The green side of the Italian textile industry

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Green Carpet Challenge. From left to right: L-R Stephen Jones (and model wearing a Stephen Jones hat), model wearing a Stella McCartney dress, Roksanda Ilincic (and model wearing her dress), Caroline Rush (CEO, British Fashion Council), model wearing Tom Ford, Lisa Gregg (Vice President American Express). Standing behind: model wearing Marios Schwab, Marios Scwab. Sitting: Jonathan Saunders and model wearing a Jonathan Saunders, Antonio Berardi and model wearing Antonio Berardi), Livia Firth, Alice Temperley (and model wearing Temperley)
Green Carpet Challenge. From left to right: L-R Stephen Jones (and model wearing a Stephen Jones hat), model wearing a Stella McCartney dress, Roksanda Ilincic (and model wearing her dress), Caroline Rush (CEO, British Fashion Council), model wearing Tom Ford, Lisa Gregg (Vice President American Express). Standing behind: model wearing Marios Schwab, Marios Scwab. Sitting: Jonathan Saunders and model wearing a Jonathan Saunders, Antonio Berardi and model wearing Antonio Berardi), Livia Firth, Alice Temperley (and model wearing Temperley)

Finding suitable solutions to lift up the future of the Italian fashion industry has become a recurring research topic amongst workers and social partners. Creativity, quality and security have become essential values in this industry, whose products are destined to significantly affect the life quality of many people, and sustainability has of course been added to these parameters

2013, just as 2012, will not be an easy year for the textile and Italian fashion industry. Due to the effects of the economic crisis on consumers’ behavior, the domestic consumption of fashion and home products doesn’t seem to have a great future, the atmosphere seems pessimistic and this doesn’t help shopping, not even during sales. This sector, already worn-out by fierce international competitors and under the influence of the economic crisis of the last few years, has registered huge losses in terms of employment. The only positive signs come from the export of fashion products, thus reaffirming the constant international appreciation for made in Italy products; however the drop in textile imports reveals that the production capacity of the sector is slowing down.

Finding suitable solutions to lift up the future of the Italian fashion industry has become a recurring research topic amongst workers and social partners. Differently from other industrial areas, the fashion sector doesn’t easily receive public grants and maintains a skeptical attitude towards public policy support. Failure to conquer the obligation of the “made in” products at European level, stimulated by many significant parties of the sector, has emphasized this mistrust. The textile sector tends to find solutions on its own; however it doesn’t mean that this is always a winning strategy.

What to do then?

During the second half of the last century and in particular the last two decades, Italian fashion acquired a worldwide reputation thanks to its creativity and styling ideas. However, during these years the topic of quality was confirmed as an industrial standard, replacing subjective perception of “well made” standards with objective parameters that weren’t really taken into account before. The quality standards aiming at improving business output have included the need to reassure consumers about the safety of what is put on the market, a theme that has become increasingly felt in relation to the increase of imported clothing products often identified as cause of contact dermatitis and other diseases.

Livia Firth in a 100% Newlife(TM) dress by Giorgio Armani

Creativity, quality and security have become essential values in this industry, whose products are destined to significantly affect the life quality of many people. Sustainability has of course been added to these parameters. Many believe that this new interpretation of “being and making the industry” is a new frontier for the competitiveness of made in Italy.

Will green economy save us?

This theme has recently entered the world of fashion. Here are some of the most significant facts happened in the last few years:

1.            There is an increasing public awareness towards the environmental and social impact of production activities. The campaigns launched by Greenpeace and other humanitarian organizations against brands that exploit child labor, and that do not respect workers’ rights and pollute environment, have contributed to create a new and widespread awareness among consumers, which fashion companies cannot ignore. Business associations and individual brands have developed behavior codes and regulatory initiatives for the ecological and ethical supply chain of the industry. Amongst various initiatives, Higg Index, developed by Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), an association that gathers companies that together produce 30% of global clothing sales; the publication of the Fashion Code on behalf of United Nations Global Compact, a petition on behalf of some of the biggest brands in the world in the sector of sportswear and clothing retail of Roadmap to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), the Manifesto for the Sustainability of Italian Fashion launched last autumn by the Chamber of Fashion.

2.            Sustainable fashion has also conquered celebrities in Hollywood. Even more, they have become the protectors of this cultural approach. We are talking about initiatives such as Green Challenge by Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle that combine sustainable glamour and style in occasion of the red carpet awards. High effect clothing has shown how green fashion can look aesthetically beautiful, as demonstrated by Meryl Streep with her ecologic silk muslin dress by Lanvin, Nicole Kidman with a hat designed by Stephen Jones inspired by the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”, made with recycled polyester instead of silk, Livia Firth herself in a red dress by Valentino created with textiles of recycled polyester Newlife by Saluzzo Yarns. These are only a few examples mentioned in the press during these past few months. Sustainable fashion is becoming “fashionable” and has conquered many followers amongst the celebrities. Now it’s time for ordinary consumers to notice it.

3.            The world of exhibitions is dedicating more and more attention to companies that present “sustainable” products and offer specific informative spaces. This is the case of Texworld, Premier Vision, Pitti, Heimtextil and also Milano Unica has started to show some interest in sustainability. These are important signs that show how green economy is becoming relevant in the world of fashion and it’s not merely popular in the creative artisan’s fairs and initiatives. This topic is now a concern for industries and their business strategies.

4.            The urge to rethink new methods for the production of textile products also comes from the world of technology, chemistry and applied research. The annual report, created by Symbola and Unioncamere titled Green Italy 2012, has gathered many important testimonials on how in 2012 many Italian companies that produce semi finished products – so appreciated by the international fashion system – carried out important research activities to reduce the environmental impact of production and to value raw recycled or biological materials. For these companies 2013 will be a tough year due to the current crisis in the market, but we are confident that the investments and energies spent to define a new sustainable way to create fashion will reward all these efforts.

by Aurora Magni