Today began with a visit to Lineapelle, which is a sort of showroom and sharing experience for the Unic association of Italian tanneries. It allows for tanneries to display their products, share process developments, and ensure they are meeting the standards set by fellow tanneries and companies that work with leather products. The tanneries that pay for and make up this private nonprofit organization are mostly small, family-owned businesses of around 15 employees, leading to high levels of specialization. Besides learning of the incredible variety of leather and the differences between them based on treatment and animal type, I learned many interesting things to do with the sustainability of Italian leather. Almost all raw materials are imported to Italy. Over 99.5% of this raw material comes from cows, goats, and sheep already slaughtered for meat. Over 80% of the residue after creating leather is then sold to be used in other products. Due to this cyclical nature to the industry, where almost all of the product is natural and/or repurposed, this is an example of a cyclic economy of the sort we learned about in lecture a few days ago. Beyond this, 92% of water used in the tanning process is cleaned and returned to the environment, a stark contrast to the wastefulness of creating cotton jeans. Even better, leather industry takes special care to be entirely transparent to the customer, and therefore has serious regulations and requirements for treatment of animals before slaughter, method of death, and basically every stage of the process from birth of an animal to creation of a product such as a purse. This is to ensure ethical sustainability in common leathers like cows and sheep, but even more so to prevent extinction in more rare leathers like shark or ostrich. To avoid hurting rarer species, which make up less than 0.5% of the leather industry’s products, there are also natural leathers that are printed or cut to resemble the texture and coloration of a rarer skin. Just thinking about how varied and unique each type of hide and coloration and texture must be to work with, I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t enough time in the day to learn more about the process of treating the leather and making it the product we see on the shelves. I can imagine the intense chemistry and deep understanding required to perfect such a complex process and therefore can see why the smaller, specialized style of the Italian tanneries produces such high quality results. I also found it very interesting that this extensive industry in Italy acts very much like an intermediary, since it imports 90% of its raw materials and exports over 70% of its turnover. It’s for this reason that Italy can be described as a place of creation. Not only does it create design to be renowned for fashion, but also it takes the scraps from other countries and creates a product that others will want.
After a quick lunch at probably the best pasta place I have ever been to, we went to the the fashion library. (On the way we passed my featured photo, which has nothing to do with the day but was funny to me.) This library is technically part of a publishing company, and is therefore a private library where monthly or yearly membership requires a fee. It mainly serves as an archive of fashion history for designers and students since fashion is not old enough to have many academic books published on the topic. The occasional engineer will come in to research textiles and develop new weaves and textures, too. However, the building serves as a meeting place for the publisher’s clients to perform team-building exercises and promote their services to other clients. To me, this unique dynamic seemed fairly interesting since I didn’t yet understand the benefit of having clients that work with each other. This appeared to be something the company specifically appreciated and promoted so I asked about the benefits and discovered that it is stabilizing for the publishing company that their customers (particularly the advertisers that pay for ads in their magazines) work together.
We then traveled back to the hotel and attended a lecture by Velasca, an affordable men’s shoe-wear company. Since this company is focused on being affordable, it removes the middlemen that raise the price of an already more expensive product. However, this means that expanding and making their brand widely available requires marketing and expansion. This was our speaker’s specialty. She spoke generally of how old-fashioned marketing used to work and then quickly moved to present-day digital marketing. With a direct-to-consumer business model, online shopping provides easy accessibility to a far geographic area. However, it’s cheaper to attract new customers, especially in a market like shoes, with a store. During Q&A, I loved learning about the subtle differences in different kinds of online marketing and the balancing act that compares details and costs for stores such as locations and sizes to advertising costs online such as ads and demographic audiences. Overall, it was an engaging experience and I enjoyed chatting with her about the differences she noticed in a glance about how we Americans treat things like the weather and social media.
As you can see, today was a pretty busy day! I’m definitely ready for some time to relax and eat (more carbs probably) and perhaps explore the military festival Milan is hosting this weekend.