Almost a month after the Chinese city of Wuhan confirmed it’s first case of the novel coronavirus, Italy detected and isolated it’s first two cases – both Chinese tourists – while subsequently declaring a state of emergency for six months and imposing a travel ban on flights from China. The situation seemed under control. By March, however, the number of cases – and resulting deaths – had increased precipitously making Italy the epicentre of the virus in Europe and the second in the world after China. Italian textile and manufacturing hubs – Lombardy and Veneto – were the hardest to be hit by the pandemic, a phenomenon that has had a ghastly impact on the Italian fashion industry forcing brands to shutter stores, slow down businesses and work from home.
While most of the big brands can weather a storm of this proportion fairly easily, it is the small businesses that are especially in dire need of assistance right now. Brands of the likes of Prada, Versace and Armani have quickly redirected their efforts towards mitigating the impact of the novel coronavirus by means of PPE for healthcare workers, hand sanitisers and financial aid; smaller businesses, on the other hand, are barely managing to scrape by and relying purely on social media and e-commerce to generate sales and keep their businesses afloat.
Says designer Marco De Vincenzo who recently celebrated ten years of his eponymous label, “The coronavirus emergency in Milan started during the autumn/winter 2020-21 fashion week. Buyers from all over the world were obviously concerned, so they left as quick as they could, never to return,” said De Vincenzo. “We booked just a few orders for next season, which means we might not be able to afford to produce them, since our suppliers request minimum quantities for fabrics and such.” Dwindling orders for the next season are just some of the things worrying the Italian designer set. The lockdown was initiated when fresh stock for most had just started reaching stores for the new season; with everyone staying at home and dabbling in e-commerce only sparingly, it is difficult to say what happens to those who’s inventory is stocked for summer.
While running a small business can work against you for the most part, it also has it’s fair share of positives. For one, there is the ability to pivot quickly and restructure the business in tandem with the current times. Says designer Stella Jean, “We are a very small company,” she said. “And that helps in a situation like this. So far, we haven’t received requests to cancel the autumn/winter 2020-21 orders. As for production, I believe this is the perfect time to try a different, more sustainable approach to it.” Jean is also using this time to redirect her strategy. The designer has formed a small group of local artisans who are willing to work as they continue to stay at home. “In Italy there are many skilled female workers stuck at home willing to do something to support themselves and their families. I started to create a local network with those artisans and we will send them some of our models to be assembled and completed. I hope by next month I will be able to expand it outside Italy,” comments Jean.
How can designers help?
The pandemic has caused a multitude of independent designer labels to shutter storefronts or shut shop entirely. Designers can follow in the footsteps of those like Jean who are pivoting their businesses to ensure that the local community of designers, seamstresses and other artists stay afloat the brand stays in business. The fashion industry comprises of a ecosystem of creatives who are each dependent on the other. At such a point in time, a little bit goes a long way and designers can work towards creating solutions that can empower these independent creatives mentally, physically and economically while leading their brands towards a new dawn.
How can consumers help?
Whether designers choose to pivot or ride the wave and wait for the storm to clear, it is essential that customers – including both old and new and those who have the ability to make a purchase in the current market – support these brands more than ever. Championing for independent designers is something that AISPI has always believed in; it is impossible to find a curation and quality of the same magnitude anywhere else. And for good reason too – every piece from a boutique label is designed and manufactured with a care and precision unlike any other and quite often in a factory that is in close proximity to the brand’s store front. Production is almost always done in smaller quantities; an added bonus while considering the exclusivity and sustainability of the curation on offer. Nearly every piece in a boutique is a physical manifestation of a story – often personal to the designer or artisan.
Boutique brands and small labels are the backbone of the Italian economy and many of them will not survive the current situation. At a time like this, supporting small businesses and local brands has never been more important. While an outright purchase is, of course, the best way to support brands, taking advantage of alternatives like digital gift cards and coupons while staying at home also work. Extending support to local brands and boutique labels right now will ensure that they can remain in business long after we are on the other side of the pandemic. It will also go a long way in strengthening the economy and keeping the momentum going – both for the maker and the buyer.
Check out our edit below for Italian labels that #AISPIloves:
Officina Del Poggio
Lizard Concept Store
– Written by Soha Joshi