From digitalisation to inclusiveness: how the fashion business is evolving

The economic data of the Italian fashion industry for the first half of this year 2022 – from textiles to clothing, from leather goods to footwear to accessories – show a sector that is clearly recovering. It will rise from around 83 billion in 2021 to almost 92 billion in 2022, as announced by Carlo Capasa, President of the National Chamber for Italian Fashion. 

Turnover growth in the first half of 2022, again according to data from the National Chamber of Fashion, was significant, rising by 25%, making it the highest in the last twenty years. This increase is of course also due to the increase in prices – which reverberates throughout the supply chain – caused by the energy crisis, a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

The same positive trend is also reflected in the foreign market, which is paying more and more attention to Made in Italy creations, characterized not only by the quality and choice of fabrics but also by the perfection of the finishing touches by master craftsmen trained in Italian fashion schools and academies

To discover the new trends in the fashion industry, we met Giuliana Baldo Chiaron, Program Director of  the Master in Fashion Management  at the Rome Business School, who told us:

“We can certainly say that Italian fashion is approaching the pre-covid years. The crisis linked to the health emergency and lockdowns are a memory, as confirmed by studies by the National Chamber of Fashion, the Altagamma Foundation and reports by Mediobanca and McKinsey, among others. However, the year-end figures predict a slowdown due to the energy situation, especially if no measures are taken to curb inflation. But the recent catwalks of Milan Fashion Week gave us a grand return of Italian fashion: presentations, vernissages, shows, and what is most exciting, we admired the quality and evocative power of the brands, while keeping an eye on sustainability. 

I am thinking of the creations of Giorgio Armani, my favourite designer and always the most visionary, who received a prestigious award at the end of September at La Scala Theatre in Milan, on the occasion of the awards evening for his commitment to sustainability, organised by the Italian Chamber of Fashion. But this past summer, Rome was also the undisputed protagonist of the great fashion houses: from Valentino to Biagiotti, the eternal city thrilled with events that brought back memories of the splendours of the Dolce Vita, an eclectic and rich period for fashion and costume in general. As part of Altaromafashion shows of well-known Italian brands and emerging talents were organised in a phygital context – a little bit virtual and a little bit physical, in a post-industrial location suited to reconciling the opposing traits of skilful Italian manufacturing with new technologies. 

The event also featured students from the Roman academies. The creation I fell in love with was a dress with rhombus graphics by a young talent from the Koefia International Academy of Haute Couture and Art of Costume, one of the many masterpieces of the students who had the opportunity to show off their skills. Many of them at the end of their studies find work in major companies such as Valentino, Fendi, Gucci, to name but a few. I want to highlight the very important role played by these academies, because they enhance the originality, quality, craftsmanship and uniqueness of young Italian talents, artisans who represent the added value of Made in Italy. In this regard, I want to emphasise that many foreign brands transfer their production centres to Italy precisely because of the quality and professionalism of our workers.”

Fashion Industry

The Italian fashion industry is a worldwide reference pointMade in Italy is the expression used, since 1980, to indicate a product that is completely designed, manufactured, and packaged in Italy. It is one of the best-known and most appreciated brands in the world and, according to a market study carried out by KPMG – a network of professional services to companies – it is the third most well-known brand in the world after Coca-Cola and Visa. 

The Italian Fashion Industry offers immense potential that has yet to be fully appreciated and exploited: in addition to the complexity of its dynamics, it must constantly face new challenges and evolutions.  Once the health emergency has passed, Fashion Industry 4.0 will be characterized by a different, more ethical approach to the issue of sustainability.

“We are currently witnessing the consolidation of trends all related to innovation and inclusiveness. When I speak of innovation in the fashion industry, I am referring to the application of new technologies aimed at improving the consumer experience, not only with regard to the purchase of a product or garment, but for the construction of a global relationship with the buyer, which is something quite different. From this point of view, brands are interested in getting to know consumers’ choices in order to track and process them, also relating them to many other parameters in order to satisfy their desires, perhaps even anticipating their latent needs.

With this purpose, loyalty programmes were born, initiatives dedicated to maintaining a certain level of loyalty. In addition, the approach in stores is changing: smart mirrors, totems, biometric applications that, on the basis of technical processing on images, obtain data to identify the customer, without compromising privacy.

As far as inclusivity is concerned, we are talking about body positivity, body power, but also adaptable fashion: lines and garments for differently abled people, a very interesting trend for a universally ethical approach to catwalks.”

Corporate Social Responsibility 

In today’s society, attention to sustainability has led to the creation of a series of guidelines to which the fashion world also adheres.  

Corporate Social Responsibility has a double value that is expressed inside the company with policies that protect human resources and outside that are substantiated with actions aimed at respecting the environment to transform the fashion industry into a more sustainable reality. 

 “From the point of view of sustainability, we are talking about circular fashion, the reuse of fabrics and materials by the brands themselves: the initiative to collect garments for Second Hand policies – H&M was the first colossus to adopt it – is commendable, as it allows for the optimisation of production processes. 

