MILAN — Even though the whole country has been placed on lockdown, and increasingly more stores are closing — including Giorgio Armani’s flagships, hotel and restaurants in Milan, as revealed on Tuesday — the Italian textile, fashion and accessory manufacturing industries are not stopping.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Claudio Marenzi, president of Confindustria Moda, the association that groups more than 65,000 companies operating in the fashion industry, and chief executive officer of outerwear brand Herno, took stock of the sector’s current status, focusing on companies’ reaction to the coronavirus crisis, which might have a negative impact on the industry for more than a year.
WWD: How is the industry reacting to this dramatic situation?
Claudio Marenzi: Companies are open, even in certain cases with reduced working hours, and we are all following the rules imposed by the government. We are actually educating our employees to come to work and go straight home when they are done. We are definitely aligned with the institutions. We are currently working on the manufacturing of the fall 2020 collections, at full capacity I would say.
WWD: What’s the overall mood in the companies?
C.M.: I’m seeing a heartwarming reaction from our employees, and my colleagues said the same is happening in their companies. From the receptionists to the executives, they all want to work and do their part. We are all fully aware this is a dramatic situation and that the health and safety of the population is the priority. At the same time, we also have to consider our companies’ safety. We are working with extreme attention, we don’t give up and we have faith in the institutions and in our national health care.
WWD: What’s the strategy?
C.M.: We are figuring out how to help each other across the whole textile and fashion supply chain. We definitely feel the responsibility of supporting both our suppliers and our clients.
WWD: How is the COVID-19 crisis going to impact the industry?
C.M.: It’s really hard to make any forecasts right now. We really hope that from June and July we will see a certain return to normality. We are aware that the targets we set for the year won’t be reached. It’s going to be a tough year. I think that the slowdown of this moment will also affect the first semester of 2021. The spring 2020 season will be the most dramatically hit by the crisis, we will see negative repercussions also on the fall 2020 season and unfortunately I think that the spring 2021 season will be also affected. This will probably happen because the stores will be full with unsold goods from the previous year. To sum up, this crisis will have a negative impact on our industry until June 2021.
WWD: Can you give us a rough estimate of the loss for the sector?
C.M.: It’s really hard to give numbers and percentages right now also because our data are mostly based on questionnaires we ask the companies to fill. And this is for sure not the right moment to make this type of request. However, I think that in the end we will basically lose what we gained in the past two years, when our fashion, textile and accessories industry registered an average 4 percent growth with a 6 percent increase in exports. Right now, if the industry loses 10 percent with this crisis, I really believe that every entrepreneur in this sector would sign up for it. We come from a positive 2019 and I believe we are thinking of allocating dividends to face the hard times we are going through. At the same time, I really feel that all the companies in our sector are keen to keep going. I really believe that the whole world cannot live without Italy. And not only because of its history, its culture and its beauty, but also because of the manufacturing excellence we have in our country. Nobody can give that up. And this is among the reasons why I think we will make it. Italy has always demonstrated it reacts tremendously in front of big challenges and this is happening again.
WWD: Stores are temporarily closing across the whole country. Do you think that business-wise this will make the situation even more complicated?
C.M.: For sure, but I think it’s really necessary to stop the epidemic. There are all the reasons to take these measures. We also have to consider that stores are definitely not crowded right now. It’s necessary to make sacrifices now, and then from April and May we will have to make a titanic effort to make up for lost time.
WWD: Did you make specific requests to the institutions to support the sector?
C.M.: We share the requests made by generic associations, in particular a support for fiscal duties and the rescheduling of loans. This is extremely important especially for small and medium-sized companies. In addition, the bank system needs to help us. In Italy, this crisis will probably have a stronger negative impact than the financial crisis of 2008 and we definitely have to limit the number of those companies that will be forced to close.
WWD: Do you think that, as it happened in 2008, this is going to hit harder the upstream part of the supply chain?
C.M.: Unfortunately, during this type of crisis, the most affected are those companies which don’t place their products directly on the market. And this also happens because in most of the cases they are small or medium-sized companies. Discussing this with my colleagues, it’s clear that we all want to preserve and protect the whole supply chain and our actions and strategies will be finalized to reach this goal.