fashion companies are finding to meet sustainability criteria. Patagonia, which Professor Rinaldi claimed was the most environmentally conscious company, is using organic cotton and has introduced a fabric recycling program. Customers can return their old Patagonia clothing, which will then get integrated into the new products. Stella McCartney has made all her clothing lines vegan, using no animal products or byproducts such as leather, because animals use more resources and energy than plants, being higher on the food chain. Zara has taken another approach, not necessarily changing the production of their clothing, but has gotten all of their retail store Platinum LEED certified, meaning they meet high standards for water and energy conservation. While conservation is important on the retail side of the supply chain, I think every company needs to make special efforts to make the manufacturing of their product more sustainable since this where most resources are used.
Meetings like the one we had today at the Universita Cattolica and yesterday’s meeting with Velasca have changed my opinions of fashion and of Italy. Before coming to Italy, I was not interested in the fashion business. I thought catwalks were vain and worrying about luxury brands was a waste of time. I decided to come to Plus 3 Italy because I wanted to learn more about the supply chain of clothing that I might wear. Meetings with Velasca and the Scuola del Cuoio showed me this and also showed me that Italian companies can be both traditional and modern. However, my biggest change of opinion concerned the luxury brands. Though I still feel than many of these clothes are impractical and horrifyingly ugly, I now appreciate the complex but differing business models behind them. The complexities of marketing to a specific audience and using psychological tricks are subjects I never expected to pique my interest. This is why traveling and experiencing new cultures is important, you never know what you will enjoy.

Though it was the most academic day we have had so far in Milan, I learned how the biggest names in fashion produce their outrageous lines of clothing. I also learned unusually yet innovative ways fashion production companies are striving to meet the UN mandate of sustainability by the year 2030. Though I did not expect to appreciate this business, our business visits have exposed me to new subjects, changing my idea of fashion and world travel.

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