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Fashion Leaders on the Future of ‘Made in Italy’

BoF and Shopify gathered executives from across the Italian industry to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Italy’s fashion market and manufacturing as the acquisition of independent suppliers intensifies, prices rise and consumer sentiment evolves.
Attendees sat around a table at BoF x Shopify's co-hosted roundtable on "The Future of 'Made in Italy'" in Milan.
Attendees at BoF x Shopify's co-hosted roundtable on "The Future of 'Made in Italy'" in Milan. (Getty Images)
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Last week, hosts Shimona Mehta, Shopify’s managing director, EMEA, and Robin Mellery-Pratt, BoF senior director, brought together executives from Gucci, Valentino, Prada, Bulgari, Massimo Alba, Pitti Immagine, Brunello Cucinelli, CD Network, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and the Italian Trade Agency to discuss the key areas of consideration and innovation to protect the legacy of “Made in Italy”.

In addition to underpinning the brand positioning of a number of billion-dollar Italian brands, Italian manufacturing is a pillar of the luxury industry’s supply chain. According to McKinsey & Co., Italy contributes more than 40 percent of luxury goods production. In the context of the re-emergent popularity of Europe with international tourists, the “Made in Italy” industry is primed to respond to shifting customer sentiment and purchasing priorities.

However, to truly future-proof competitive advantage, Italian brands and manufacturers should consider streamlining manufacturing processes to be more responsive, and move to meet customers in the spaces and channels in which they are spending time.

With millions of merchants utilising its core platform to sell online, Shopify is expertly positioned to share insight on the importance of customer-centric strategies to generate sell-through and foster brand loyalty. “We are seeing the growth rates of traditional brick-and-mortar retail and direct-to-consumer converging again,” says Shopify’s Mehta.

“We believe this next wave of retail is what we call ‘connect to consumer’. Truly and deeply understanding your customers — using data to build long-term relationships — is going to be paramount,” she shared.

Held at the Fioraio Bianchi Caffè in Milan, the discussion was conducted under the Chatham House Rule, which precludes the attribution of statements made by specific individuals or companies, allowing attendees to share freely and openly with their peers.

Below, BoF shares condensed, anonymised insights from the intimate discussion to provide actionable insights for our global community.

Vertical Integration Is Impacting ‘Made in Italy’ Culture

“‘Made in Italy’ has historically had a lot to do with a certain mindset — one of loyalty, of responsible practise and small runs of product,” were some of the opening remarks made at the executive forum. “It was always primed to support small business — until now. The new reality is that the system is being monopolised by big business.”

We are facing a new ‘Made in Italy’, which has much to do with scale and power. The biggest players [...] become the priority and it is inherently changing the cultural meaning of our system.

Other attendees also noted the impact of the industry’s biggest players and conglomerates buying up Italian factories to dominate the “Made in Italy” market. “We are facing a new ‘Made in Italy’, which has much to do with scale and power,” said another guest. “The biggest players, who are working with huge volumes, become the priority and it is inherently changing the cultural meaning of our system.”

“Some brands are becoming less capable of producing in Italy, partly because of the downward pressure that comes from bigger brands who are dominating the space — and this can trickle down to retail,” said an attendee. “North America is a cautionary tale — you have a landscape where 70 to 80 percent of the market is dominated by big stores that cater to big patrons.”

Italian Factories Must Be Better Utilised

“We are losing a lot of opportunities in not [promoting] factories as just as important to the ‘Made in Italy’ narrative as hand-crafted goods,” said one guest, in relation to best-in-class manufacturing processes. “As a system, we need to pass on the message that these factories and automated work [are] excellent.”

“We often have feedback from major editors or fashion [critics] that our ready-to-wear collection looks like haute couture,” agreed another attendee. “We tell them it’s made by the greatest of Italian factories.”

Brands Must Reignite Interest in Becoming a Maker

The forum unanimously agreed that helping to drive renewed interest from young people in manufacturing in Italy would be critical in order to protect “Made in Italy” systems and processes.

“Nobody wants to be a maker anymore — everyone wants to open a brand, sell a brand and move on,” were one attendee’s initial remarks. “The future of the [industry] depends on us collectively embracing the beauty of making things.”

We are great at storytelling as an industry — we need to harness that to [reignite] interest for making things again.

“There has to be a way to foster renewed understanding that there is a way of marrying the art of manufacturing and the appeal of commerce and success in the fashion industry,” added one attendee.

“As brands and businesses — all of us — we must create campaigns that indicate why staying in a factory and producing product is sexy,” shared another executive. “We are great at storytelling as an industry — we need to harness that to [reignite] interest for making things again.”

Relinquish Creative Control to Connect ‘Made in Italy’ with Gen-Z

Forum attendees recognised the collective need to reject the traditional “top down” marketing approach of luxury brands when it comes to authentically connecting with Gen-Z customers.

“From our perspective, we approach the Gen-Z customer in an entirely different way to our communication with millennials,” said one guest. “Previously we would tightly hone our own narrative and image. When it comes to Gen-Z, it’s better to relinquish control to these creative consumers, and to leverage their narrative and their interpretation of our brand.”

“Historically, we have all focused on tight curation and control,” added another executive. “A lot of these new environments — TikTok, Discord, Snapchat — all involve relinquishing some control over to these communities. It’s challenging, but necessary for heritage brands to hand over your product to creators and creatives within these communities.”

The forum went on to discuss the need to litmus-test channels and platforms to get closer to their customer.

When it comes to Gen-Z, it’s better to relinquish control to these creative consumers, and to leverage their narrative.

“We are in the early stages of exploring Web3 — we are tiptoeing in — and we are learning so much about community,” said an attendee. “You see groups who are so active and passionate and they want to engage in fashion. They are expressing it in ways that you wouldn’t have expected before. It doesn’t work to go in with set expectations. You have to learn as we go along.”

Others, however, felt approaching with caution was more appropriate. “When it comes to platforms like TikTok, we need to study and understand a little more and not feel pressured to have an immediate presence,” said a guest. “When you are focusing on producing what’s right for, or in tune with, your brand… that’s better than just following the narrative. Be brave [enough] to say if something isn’t the right fit.”

“We very much have a ‘test-and-learn’ approach,” said another executive. “‘Made in Italy’ is one of our brand values, but others relate to creativity, community and inclusivity. So, we are going to [explore] initiatives that are authentically linked to those values.”

Leverage ‘Made in Italy’ as a Value Differentiator

The conversation turned to the ways in which the Internet had democratised access to product — and the impact that has on the cultural capital of different brands and businesses.

“Millions of people can now interact with every brand,” noted one executive. “Look at Supreme’s journey from [scarcity] to one of mass collaboration. We begin to see consumers — these important micro-communities — begin to care less about that brand.”

“In this democratised space where everyone has access to everything, you can argue that the pendulum is swinging back towards heritage and craft,” agreed another guest. “‘Made In Italy’ can become a real value differentiator.”

Internal Education Is a National Imperative

“As all our companies explore new [digital] frontiers, and as data becomes increasingly critical, we need institutions — high schools — to formalise education on these topics,” said one guest, as the forum posited the need for internal education to upskill its workforce.

“We don’t have the right education in this field,” agreed another attendee. “We need data and we need data analysts. And college is too late — we should be equipping school children to understand the metaverse, to be able to humanise data — these are qualities that are just as critical as craft and the Italian savoir faire.”

“There needs to be financial incentives too — we need to [socialise] the reality that a head tailor that learns the craft in Italy can make $120 - 150,000 US dollars a year,” added another guest. “We need to get young people to dream about these jobs again.”

In This Article

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