Also worthy of mention are corporate welfare initiatives: I appreciated Prada’s announcement that it will give a one-off payment of €1,300 to its employees as support in this time of expensiveenergy. It is now common policy, many companies are doing this silently.

Moreover, compared to the past, consumers today – especially the younger generation thanks to social networks – are more informed and attentive to brand policies. Precisely as a result of this, Corporate Social Responsibility must really be translated into concrete actions and not stop at proclamations: in the knowledge economy, communication has completely changed, it is no longer unilateral or bilateral but omnichannel. This makes it easy to get in touch with companies and if they fail to respond, landing on social media can destroy a brand’s reputation, creating movements that are born on the web. That is why if a company sins by woke washing it is automatically penalised.

Role of the influencer 

In the era of WEB 4.0 with the increasing importance of social platforms, a new professionalism has arisen, capable of attracting the attention of a community. They are the Influencers – content creators, bloggers, videomakers – who regularly post quality content on their favorite channels, are often contacted by companies to advertise products or brands that fall within their sphere of influence and are consequently able to change the relationship between consumers and brands.    

As for influencers, if we look objectively at their role, they clearly have the power to influence choices in terms of trends. Emulating a Chiara Ferragni is very easy, even if you don’t have the same purchasing power, and this obviously plays into the hands of fashion houses. But many young people have realised that Chiara Ferragni is an example of an entrepreneur, behind her success there is commitment, sacrifice. She has managed, with even a family circuit, to create a fashion universe: she has added new lines and innovative services to her business. It is an important lesson: to achieve success you need application, hard work and a lot of study. In my opinion, young people today no longer follow influencers for their own sake. They are looking for a ‘community of purpose’. There are the gamers, who today play a special role in the universe of the younger generations and who certainly condition their purchasing choices to a certain extent, but if they do not show ‘consistency’ it is the market that clears them out. In this sense, fashion is very democratic.”

Online shopping 

Fashion is one of the sectors most affected by the impact of Covid-19, which has pushed the sector toward a more dynamic use of IT processes and towards online sales, which have seen an extraordinary increase in sales volumes. E-commerce considered a niche phenomenon has, therefore, strongly transformed the purchasing habits of different consumer goods, from food to household appliances, from electronics to clothing. This change has not only involved large companies, but also small and medium-sized enterprises, which have begun to realize the potential of e-commerce. 

According to the eCommerce B2C Observatory – Netcomm School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano, presented in May 2021, e-commerce generated a turnover of almost EUR 26 billion during the pandemic period. 

It is not possible to make realistic forecasts for the post-pandemic period, however, it is quite evident that the trend of online shopping, which has become a habit, will continue into the future. 

E-commerce during the lockdowns had the undeniable role of distracting us at a time of great difficulty. Beyond the compulsive behaviour of the first months, it has made shopping more rational because having a lot of time available, choices have been targeted, more conscious and directed towards higher quality products and accessories, even with higher prices, to the detriment of fast fashion.

Today, we can say that Italians have acquired an online shopping culture and purchasing attitudes have also changed. In the post covid era, social shopping was born, the desire to shop together with others, to feel part of a community and more recognisable in the eyes of the brand. A way to return to that pre-pandemic closeness with one’s online and offline circle of contacts, beyond gender and beyond geographic location. Reports from the big consultancies estimate that by 2025 50 % of purchases, especially in luxury, should move online. I believe that more than a forecast it is a wish.

Skill

The search for professionals in a fashion company follows two directions: the purely managerial aspect and the creativity aspect. To work in the business side of fashion, the basic requirements are to study the principles of economics, marketing, communication and logistics. 

If, on the other hand, you want to become a stylist or visual merchandiser, I would start from the basics.

Among the necessary skills, I would first include knowledge of the history of fashion, which allows one to understand modern and contemporary trends and combine them with elements from the past. One must also be endowed with aesthetic taste, which surely derives from studies of the classical age that allow one to learn the canons of beauty, which in my opinion have objective relevance. Then versatility, flexibility, curiosity and the ability to adapt are important. Moreover, not to be forgotten is the knowledge of armour and of what are the anthropometric sciences, useful and functional precisely for those who want to undertake the profession of stylist.Last but not least, I recommend looking precisely at the traditional Italian fashion academies, which offer great prospects, not only in Italy, but also on the international market because they represent the Italian schools where the great talents of tailoring are trained, very specialised professional figures who are highly sought after.”

GIULIANA BALDO CHIARON

Program Director of the Master in Fashion Management  at the Rome Business School, with over 20 years of work experience in various sectors, since 2018 she is Program Director of the Master in Fashion & Luxury Management at RBS. Passionate about fashion and innovation, she is an Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Economics of La Sapienza University and at IRIDEOS she deals with the training of sales channels and networks.  She was recently appointed Mentor of the Founder Institute, the global network of start-ups and mentors whose aim is to help aspiring entrepreneurs through incubation programmes.

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