Rome Business School Report – Italians ask for sustainable Made in Italy: online fashion, brand activism, green fashion and rental fashion are on the rise

Rome, February 8, 2022. Rome Business School, a post-university training institute part of the Planeta Formación y Universidades network created in 2003 by De Agostini and the Planeta Group, has published the research “The new fashion trends in Italy: Made in Italy between sustainability, online fashion and rented clothing”, edited by Giuliana Baldo Chiaron Program Director of the Specialized Master in Fashion Management at RBS, Michela Bonafoni, Program Director of the Master in Fashion and Luxury Management at RBS, Valerio Mancini, Lecturer and Director of the Research Center at RBS, Tatiana Valoira, Lecturer in Branding, Marketing and Luxury Marketing at EAE Business School.
The research analyzes the habits of Italian consumers and the trends of the fashion market in Italy, highlights the worldwide recognition of Made in Italy, studies the phenomenon of online purchases, the spread of the practice of “renting clothing”, and finally the growing sensitivity of consumers towards the environment and sustainability.

  • Since the start of the pandemic, 45.5% of Italians have limited their purchases of non-essential goods: in the North this percentage is 39.6%, in the Center 42.1% and in the South 56.8%.
  • Online shopping is growing all over the world: the propensity to buy clothing online has reached the historic rate of 43%.
  • In Italy, 85% of digital shoppers make on average at least one online purchase per month, a value 5 points higher than that recorded in 2020.
  • After electronics items, the “fashion and accessories” segment is the most popular for online purchases, especially knitwear (51.3%), coats and down jackets (39.3%), women’s shoes and dresses (35.9%), pants (32.1%), jackets, and suits (15.8%).
  • Under sustainable fashion, the most searched products on the web are sneakers (+142%) and denim (+108%), growing demand for reused jewelry (+90%) and ethical jewelry (+60%). Searches for eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton and recycled plastic derivatives are on the rise (+35%) and those for leather and fur are down (-8%).
  • 66% of Italian consumers would like fashion brands to take a stand on sensitive issues and more than 58% believe it is important for them to do so on social media.
  • The global business of “second-hand” products will increase between 15% and 20% until 2026.
  • 40% of under-24s buy used clothing, an industry valued globally at $33 billion, the rental fashion market will touch $1.9 billion by 2023.
  • The Italian fashion industry is expected to return to pre-crisis levels within 12-18 months.

In Italy, after the initial shock caused by the pandemic, the entire fashion industry already recorded positive numbers in the first 3 quarters of 2021: the 2021 turnover was 64 billion euros (-5% compared to 2019) which, including related sectors (eyewear, jewelry and cosmetics), rises to 83 billion. Not only Italy, also at the European level the estimates of clothing and footwear consumption continue to grow: in the EU markets are expected to increase by +7% for the year 2022, while for the years from 2023 to 2025 the estimated average growth is 4.73% per year.

The impact of the pandemic: fashion and consumption in Italy region by region

During 2020 at the consumption level, the average monthly expenditure of households residing in Italy decreased by -0.9% compared to 2019 (2,328 euros per month), the most notable decline since 1997 (ISTAT). The decrease mainly affected: recreation, entertainment and culture (-26.4%), transport (-24.6%) and clothing and footwear (-23.3%), while spending on food, housing, water and electricity remained essentially unchanged. 45.5% of Italians have limited their purchases of non-essential goods: in the North this percentage is 39.6%, in the Center 42.1% and in the South 56.8%.


In a study conducted by Confimprese-Ey, on the trend of consumption in the restaurant, clothing and non-food sectors shows a phase still recovering compared to the pre-pandemic period with a closure in November 2021 at -13% on November 2019 and -24% on the progressive year vs 2019, the year to draw the benchmark due to the restrictions started in November 2020. The worst trend is for apparel/accessories -21%, it recovers catering -12%.


In the geographical areas it is always the South that suffers the least, both in the month (-5%) and in the progressive year 2021 (-15%) vs 2019. The Center area closes November at -13% and the progressive year vs 2019 at -24%. A similar trend can be seen in the Northwest at -13% and -26% respectively. At the tail end is the Northeast, with November at -20% and the year-to-date at -31%. In the analysis of the month of November 2021 vs November 2019, only Puglia registers a positive trend (+6.5%). Among the worst we find Veneto (-22.9%), Umbria (-21.4%) and Marche (-21%).


Analysis by city reveals the supremacy of Naples, which closes November 2021 vs November 2019 at +5% and takes first place among the cities surveyed. The other cities, on the other hand, record negative trends compared to the same reference time frame: Rome (-11%), Milan and Palermo (-13%), Turin (-19%), Genoa and Florence (-21%). The worst values were recorded in Bologna (down 33%), Verona (down 30%) and Venice (down 27%).

Consumers are looking for sustainability: between brand activism and green clothing

Data show that Italians are increasingly interested in buying from brands that demonstrate their commitment to environmental protection by purchasing products that have a lower impact on the planet. According to the “2020 Report on Conscious Fashion” (Lyst platform in collaboration with the association Good On You), searches for vegan leather are continuously increasing (in one month they exceed 33 thousand), as well as searches for eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton and recycled plastic derivatives have increased respectively by 23% since November 2019 and 35% since January 2020. In contrast, searches for leather and fur are in continuous decline (-3.5% and -8%).


