MILAN — The Italian government’s decision on Sunday to lock down Milan, Lombardy and 14 provinces in the country in its ongoing fight against the coronavirus left many wondering how the decree would affect business and the production and shipment of goods in some of the most important manufacturing areas of the country. Things further snowballed Monday evening when Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the lockdown to the rest of Italy until April 3.
“We must change our habits and give something up for the good of Italy and we must do it right away,” said Conte, urging people to adapt to the “harsher measures” to protect all citizens, “our primary goal.”
While complying with the regulations, it appears fashion houses, manufacturers and fashion schools are finding ways to avoid putting their activities completely on hold.
Giorgio Armani, who on Sunday pledged to donate 1.25 million euros to four important Italian hospitals and institutions involved in fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the country, has — ever since the day of his fall show, which was live-streamed and presented to an empty room — taken steps “to see as few people as possible, setting up a secure work zone and limiting contact with a restricted group of collaborators in each area. He can thus guarantee the safety of the people he meets and as a consequence the continuation of the activities,” according to a spokesperson.
The designer also immediately decided that as many people as possible would adopt the smart working formula. Asked about the design office, Armani is said to continue to work on the next men’s and cruise collections. On the logistics and shipment fronts, on the other hand, since smart working is limited in those cases, Armani’s offices and warehouses are operative, “with all the necessary precautions. Obviously, the situation is in constant evolution and we rigorously adhere to the provisions laid down by the authorities,” while working to create the collections, the company said.
A Kering spokesperson said the group and its brands, which include several Italian labels, from Gucci and Bottega Veneta to Brioni and Pomellato, “are adopting all the necessary measures to protect the health of their employees, encouraging forms of alternative and flexible work, including smart working. The group and the brands are constantly monitoring the evolution of the situation in order to quickly react and adopt further actions if needed.”
Gianni Moscatelli, global human resources and organization director of Benetton Group, said, with more than 5,000 stores in the world and 7,500 employees, the company has implemented a series of measures that would allow business to continue while protecting the health of employees and customers at banners for United Colors of Benetton, Sisley and Undercolors of Benetton, which will operate for shorter hours.
On March 9, the group closed its plants in Ponzano Fabrica and Castrette, in the Veneto region, which also is in lockdown, in line with the government’s decree. Benetton has already canceled until March 22 all national and international meetings, all plane and train trips and employees will only be able to travel by car, until further notice, to reduce risks. Smart working, adopted over the past two years, has been further implemented since Feb. 24 while in the logistics operations, shifts have been reorganized in order to allow more space between employees. Video conferences have replaced meetings. Likewise, employees adhere to shifts for their lunch breaks in the canteens in all plants and all measures have been taken to avoid too many people in the same working space; for example, opening up all meeting rooms. In the style and product offices, Benetton is providing sanitizing dispensers and additional cleaning services, also in the stores.
These measures were applied in all countries, while adhering to the rules of each. A chat room among all h.r. teams was created to have constant information on the evolution of the situation. This has all been “confirmed and agreed upon with doctors to propose concrete proposals at a time “where making the right decision is difficult, in light of the complexity and constant evolution of the situation,” Moscatelli said.
Aeffe, parent company of Moschino, Alberta Ferretti, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini and Pollini, said smart working is encouraged, where possible. In terms of logistics, since goods can still travel, all activities continue as usual. Stores in the lockdown areas are open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, closing on Sunday as indicated by the Associazione MonteNapoleone. While other itinerant shows, from Gucci’s and Prada’s to Giorgio Armani’s and Versace’s, have been postponed, there are still no updates on Alberta Ferretti’s planned resort show in Rimini, due to be held May 22.
“We continue to work, we actually never stopped. The biggest issue has been the sales campaign, especially in Paris where a lot of buyers felt confused about what was going on and the lack of official measures,” said Angela Picozzi, founder of high-end clothing manufacturing company Castor, who also manages the in-house brand Mantù and produces and distributes under license the Françoise and Coliac fashion labels. “So far our production has not registered any delays.”
Picozzi explained that while employees from certain units — including sales, accounting and communication — are working from home, while seamstresses, patternmakers and people working in the logistics department are fully operative in the factory. “We are adopting all the measures required, for example, we have further improved the cleaning service and employees are asked to maintain a certain distance from each other.”
Picozzi said external suppliers are also meeting deadlines and that fabric orders made in December and January arrived in time. “And even if some textile suppliers informed us that future shipments might be delayed for a few days, this won’t create big problems. We could be late on our schedule by one, maximum two weeks, which is definitely not a big deal,” he said.
Castor, which is completing the delivery of the last spring 2020 pieces and starting to produce the pre-fall 2020 collections, along with the first samples of the resort 2021 lineups, is also receiving requests from brands that used to produce in China.
“In the wake of the health crisis, certain brands are realizing that, although producing in Italy or Europe is more expensive, the shipping costs from and to China are getting higher and higher,” Picozzi said.
