MILAN Italy’s four-day leather goods trade show Mipel closed here on Feb. 19 before the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the tail end of Milan Fashion Week and the calendar of major shows such as Mido, Cosmoprof and Salone del Mobile.

Sustainability was a key topic, but not the only challenge exhibitors are facing, as the coronavirus is affecting in different ways and to a different extent all the brands showcasing their fall collections. They all agreed that it is time for the Italian leather goods industry to rethink and reorganize its supply chain by promoting the value of Made in Italy and sourcing local raw materials. 

The 117th edition of Mipel recorded an 11 percent growth in visitors compared to the same edition last year, thanks to the increase of buyers from Europe in particular, and to the return of Russians and Ukrainians. 

“The positive numbers recorded in this edition are also the result of the synergistic path undertaken with the other events Micam, Homi Fashion&Jewels, Lineapelle and Simac — that took place on the same days as Mipel,” said Franco Gabbrielli, president of Mipel and leather goods association Assopellettieri. “It’s a collaboration that has made it possible to face a difficult moment for international business and that we need to carry on in an ever stronger way.”

The coronavirus impacted the number of participants from the Far East, representing about 4 percent of the total, while affecting the trade show’s balance to a lesser extent than feared.

“We have tried to renew Mipel starting from the communication strategy giving to the Italian leather goods industry a different allure, making it younger, more glamorous and more international,” Gabbrielli said. Addressing the customization trend, he believes combining e-commerce and craftsmanship may be a great opportunity for modern artisans and the association is playing a key role in joining forces and making them competitive internationally. 

In the January to October 2019 period, the country’s leather goods exports grew 25.8 percent in value but registered a modest 0.8 percent increase in volume, compared to the same period of 2018, which means, according to Danny D’Alessandro, Mipel’s chief executive officer, that “metaphorically speaking, the train of the Italian leather goods travels at two different speeds,” as on the one hand, international luxury brands are continuing to produce and to sell also by raising the average prices of their products, while on the other hand small and medium-sized enterprises, the so-called no-brand enterprises, are really suffering due to the ongoing unfavorable macroeconomic conditions.

D’Alessandro’s analysis is confirmed by Infocamere, which manages the official data of Italian companies on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and whose report shows that a total of 120 leather goods industries were inactive last year in Italy while the number of layoffs increased significantly.   

Additionally, domestic expenditure registered a further contraction, in line with the negative trends of the last three quarters at least. Despite this, a considerable growth in exports led the trade balance to a 39 percent increase to 5.8 billion euros.

The strongest markets are still represented by Switzerland and France, up 37.4 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively, and by the Far East, up 20 percent, where Japan, China and Hong Kong grew respectively by 18.8, 11.2 and 10.9 percent, while South Korea decreased 14.4 percent. As the coronavirus is continuing to spread worldwide, D’Alessandro thinks it is too early to quantify accurately its effects on the global economy.

“Bags crafted from leather represent the majority of exports and this is a very important fact, as the Italian leather goods industry is based mainly on leather, the first recycled material in history,” D’Alessandro said.

In addition to Made in Italy and craftsmanship, sustainability was confirmed as a dominant trend of the trade show, in sync with the previous editions. 

The exhibition space, divided in two sectors, the Trend and the Scenario areas, was set up with only recycled materials and “by the end of 2021 all the pavilions will feature a photovoltaic system, saving approximately 30 percent of energy, while separate waste collection is reaching up to 97 percent” announced Paolo Borgio, director of Fiera Milano.

Around 300 brands presented their fall 2020 collections at the 117th edition of Mipel.

Among them, 10 young Italian designers were selected, according to the creativity of their own ideas and to their attention for sustainability, by Mipel in collaboration with ICE agency as part of the “Italian Startup” project, which animated the Scenario area.

Spazioif’s turtle backpack  Giuseppe Sinatra

Case in point, Spazioif is a Palermo-based brand founded in 2010 by Irene Ferrara with the aim of combining design and craftsmanship.