In a survey published in Statista, 21% of respondents said they have cut back on clothing purchases based on ethical reasons, 16% of respondents said they would like to purchase “cruelty-free” and vegan garments but only 7% admitted they have already purchased according to these criteria. Obstacles to the purchase of sustainable clothing are: the difficulty to discern the real eco-friendly brands, high prices and the difficulty to find these brands.


In Italy, when it comes to sustainable fashion, the most sought-after products online are sneakers and denim
, which grow respectively by +142 and +108% in 2020. A particular trend should be highlighted: increasing interest in reused jewelry (+90%) and ethical jewelry (+60%). It is mainly women who search on search engines for “sustainable fashion” (in 45% of cases the search is carried out by a woman), while men search more for “gender fluid” garments, where pleated skirts and walking bags stand out, a trend also linked to the increasing attention of consumers towards the entertainment industry and celebrities in the field of music, for example.


According to a survey by Sprout Social, 66% of Italian consumers would like fashion brands to take a stand on sensitive issues and more than 58% believe it is important for them to do so on social media. In addition, 39% consider brands to be effective when announcing donations to specific causes and 37% support brands helping to encourage their followers to take action in support of causes (mainly climate change, inequality, extremism). The best placed Italian brand in this regard is Benetton Group S.r.l., which was ranked 5th in the Sustainable Cotton Ranking 2020 because, according to respondents, it best provides information on renewable materials and energy used in production.

Online shopping and new trends, how do Italians dress?

The pandemic has exponentially boosted online shopping not only in Italy but across the EU: according to 2021 data, the most active consumers are Swedes (72%), Poles (70%), French (65%), followed by Italians (63%), Britons (57%) and Romanians (51%). Internationally, the propensity to buy clothing online has reached a historic rate of 43%.


In the case of Italy, according to Idealo – one of Europe’s leading shopping and price comparison platforms (2020) – 85% of Italian digital shoppers make at least one online purchase per month on average, 5 points higher than in 2020. In addition, the RetailX Consumer Observatory 2021 estimates that visiting e-commerce sites or shopping online is among the most popular activities performed by Italians online (81.5%), along with watching videos (93%), listening to music (61%), and playing games (81%).


The items most searched for online by Italians, in addition to electronics, are those belonging to the “Fashion and Accessories” sector (+44.9%). In the last year, according to a report by Federazione Moda Italia and World Capital, Italians have mainly bought knitwear (51.3%), coats and down jackets (39.3%), women’s shoes and dresses (35.9%), pants (32.1%), jackets, suits (15.8%).


Specifically, the return to work in attendance particularly influenced fashion searches worldwide (Lyst): a greater desire was seen towards business-casual, relaxed, smart clothes (especially jumpsuits, wide-leg pants, oversized garments). During the summer instead, there was a huge increase in searches for party dresses, platform shoes (+233%) and miniskirts (+221%). At international level, finally, a specific trend has been recorded, closely linked to the anti-covid-19 vaccination: “vaccine top”, jerseys to facilitate the injection, has been one of the most clicked searches on search engines.

Rental clothing: fashion or accepted trend?

According to the Boston Consulting Group, the global business of “second-hand” products will increase between 15% and 20% until 2026. It is already possible to see big brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, active on platforms related to reuse, with the aim of approaching younger consumers with less spending power. Data tells us that the global second-hand market tripled its numbers from 2012 to 2020, when it reached 33 billion dollars. According to forecasts, from 2020 to 2024 the volume of business could almost double.


At the same time, a further phenomenon, the “rental fashion”, is spreading, establishing itself as a new trend. According to an Eurispes report, this sector will reach by 2023 the figure of 1.9 billion dollars of turnover in our country. Today it mainly concerns young people: for Tatiana Valoira, among the authors of the research, the lower the age group, the greater the desire to buy second-hand products.


If globally in 2016 only 27% of those under 24 bought used clothes or accessories, today 40% do so. This figure drops to 30% in the 25-37 age group and 20% above 38. The reason is twofold: on the one hand, young people have less purchasing power and, on the other, they are fully aware of the negative impact of the textile industry on the environment. In the case of Italy, consumers who rent luxury garments say they do so to have the opportunity to wear designer clothes at least once in their lives at a significantly lower price (15%) and because they appreciate the value entrusted to the products in the short time of their use (67%).


If we consider that, according to a study carried out in 20 countries by “Movinga”, about 80% of the clothes that are purchased remain in the closets and are never used and that 36% of clothes have an average life of less than 160 uses, we can understand why these statistics and motivations are so important.

What future for the Italian Fashion System?

The pandemic has led to the emergence of a greater sensitivity towards the importance of making more sustainable choices even in the field of fashion. According to Valerio Mancini, “the desire to return to an acceptable normality, to meet, to show oneself with new outfits that freely reflect one’s mood, now joins with a greater sensitivity for the respect of the environment”. In fact, the practice of renting garments is growing, a phenomenon that is also useful for achieving the objectives of the UN Agenda 2030 for a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions.


The research concludes by stating that a return to pre-crisis levels is expected within 12-18 months (Medium Bank). Today we observe structural changes in society, new trends and interests that require, among other things, a new brand-consumer relationship. Terms such as “Digital fashion”, “Conscious” or “Genderless” will not only be among the most searched cultural sentiment on search engines and inside physical stores, but real key concepts that will increasingly characterize the entire sector.

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