Christian Nucibella, founder and ceo of FiloBlu, a consultancy and accelerator which supports fashion brands such as René Caovilla and Elisabetta Franchi in their on- and off-line business management, said “the amount of goods dedicated to online sales that are stocked at our clients’ warehouses has not been impacted, as shipments for the spring collections had already ended.”
“If the emergency continues, I imagine there may be side effects on production and delivery for the fall ranges,” he said, although he ruled out the possibility of an impact in the short term. Nucibella added that on the retail front “stores relying on multi-stock warehouses might face a scarcity of goods at some point, … but we’re already suggesting pre-order as an effective solution.”
Textile producers Mantero and Ratti have decided to collaborate to maintain production and to guarantee the quality of services, they said jointly on Monday. This means sharing products and materials, providing manufacturing back-up for one another and sharing information. This collaboration is “open to all textile companies that wish to adhere, in its intent to show a strong and united district” leveraging “concrete synergies, and a collaborative and punctual information campaign.”
Denim manufacturer Candiani, which is based 26 miles outside Milan, said production and deliveries remain unaffected as inbound and outbound transports are guaranteed. Simon Giuliani, the company’s global marketing director, noted “the media should reassure rather than create panic. For instance, the fact that the virus cannot be transmitted through goods is very important to reassure our customers.
“We have to learn from countries that have been hit before us and follow their lead in containing the spread of the virus,” he added, saying smart working has been offered to employees not required in production processes. He also contended the COVID-19 outbreak represents a “further challenge,” pushing the company to keep banking on R&D and innovation.
Cotton specialist Canclini 1925, which is based in the outskirts of Como, the textile district in the Lombardy region, also noted production has not been impacted and it does not expect delays.
“We’re seriously worried about this emergency, but we’re already implementing every tool we have to fight back. After an initial period of reorganization, we’re employing new processes and technologies to secure efficiency and reliability,” explained Simone Canclini, the company’s chief executive officer. Measures include avoiding physical contact and the exchange of paper documents in the production units, as well as offering smart working.
“The impact the new measures have on logistics is already tangible, but we hope the companies operating in the sector will be able to minimize it,” he said.
At Cotonificio Albini, part of the textile firm Albini Group, whose three production facilities are all located near Bergamo, in Lombardy, manufacturing activities are proceeding in compliance with the decree issued by the Italian government. “Undoubtedly, this is a tough moment, but it gives us the opportunity to strengthen the bond between the company’s community and the territory, while also increasing the collaboration with our clients [that] firmly believe in a high-quality supply chain,” said Fabio Tamburini, ceo of Cotonificio Albini. “It’s a profound incentive to enhance the efficiency of the Italian pipeline, which is too precious to be further hit.
“We set up a task force to closely and constantly monitor the evolution of the events within the company and in the areas affected by the infection,” Tamburini added. In compliance with the new COVID-19-related measures, the group has limited its business meetings, implementing smart working initiatives when possible. “We’re really proud of our employees, who are following strictly and scrupulously and with great civic-mindedness the precautions the company has shared.”
Silk specialist Canepa, which is being restructured with plans to return to breakeven by the end of the year, said its Como-based facilities are operating as usual, as both raw materials and logistics have not yet been impacted. Michela Canepa, the company’s founder, said “it’s difficult to provide a forecast, although our clients’ sales campaign for men’s wear — which ended in late February — showed signs of improvement compared to 2019.” In the wake of the restrictions on mobility, Canepa noted the company is increasing shipments of samples to its clients that are unable to visit the company’s headquarters.
Turkish denim mill Isko is confident business will continue as usual, as it does not own production sites in the country, but rising concern over the local economy is top of mind for the manufacturer. “It is difficult to predict what will happen in the next few weeks globally and what impact the outbreak will have on the economy in the long run,” said Elena Faleschini, Isko’s global field marketing manager. “What is most concerning is the long-term effect that this situation will have. Specifically talking about fashion and its supply chain. For example, the lockdown of the Milan region has had an immediate impact on retail sales locally: this will slow down the demand in the next few months, and brands will surely be more cautious in the development of new collections in the longer run.”
Faleschini added that a greater cause of concern comes from the further spread of the virus to other countries, such as France, Germany and the U.S.
With headquarters dedicated to sales, marketing and design in Milan, Castelfranco Veneto and San Benedetto del Tronto — the former two in the lockdown areas — Isko is promoting smart working for its employees. “We need to be patient and make an effort today, in order to try to limit the long-term effects,” Faleschini said.
Italian cosmetics supplier Chromavis, a division of French pharmaceutical company Fareva, is also proceeding with its business as usual. The company said to have introduced new and more stringent rules to guarantee the transportation of goods and avoid any delay in deliveries, although part of its workforce is currently blocked in the lockdown areas or absent from work due to organizational needs caused by schools’ temporary shut down.
Despite the difficulties of the moment, Milanese fashion retailers for the time being are not temporarily shutting down their stores. On the contrary, they are reorganizing their activities to respect the measures imposed by the government.
