I can’t believe Plus 3 is almost over! Our third last day in this magical country started out with a panel from employees of the Consorzio della Moda, which is the Verona Consortium. This company brings together 48 membering small business clothing producers to give them an international network they would otherwise not have access to. In order to become a member of this consortium, a company must pay a quota and a basic membership fee, and then they are given access to a larger market as well as some training and project workshops offered through the consortium. In addition to the 48 companies that are officially members, the Verona Consortium has a much larger global network that has merchandising and production companies, so they really cover all ends of the supply chain.
One thing that stood out to me was how smart it would be for entrepreneurs in Verona to become a part of this consortium. In the Veneto region, there are 9500 small businesses in fashion with about 10 employees per company. Because many companies formed after WWII and have been family run ever since, mismanagement is quite common. Joining the consortium can provide these companies the organization and connections that they need to expand their businesses while maintaining their status as a small company. This consortium relies on the concept of strength in numbers; although all of the companies are small, they can collectively create a large network to gain access to larger markets on a global scope.
One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until this panel was that all of the members of the consortium are competitors with each other. It makes sense because they are all vying for profit in the same notoriously competitive industry, and there is no contract or agreement within the consortium that protects each company’s intellectual property. It is hard to determine what to protect in the fashion industry because everyone copies each other and builds each upon each other’s ideas. This was a very surprising concept for me to grasp at first because it seems like there should at least be a weak agreement between the companies, but it does make sense because there is nothing that you really can protect in this industry. This really brings up the concept of “co-opetition”, which is a combination of cooperation and competition. The companies are competitors with each other but must cooperate because together, they can both advance their own business endeavors.
I found it very interesting that the one underlying connection between the companies in the consortium is that their production must occur in Verona, which goes along with their “Verona Vale” initiative. This initiative creates a focus on promoting the Verona brand in all aspects of business. “Vale” means value, so it is essentially trying to generate a reputation in Verona as having strong businesses. When most people (including me) come to Verona, the only thing they know about it is that it is where Romeo and Juliet takes place; the only image of Verona people picture is that described by William Shakespeare, despite the fact that he never actually visited Verona. Essentially, this initiative is trying to make people feel as if they have discovered a hidden gem when in Italy when they come here. If Verona gains this kind of reputation, then the fashion companies within the consortium will be regarded much more highly, which will certainly increase business.
All in all, I think today was one of the most interesting company visits for me even though it had virtually nothing to do with engineering. I came on this trip to learn a lot more about business, a field I am heavily underexposed to even though it is essential for when I am launched in the real world. I could be the best engineer in the world, and it would mean nothing if I had no idea how to present my services or be a smart entrepreneur. Today, I learned a lot about how companies must operate and how they must partner up to benefit themselves, which is knowledge I will value when I graduate. In addition, I was able to have a strong finish to one of the most overlooked and gorgeous cities in all of Italy. I can easily say that I had an extremely successful day in Italy and have truly discovered the Verona Vale!