Simple, versatile, inspired by Japan but totally made in Sicily with 100 percent Italian leather, Spazioif bags and accessories are conceived for a dynamic woman living a busy city life. The company generates 40 percent of sales in Italy, while the rest derives especially from Japan, the U.S. and Northern Europe.

“I am very careful about two things: wearability and functionality as I like the idea of a bag that fits the body and in fact our best sellers are the more wearable items such as the turtle backpack,” Ferrara said.

Available in different colors and leather hides, the turtle backpack has two side pockets for items that must be handy and can be opened only from the inside for safety reasons. It can also be worn as a shoulder bag, depending on the needs.

Asked about the sustainability issue, the designer explained that “working with local artisans allows us to use every inch of leather in order to create as little waste as possible.” Ferrara started in 2005 as an accessories designer, strongly believing that nothing should be thrown away, so she created a small line of bijoux to exploit all the leather scraps coming from bags’ production.

Le Moki Milano bags 

Le Moki Milano is an emerging Milan-based brand, established in 2018 stemming from the friendship between Camilla Catania and Danilo Pelosi and his wife, Sissi.

Presenting at Mipel for the first time, Le Moki Milano’s light, wearable and stretch-resistant bags are designed by Pelosi as a perfect travel accessory. The brand is distributed in Italy, in Switzerland, Germany, Australia, the U.S. and also in Lebanon thanks to a strategic partner in Beirut.

“This year, we have broadened our collection, in terms of both materials and styles inspired by different themes spanning from the Far West to the Japanese world. We have created Brigitte, a new bag that maintains the basic idea of ​​lightness and practicality but plays with materials, colors and embroideries in the shape of a four-leaf clover or a chili pepper,” Catania said. All the products are made with leather and raw materials from ethically selected Italian tanneries to support local business.

Sustainability is a key topic also among brands presenting in the Trend area, such as Ciak Roncato and Campomaggi Group.

Ciak Roncato, the storied company specialized in luggage and accessories, returned to Mipel with a green capsule collection called “Eco-mood,” available starting in May.

Consisting of three expandable trolleys in different sizes, two duffel bags, one top bag and one beauty case, available in three colors. navy blue and red, the collections is made of RPET, a recycled fabric derived from plastic bottles.

In addition to “Eco-mood,” the Veneto-based brand presented the vintage-inspired collection “E-Bond,” crafted from hylite, the lightest type of aluminum in commerce and suitably designed for the Asian market.

A Ciak Roncato trolley  Courtesy photo

Ciak Roncato also introduced a special edition of its “E-Pop” collection, created specifically for Mipel and inspired by the Japanese cartoon Lupin in collaboration with the Venetian artist Davide Zavella. “In such a delicate moment for our business, in terms of both imports and exports, we are counting on Made in Italy, which is a winning factor for the brand in the Far East, especially in Japan, but also in Europe, promoting the territory, going back to Ciak Roncato’s origins,” marketing director Federica Roncato.

Campomaggi Group, the leather bags and accessories company based in Cesena, Italy, is kicking off a new strategy for its two brands exhibiting at the Mipel: Gabs and Caterina Lucchi. “Starting from 2020, we are going to invest on creativity, communication and production, in terms of not only financial resources but also of human energies, in order to convey our identity in a contemporary way,” explained the company’s president Marco Campomaggi.

A Gabs bag 

Gabs introduced for fall a new lineup of bicolor bags called “Corso Como,” featuring pastel shades and floral prints in an attempt to cater to more sophisticated clients. Caterina Lucchi continued to bank on its hero materials, including laminated leather, while adding new production techniques and new geometric patterns.

The Caterina Lucchi brand’s business is fairly split between Italy and foreign countries while Gabs counts the Far East among its most relevant markets, although China represents a small part of its exports. In 2019, Gabs opened 10 shops in Japan and six in South Korea and four additional openings are scheduled in the country by the end of this year.   

Campomaggi also addressed the sustainability conversation, noting that companies should embrace the green economy beyond just eco-friendly products. “The companies themselves should be sustainable, not only their products, and behind the companies there are people who must believe in these principles. Sustainability should not be just a trend or a marketing operation, but it should become a business culture,” he commented. 

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