For example, Italian department store Rinascente — whose Milan flagship on central Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was closed on March 8, the first day of the lockdown — plans to operate beginning Wednesday in compliance with the government’s decree. It will open its Milan and Monza units from Monday to Friday until 6 p.m. and close them during the weekend. Units in Rome, Florence, Palermo and Turin, among others, will stick to their respective opening hours for the time being.
Milanese retailer Laura Poretti, founder of luxury boutique Milaura, posted a video on Monday on the store’s Instagram account where she explained that in her shop she is taking all the measures required to limit the infection to protect both her staff and her customers. At the same time, Poretti said she will continue to entertain her followers with “light-hearted content” in order to offer people a moment of fun and positivity in this tough moment.
Conversely, Calzedonia Group in the so-called “red zones” involved in the lockdown is closing its stores for all its brands: Calzedonia, Intimissimi, Intimissimi Uomo, Tezenis, Falconeri, Signorvino, Atelier Emé and its outlets. “Because we do not sell essential and basic goods, we felt it was right to do what is in our power to protect as much as possible the health of our customers and our employees,” said founder and chairman Sandro Veronesi.
More Italian fashion figures also are providing funds to help during the crisis. As reported, on Monday digital entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni and her husband, musician Fedez, through a personal donation of 100,000 euros, helped support a fund-raiser aimed at creating new hospital beds in the intensive care area of Milan’s San Raffaele hospital. By late afternoon, the couple had totaled 91,500 donations for the amount of 1.6 million euros.
“This is the moment to fight all together to defend our health and that of others,” said Massimiliano Bizzi, founder and organizer of the White and WSM trade shows, who is endorsing smart working. Bizzi believes this “delicate moment” will allow “to restart with new ideas. We are available for our clients to support them as best we can, employing modern technological tools.”
As part of the measures taken to limit the COVID-19 spread, schools and universities are closed until April 3, but efforts are being made to go digital to guarantee continuity, and this includes fashion and design schools.
The Italian branch of private higher education expert Galileo Global Education was among the first to activate a program of distant-learning for its 7,000 students enrolled across the Istituto Marangoni, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti — better known as Naba — and Domus Academy schools.
Online classes have been implemented at Istituto Marangoni’s three units in Italy via software such as Zoom as well as on Google Drive. Out of the 1,600 students enrolled in the Milanese fashion branch of the school, 90 percent followed the more than 300 digital classes and a similar performance was registered in the design branch and Florence unit.
At Naba, which counts campuses in Milan and Rome, 10 percent of the classes were already offered online. “To have already a structure and teachers used to this format enabled us to immediately transfer 100 percent of our lessons to the remote format,” said GGE Italia’s ceo Roberto Riccio. In addition, the school launched programs such as webinars and a dedicated phone service to answer students’ questions about the ongoing situation in Italy.
“In the next days we will also implement a platform for the the students who would like to present their final projects, answering to the needs of graduates,” added Riccio, who underscored the overall goal is to avoid any skid in the regular academic schedule.
“This can be an important opportunity to test new teaching methods, in which the proximity and relationship between students and teachers can be digital without losing value and quality of the education,” Riccio said. “We are facing a global emergency, one that is for sure altering priorities and lifestyles across all levels and industries. I’m sure we will treasure this experience to question ourselves about new possible scenarios in the higher education world.”
While touting the importance of relationships and experiences, Riccardo Balbo, academic director of the Istituto Europeo di Design, or IED, said the goal is “to guarantee that classes are not discontinued and that we don’t dim the sense and presence of the school as a community.”
Counting seven units temporarily closed, the institute implemented the “smart school” format, replicating its signature combination of theoretical classes and laboratory activities through the streaming of lessons, online tutoring and video content, dubbed “IEDTips,” meant to replace physical classes.
“To be able to turn a difficulty into an opportunity, even getting out of one’s personal comfort zone, is an essential talent for any designer now and in the future. And today we are all called to regroup and generate new ideas and processes to be stronger tomorrow,” Balbo said.
Fashion and luxury school Accademia del Lusso mirrored this approach as it made classes in fashion and marketing available via streaming to the students enrolled in its Milan and Rome units.
“All the staff and professors worked a lot on this projects and realized it in a short time,” said the school’s ceo Pietro Polidori, adding that the new format is performing well. “For the practical classes, we will do ‘full immersion’ lessons as soon as students will be able to return to the academy.”
In Florence, Polimoda also digitized its classes, uploading 30 lessons on the e-learning platform Blackboard and enabling reviews of students’ projects via Skype and WhatsApp. On March 13, the school will host its first digital Open Day, that has so far gained an unprecedented number of subscriptions. Those interested in enrolling at the school will be allowed to visit it virtually and schedule individual video-interviews with the teachers to learn more about the courses.
“We were already working on implementing the online learning and when the coronavirus emergency boomed it was not difficult to rearrange [our lessons],” said Polimoda’s director Danilo Venturi. “Technology helps us to give a minimum of continuity to classes but also to stay close to our students and their families in a such a difficult moment for all. We must be aware we are in front of a historic shift and that when the emergency will be over, the overall change in our lifestyles will remain.”