But Onida is finding it more difficult to execute than criticize — with Dini’s government on shaky footing until new elections are called later this year, little has been accomplished on the ICE reform bill. Onida’s objectives are to thin the work force by 30-35 percent, shut down offices in Italy (reducing the total number to about 8 from 38), streamline the Rome headquarters and expand the agency’s overseas network, which currently consists of 70 offices around the world.
“ICE is supposed to work as a support to the nation’s production system, to help companies present themselves on new markets, overcome difficult conditions and find new clients, and all of this not only in our traditional markets, such as Europe and the U.S., but also in new markets, such as Asia, Latin America and the Middle East,” said Onida during a recent interview at ICE’s Milan offices. ICE runs on a total annual budget of some $250 million (400 billion lire) a year, of which some $120 million (190 billion lire) are for the overseas network.
With respect to Italy’s fashion companies, which represent a truly verticalized industry — complete from yarns and textile mills to the masters of the designer label — Onida says many of these companies today benefit from the tremendous push Italy’s big names made during the fashion boom of the 1980s.
“This period created the framework within which many entrepreneurs discovered tremendous opportunities,” Onida said.
Today, however, Onida said ICE’s goal is to slightly redirect the marketing effort regarding Italy’s fashion firms, considering that most of Italy’s top names have consolidated successful businesses in the U.S. But there are still many firms that are trying to get a foothold.
“We need to realize that the reality of Italy’s fashion system isn’t just tied to the designer name,” Onida said. “It is about high quality and style — but there are companies out there of a certain importance producing quality products, even though they won’t have the designer name,” he said. “These companies need to be identified and supported.”
In general, ICE works to offer organizational support, information and contacts, among other marketing and consulting services, to Italian companies in the markets they want to approach. ICE can also, for a fee, help local businesses who are looking to contact Italian manufacturers.
“These are some of the areas where ICE can do something,” Onida said.
Onida also remembers some of the memorable events ICE put on under its promotional and public awareness strategy — such as the Piazza Italia extravaganza several years ago, where the New York Armory was transformed into an Italian piazza for millions of dollars in a mega bash that drew criticism from many fashion executives who felt that such grandiose promotions of Italian culture did little to help their business in the U.S.
While Onida doesn’t entirely rule out the benefits of such marketing/promotion initiatives, he is more for concrete instruments to help the Italian firms expand their market share.
In addition to its work in its traditional European markets, the Moda Made In Italy project has developed a range of initiatives to promote Italian fashion in two strategic markets, the U.S. and Japan. The measures include informational campaigns such as advertorial projects with leading fashion publications, special initiatives with trade fairs, exhibits and other events. Under ICE’s total promotional budget, which amounts to some $75 million (120 billion lire) a year, the fashion sector receives some $21 million (34 billion lire), one of the largest single budgets for any sector, according to ICE veteran Sergio La Verghetta, head of the agency’s Moda Made In Italy project, which is headquartered in Milan.
The sector budget is broken down to about $9 million (14 billion lire) for general projects within the sector and some $12.5 million (20 billion lire) for the Global Fashion project, La Verghetta explained.
After focusing a lot on resources in the Japanese market last year, this year, much of ICE’s work in the fashion sector is focused on the U.S., where Italian fashions currently represent about 8 percent of the total apparel market.
Among the initiatives are a comprehensive advertorial campaign, as well as more specific publications such as several catalogs jointly published with Saks Fifth Avenue featuring Italian products exclusive to Saks. ICE is also preparing to bring a group of Italian houses to the MAGIC trade fair in Las Vegas and has slated a major exhibit for the end of the year exploring the connection between Italian fashion today and traditions that date back to the Renaissance. Other objectives will include an effort to collaborate more closely with the major U.S. department stores.