MILAN — Ready, set, go. Italian fashion companies are eyeing Monday to officially restart their production. But they are not asked to sprint.
Things will be taken slowly and very carefully to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19. In the words of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Italians “will have to learn to live with the virus.”
That said, the country’s fashion groups and associations had been urging the reopening of manufacturing activities for weeks, concerned about what a prolonged lockdown could do to the pipeline and the industry. First enforced on March 9, the lockdown to fight the coronavirus outbreak was meant to be lifted on April 13 and then extended to May 3 as the death toll and number of infections rose in the country. As of April 30, according to the Civil Protection, at least 205,463 have been infected, a 0.9 percent growth compared with the previous day, and 27,967 have died, a 1 percent increase.
On Monday, construction will also be allowed to restart, as well as B2B operations. Another phase will kick off on May 18 when retail businesses will be allowed to reopen, as well as museums, exhibitions and libraries. Bars, restaurants, hair salons and beauty centers will reopen on June 1, as reported.
While companies will comply with government protocols and agreements with the unions, some are taking the guidelines a step further. Prada on Thursday said it was the first in the country to introduce a safety protocol that involves the double screening of employees, in collaboration with Careggi hospital in Florence, as it reopens its plants in Tuscany. Valentino has further strengthened safety measures by working with the pneumology, infectious diseases and occupational medicine specialists team of the ASST Spedali Civili in Brescia hospitals. The Giorgio Armani Group, in view of the reopening, has planned to organize, in collaboration with Milan’s Sacco Hospital and the support of the Opera Red Cross, a screening based on quick serological tests available for all its employees.
Gabriele Innocenti, a representative of unions Filctem Cgil Arezzo, said the negotiations with Prada were “very productive” and that the company “adopted all the possible and imaginable measures. The company was very much aware of the gravity of the situation and it did all it could to meet our demands.”
Innocenti said flexibility is key. “It’s one thing to think ahead, but when 3,000 people start working, things could change. The tests are an additional guarantee.”
Innocenti and the unions also worked on Valentino’s measures and he noted that both companies were “very sensitive” and paid “a lot of attention” to the issues. “When need be, we are the first to criticize, but in this case, there’s no reason to,” he added with a chuckle.
Civil lawyer Laura Cereda said companies such as Prada and Valentino have adapted to the emergency and that “by protecting their employees, they protect everyone, their families, the economy and the company itself. These measures allow them to stay operative.”
Cereda praised the “thorough and precise” additional steps taken to protect workers while complying to the general protocol, as the tests are not mandatory. “The first article of our Constitution says that Italy is a republic founded on work and our civil code says that employers are asked to adopt measures to protect their employees. The government did a good job in drawing up the measures to protect the health at a national level, but in this kind of situation, it is the duty of an employer to be even more protective,” she said, adding the association with medical and scientific teams intensifies those efforts.
Prada said that a team of specialist nurses in dedicated rooms began on April 28 to carry out serological testing on all employees and those testing positive will also receive a viral test, again conducted on the premises. The company’s entire workforce will receive serological testing on a monthly basis, with no end date currently set for the screening program.
The cost of this demanding diagnostic operation will be borne in full by Prada and in this initial phase there will be an estimated 1,000 tests a week. This will clearly rise significantly once production is back to full capacity. If any employees test positive, the company will also extend the double screening process to their family members.
The possibility of employees requesting more frequent viral tests on a voluntary basis is being investigated.
Moreover, commercial agreements have been signed with Menarini Diagnostics to supply the testing kits for the serological test, and with a world-leading company in the molecular diagnostics sector to supply reagent testing kits to hospitals. With the aim of not depleting the public health system’s stocks, these materials will be bought directly from the above-mentioned suppliers.
“In this emergency situation we have not only been considering when to reopen our manufacturing facilities, but above all how to reopen them in total security, in order to safeguard our employees’ health and protect them from the virus,” said Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli.
“We therefore immediately sought advice from leading health-care facilities and from specialist pharmaceutical companies to identify the top-rated medical technology currently available to safeguard the health of our employees with these virus-screening procedures and to contain the virus. The introduction of these measures means we can now confidently restart production in Tuscany, and look forward to extending the above protocols to our plants and offices in other regions, when they reopen,” he added.
Prada partially reopened its industrial sites in Tuscany on April 20, recalling around 300 employees to work in the leather goods, apparel and footwear departments at its Arezzo premises. This reopening, which was communicated to the local authorities in advance, involves the prototyping and sample-making departments.
The factories in the Umbria, Marche and Veneto regions partially reopened next, followed lastly by the collection and sample-making workshops in the Milan headquarters.
Prada has implemented a full range of measures to protect against infection from COVID-19 to safeguard the health of employees. As set out in the internal safety protocol signed by the company, employee health and safety representatives, the medical coordinator and the Health and Safety service, the measures involve reduced hours, or hours split up over multiple shifts, to ensure staggered access to the sites and the correct distancing of about six feet between workstations.
Every day, on arrival, employees have their temperature taken and are provided with personal protective equipment (gloves and masks) to wear for the full duration of their shift. Bottles of sanitizing gel are placed near all workstations, and the rooms are sanitized twice daily. As a precautionary measure, the canteen will not operate for the first few weeks after reopening.
The company owns 22 production sites, of which 19 are in Italy, and counts almost 14,000 employees.
Prada’s detailing of its safety measures Thursday came as more and more Italian fashion companies outlined the steps they are taking.
Valentino, for example, is also ready to gradually reopen starting May 4. Its Milan, Rome and Valdagno headquarters will resume their operations with the factories in Italy, implementing a dedicated protocol of safety regulations for its employees. Each employee is expected to strictly follow all safety measures provided in the COVID-19 protocol and committees have been established in all Valentino sites to reinforce the regulations.
