Monica Sarti

Resilience is certainly an attribute that can be associated with Italian fashion and textile entrepreneurs, who proved their ability to reinvent themselves during the coronavirus emergency.

Operating in the Italian Prato textile district — which was one of the most affected by the crisis and which in the past decade suffered from increased competition from Chinese entrepreneurs — Lanificio Faliero Sarti, as many of its competitors, had to suspend its regular activities and is now dealing with the requests for significant discounts and delayed payments.

“The situation of the district is quite dramatic, we are all restarting but it will take a while to go back to normality,” said Monica Sarti, the daughter of the company’s president Roberto Sarti and the creative director of the Faliero Sarti textile accessories brand. “The Italian textile industry is made of sometimes very small companies, and if they are not supported by big clients, the risk is that they might disappear. We don’t expect any type of real help from the government, for example, the cassa integrazione [wage compensation fund] arrived really late. In addition, Italian entrepreneurs are not so good when it comes to actively collaborating: if one accepts the unfair requests of powerful fashion houses, it subsequently damages the whole system.”

Despite the difficulties of the moment, Monica Sarti remains optimistic, especially because a new product category — totally unexpected in the pre-COVID-19 world — enabled the company to stay active also during the lockdown.

“When the emergency kicked off, I immediately thought that producing face masks could be an idea to keep spirits high and enable our employees to feel part of a project,” said Sarti, who, despite her father’s initial skepticism, conceived the Monni face masks. “As entrepreneurs, I think we have the responsibility to be point of references for our employees, also in the most dramatic moments. For this reason, I rolled up my sleeves and with a small team we developed the face mask project, which actually turned out to be very successful.”

Faliero Sarti "Monni" face mask

Faliero Sarti “Monni” face mask.  Courtesy of Faliero Sarti

Helped by the fact that she could have easy access to a wide stock of fabrics and accessories, Sarti created one-of-a-kind filtering face masks, which combine three layers of antibacterial cotton or nonwoven fabric and another layer of cotton or silk coming from the brand’s scarves.

“Thanks to the social network, a certain buzz was immediately generated around our masks and now we are also providing the Italian soccer team with customized styles,” said Sarti, adding that a part of the proceeds from their sales benefit Florence’s Montedomini association to support older people in need.

Faliero Sarti’s face masks are not only available at the brand’s online store and boutiques, located in Florence, Milan, Rome, Cortina D’Ampezzo, Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo but are sold to retailers. “It’s one of the ways to support our wholesale partners, which are going through a very difficult moment,” Sarti said. “Being at home a lot, we all realized that we have so much stuff, which means that I’m not sure people will be so keen to make new purchases. At the same time, people seem happy to invest small amounts of money to buy masks, which are protective but also colorful and lively at the same time.”

With 50 percent of the orders from the fall 2020 collection canceled, Sarti thinks that her brand should revise the way of operating. “Many orders were canceled amid the emergency, but we have to be ready to have more products ready in stock to meet the requests of our clients,” she said. “We are no longer making collections of 200 pieces, also because if sales will be online, after showing buyers 10/20 prints, they loose [attention]. We will focus on sort of capsules that we will put at the disposal of our clients quite frequently in order to give them the chance to continue refreshing their offering.”

Merchandising won’t be the only area to be reorganized, according to Sarti. “During this quarantine, I understood that we have to reconsider the way we communicate,” she said. “So far, we have communicated the image that we have of ourselves, now I want our strategies to reflect the way people see us. It’s really the right moment to question ourselves…sometimes the best ideas come in the worst situations.”