Before I went on this trip, I was a little worried that I let my desire to go to Italy trump the fact that “Fashion and Supply Chain Management” has nothing to do with my major. However, today, I was completely proved wrong. After another lovely breakfast at the hotel, we left for Universita Cattolica to attend a lecture on fashion management conducted by Ms. Francesca Romana Rinaldi, a bio-fashion blogger, expert in the traceability of the fashion industry, and professor of the “New Sustainable Fashion” class at the Milan Fashion Institute. I had no idea that fashion was so connected to sustainability. I was expecting to go into this lecture and learn about supply chains and business model, a topic that is very important but not super relevant to my major. I found her presentation enthralling as she spoke about the three P’s of sustainability (planet, people, and profit), and how each are required to reform the 2nd most polluted industry in the world behind oil. She also explained how several fashion business models worked and how sustainability can be applied to each of them. I found one example she gave us to be quite eye opening to just how truly damaged the industry is. I learned that to produce just one pair of jeans, ten thousand liters of water is needed just for the cotton cultivation and conservation. This doesn’t even include the washing of the jeans that occurs post-purchasing. This shows just how not sustainable cotton is; in addition to needing a huge amount of water, it likewise destroys the soil that it grows in because of all of the pesticides needed to harvest it. It destroys the biodiversity and fertility of a field. Clearly, this all falls under the “planet” part of sustainability, and cotton is also detrimental to the “people” aspect as the chemicals in the pesticides cause allergies and diseases within people. I learned that this is not something that can be overlooked as 40,000 people die each year because of their exposure to these chemicals.
I likewise found this lecture to be very interesting because Ms. Rinaldi talked to us about the day the Fashion Revolution Movement began. I learned that April 24, 2013 was a turning point for the fashion industry because a fashion building collapsed in Rana Plaza killing several people who were working inside the structure in very poor conditions. This fateful day brought about a movement I have a very strong interest in and created a new emphasis on tracability and ethical working conditions. I will now become a much more aware consumer and make sure that each proponent of the supply chain of each clothing item I buy is very visible and transparent. I think that this was a very important lecture for me to attend because it taught me that I need to help support the circular business model that several businesses are trying to adapt in order to replace the linear model, which is not sustainable. In the linear model, businesses tend to relay responsibility of a product onto the customer, whereas in the circular model, businesses know that clothes will be returned when they are no longer needed to be recycled.
The last thing that made this lecture fascinating to me was that she outright stated that environmental engineers (among whom I aspire to be after college) are needed to do life cycle assessments to determine the sustainability of certain materials. I had no idea that the fashion industry was so relevant to my major, so I now know that this was the perfect trip for me.
After this lecture, we had the opportunity to explore the Universita Cattolica with some of the students there. I explored the gorgeous campus, observed the Virgin Gardens (where only girls are allowed), and ate a delicious Italian lunch in their main dining hall. It was very interesting to talk to some of the students there and gain insight as to what it is like to be a college student in Italy. It seems very similar to my college experience in the United States, which is not what I was expecting.
We lastly attended the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology where were observed a myriad of different technological innovations that have developed over several centuries. It was very cool to compare what I know as a current engineer in training to what many historical brilliant engineers were doing in their time. I learned how Leonardo da Vinci made several significant improvements to technologies that were very underdeveloped in his day, among his many other contributions in different fields of study. My favorite exhibit included these very large, carefully engineered “animals” made completely of plastic pipes. These “animals” made by Theo Jansen were made to imitate the motions of humans walking and were carefully engineered to move with the wind. I was very intrigued by this seamless integration of art and science by both da Vinci and by Jansen because this aesthetic engineering is a skill I hope to master in the future. This museum trip likewise confirmed that the Plus3 Italy trip is the perfect trip for me!
One last note: I was so happy to write this blog in one of the many beautiful parks of Milan!