The fashion house has also established a partnership with Brescia’s Spedali Civili and that city’s Università degli Studi for the launch of Valentino People Care. The program will provide employees with specialized medical consultation and training or informative programs dedicated to the coronavirus. The exclusive partnership also involves a cycle of training programs held by experts and lecturers via streaming and video tutorials on the health emergency for all employees and family members.
Italian fashion companies are adopting safety measures for factory workers similar to those being implemented at Valentino. These include temperature checks and providing sanitizing gels, and extraordinary sanitization of all work space and recreation areas before the reopening and repeated during the day. Each employee will be responsible for the sanitization and cleaning of his own work space area and tools. Among other measures, additional protective individual gear will be provided for all employees and a security health kit against contamination will be distributed to each employee containing three surgical face masks — one for the commute from home and two to be used during working hours and disposable gloves. Plexiglass dividers will be installed at all reception areas. Smart-working will continue to be reinforced for those employees who are able to work from home. All work trips nationally and internationally have been canceled for now along with internal events, meetings and training programs and digital communication is preferred when possible. There will be shifts in common areas such as the cafeteria where the amount of seating will be reduced. Individual food portions and packaged cutlery will be arranged and there will be a sanitary supervision.
Beyond these measures, some companies have linked with universities or hospitals to amplify the steps they are taking.
As reported, Brunello Cucinelli has partnered with the Università degli Studi in Perugia, Italy, to research the best diagnostic and management strategies to implement safely resuming work. Coordinated by Prof. Antonella Mencacci, the pilot study will involve 1,000 of the fashion company’s employees who volunteered to be tested as a research base.
Gucci will extend to all its sites the safety protocol underwritten with the unions thanks to the consultancy with virologist Prof. Roberto Burioni of the Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milano. In addition to ArtLab, which opened its prototypes department on April 20, the industrial complex will reopen on May 4, as well as Gucci’s six production plants in the Tuscany and Marche regions, while supporting smart-working whenever possible.
Marzotto Group developed a protocol with the unions approved by the department of microbiology and virology of the Padova University directed by Prof. Andrea Crisanti, which range from the masks and gloves to be distributed to employees to measuring the temperature and the sanitization of the spaces. Davide Favrin, ceo of Marzotto Group, said the protocol was conceived by “operating at all levels, up to the reorganization of operations and productions to change the conditions that meant workers would not be distanced more than three feet.”
Conte has warned of a possible new lockdown looming if the first two weeks in May show a resurgence of infections and everyone is aware caution is of the utmost importance.
“After the difficulties of the past several months, all of us at Zegna are looking forward to getting back to work and resuming our operations in some ways,” said Gildo Zegna, ceo of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. “We are deeply conscious of the fact that many challenges still lie ahead, and that above all else we must continue to guarantee that our people return to work safely and remain healthy throughout this process. As a family-owned company, I am extremely grateful and proud of how all of us at Zegna have come together to meet these recent challenges. But it did not stop there, and it is thanks to the coordination and solidarity of many different individuals, companies and institutions that we are now able to reopen safely. As always, it is in trying times like these that families pull together and come out even stronger. We still have several difficult months ahead of us, but I am confident that we will face the future with renewed enthusiasm and passion.”
The men’s wear powerhouse opened its offices in Villa Stabio in Switzerland and in Milan (only for brand and style) on April 27. Zegna was allowed to start production in Italy and Switzerland on April 29. The group has also been producing medical overalls. On Monday, the headquarters in Milan will reopen. In addition to the above mentioned measures, Zegna will provide medical surveillance to its employees.
“Finally, on May 4 we restart with 85 percent of our employees in all departments, organized in shifts and smart working in order to ensure that there will be less than 50 percent of our employees per each shift,” said Massimo Ferretti, executive chairman of Aeffe SpA, which controls Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini and Pollini. “The rigid protocol that we have fine-tuned, in agreement with the unions and best practice for COVID- 19, sees among other provisions the distribution of masks, single-use gloves, sanitizing gels throughout the company and totems that can measure the temperature at the entrance. Our main goal will be to recover lost ground to ensure timely deliveries of the fall 2020 season and the production of the pre-collections that will be presented at the end of June.”
Tod’s will begin to produce gradually in all of its six sites between the Marche and Tuscany regions. From Monday, employees will work in shifts and the company will continue to endorse smart-working in Milan.
Versace’s prototype department opened in Novara on April 27 and production will restart gradually in that site starting on Monday. While also supporting smart-working, the brand’s headquarters in Milan will reopen with reduced hours, but no physical meetings will be allowed.
Caruso, which produces men’s wear collections for leading international fashion brands as well as its own namesake label, will also resume operations on Monday, providing protective kits and in compliance with the protocols. “In Soragna, near Parma, we run a one-of-a-kind hub,” said ceo Marco Angeloni. “Five hundred skilled team members work in this small fashion capital, mostly unknown to the final consumer. With reference to the current health crisis, even if we recorded no official cases amongst our employees, the area has been severely hit and the psychological toll very heavy. Nevertheless, during this long standstill that we decided to start even before official lockdowns to show respect toward our people, we have had the chance to think on how to bounce back and evolve by improving services, enhancing flexibility and fostering innovation.”
Angeloni said that in the past weeks Caruso “rearranged production layouts, set new safety procedures that go well beyond the compulsory ones, reorganized working shifts and sourced (from the market and from internal production) PPE for at least the next four months. Two weeks ago, we were given the green light to reopen our prototype development area, a great energy booster, and next Monday we will finally switch on production and pick up from where we left it in early March. We have decided to do so on a voluntary base, as fear and family needs cannot be ignored, and I am proud to witness an almost complete level of attendance.”