During our last few days in Italy, we had a guest presentation lecture at the Catholic University. Our presenter, Francesca, gave us a detailed presentation on both fast fashion and sustainability. During this presentation, I learned tons of valuable and important information that I would not have learned in my everyday education.
I was specifically interested in how fast fashion works because fast fashion is huge for people my age. We love shopping at Forever 21, H&M, and Zara to get reasonably priced clothes that are the most trendy and fashionable. I did not realize the huge process that goes behind it, and I was taken aback when I saw how quickly these fast fashion stores change merchandise. Francesca explained that for typical fashions from luxury brands, the design process goes back almost two years early! The colors are picked out and yarn is chosen two years in advance. A textile fair happens about six months later, then a fashion show about six months after that. The fashion show also happens about six months prior to the collection being released. This was incredible to me, because I had no clue that it took approximately two years for one collection. However, I ground out fast fashion companies do not take this long for their collections. Instead, they wait until the fashion shows and get “inspiration” from the styles and trends that may be big for the season. Because these companies are only sending merchandise to their own stores, they do not have to collect orders for distribution, but rather decide themselves what to send. They must risk by buying the textiles and they send their more trendy products to be manufactured close, such as in Spain and Portugal for Zara, and more basic items to areas like Asia. These companies are able to manage this risk by only sending a limited amount of each product to each of their stores. Not only does this create a high demand, it is also guaranteed that the products will be sold because there are not as many of them.
I also discovered the difference between luxury, designer, premium, and retailer brands. I had originally thought luxury and designer brands were the same, but a little more prestigious than the premium brands, which was completely wrong. There is a fairly distinct separation between the them. Luxury brands are timeless and have the highest vertical integration, and are buying upstream suppliers and producers for total vertical integration. They are iconic brands that will rarely ever leave. These companies include Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier. The designer brands are just a step below this, but these brands have “diffusion lines” that make the company more accessible for not as wealthy customers. They also have a fairly high level of vertical integration. These brands include Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Versace, Armani, and Valentino. The premium brands include North Face, Coach, and Diesel. While these brands are not “luxury,” they are still high end. These brands are known for their good cost to quality ratio and usually target their younger clients. This was intriguing to me, because I never knew the difference between the different brands.
I was also fascinated by the sustainability presentation. We dove into sustainability a lot during our freshman engineering conference paper, and so I was excited to hear about it from a fashion sense. I did not realize how much waste goes into making clothes- it takes 20,000 L of water to make every pair of jeans! 500,000-2 million poisoning accidents are reported yearly, and of that are 40,000 deaths. It was also interesting that Francesca confirmed that companies paint their facilities green to project the facade that they are “going green” without doing the work of becoming more eco-friendly. I was also fascinated that companies were looking for chemical engineers to help find more sustainable fabrics and they are even trying to create faux leather out of wine! This was exciting to me because this is a chemical engineering career that i would love to work in. Francesca also explained the things that can be done for companies to be more eco-friendly, an easy step that every company should and hopefully will do. This ranges from using vegetables to dye garments to using linen, which is 100% recyclable, instead of cotton, which is not. Even using organic cotton is a huge step as well! We can all work together to make companies more responsible for their sustainability in this world, and I think it is a step we should all be willing to take.
My travel experience to date has been incredible. When I had originally learned about the Plus3 program, I was nervous but excited of the opportunity this could bring. I filled out the application, and was shocked that I got picked. Italy was my first choice because I had always loved shopping and wanted to see what went behind the clothes I wore. I was also interested in Italy because my maternal grandfather was from Italy; in fact, my great grandfather made many trips from Italy by boat in the 1920s to bring my family over. I have to admit that I did not know too much about the Italian culture before I came. I knew what I had experienced from being around my Italian family, such as the value in food and family, as well as a big emphasis on Catholicism, but did not know about specific customs and practices that I discovered since coming here. The language barrier is extremely real, and I was not expecting such a difficult time communicating in smaller, locally owned Italian restaurants that we went into. However, I discovered some new Italian words and ways to communicate other than through words. We communicated with a man at a gelato shop through numbers and calendars, and even a common language of French and Spanish. This experience was fascinating to me, and I have an even greater appreciation for cultures aside from my own.