MILAN — “We need to stand together and keep on promoting synergies in the fashion industry and in our city as well,” said Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala opening the White Milano trade show on Feb. 20, just one day before the coronavirus outbreak hit a town outside Milan, disrupting the tail end of fashion week and the events connected to it.
The first three days of White showed a number of visitors in line with last February’s edition, organizers said: foreign buyers were increasing by 9 percent, while Italian ones were showing a stable trend. But the media hurricane following the coronavirus in Italy and the following decisions taken by Italian institutions caused a sharp drop in visitors. Impacted by these moves, visitors fell to 20,757 from 25,256 last February, recording an 18 percent decrease in the last day of the show alone, Feb. 23.
White founder Massimiliano Bizzi underscored how the fashion industry is living a moment that cannot be compared to others. “It’s a sea change and a paradigm shift toward new productive models: sustainability is now essential to all companies.”
The other key issue becomes craftsmanship and a short supply chain. “Despite this emergency, we have witnessed a growing attention toward small and medium companies, which are attracting buyers,” added Bizzi, and this attention can reduce the gap between them and the final consumer.
Milan’s mayor was on the same track: “Today our companies may be successful if they look beyond their economic and financial stability because profit is not enough; it’s sustainability that must lead our lives.”
One year after the launch of “Give a Fokus,” the hub dedicated to sustainable innovation was back with its creative director Matteo Ward, who partnered with Cittadellarte — Fondazione Pistoletto and Fashion Revolution. This edition’s goal was to inform about two of the most polluting stages in textile production: the development of the fabric and the dyeing and finishing stage.
The effort to reach sustainable processes and collections was therefore a leitmotif at this edition of White. Designer Artsi Ifrach, based in Marrakech, was White Special Guest with his brand Maison Artc. His collection featured upcycled one-off pieces. “I personally pick up materials in flea markets, or look at the leftovers of other companies to give birth to a new idea of couture, whose bond with culture is inseparable,” Ifrach said. This is what fascinates the designer most: the connection between the past and the present that vintage fabrics can express, together with the opportunity of being both sustainable and creative. Maison Artc presented golden and black masks paired with printed trousers or long dresses, next to a precious white burqa which reminded of a European wedding dress.
During the four-day fair, Ifrach’s work was awarded by Camera Buyer Italia and Beppe Angiolini, whose Sugar boutique, is based in Tuscany, for his sustainable approach to fashion.
Los Angeles-born designer Jordan Nodarse brought his sustainable denim collection to this edition of White once again. His goal is to have a short zero-waste chain by recycling all of the cutting waste and by reducing the use of water. Nodarse partners with suppliers who not only share his vision of sustainability but who can also guarantee that yarn, fabric and manufacturing facilities are within 30 miles from each other, like in Thailand, in order to reduce carbon emissions. At his booth, a new collection of trenches stood out, presented in a safari-inspired range of colors, which will be launched in the target markets of the company — the U.S., Italy, France and Germany.
A new accessories brand, Izmee, founded by Veneto businessman Enrico Accettola, displayed a range of water bottles that aims at being seen as a fashion accessory. Accettola is also the designer of the bottles, which are inspired by the different kinds of human personalities, as the brand’s name and its claim remind: Izmee, Be your bottle. From a more romantic style to designs that find inspiration in Pop Art, Accettola also expressed his commitment to the environment and a plastic-free world.
“With the purchase of each bottle, the company will donate part of the revenues to Cesvi, an international organization devoted to protecting and promoting human rights around the world,” Accettola added. But the designer admitted his concerns about what’s happening in China (and now in Italy) because of the lockdown of factories due to the coronavirus. “More than 70 steps are needed to build our bottles and one of them must be done in China, as they have the best know how.”
Italian brand Le Api Operaie was founded by Barbara Pianese, who wanted to “give my contribution to curb the expansion of illegal work and make room for female workers.” The company was founded nearly 20 years ago and Pianese bags collections now have a solid business in Europe, in the U.S. (especially New York and the Hamptons) and in Japan. Every bag, retailing at around $600, is made by hand using knitting needles or looms. “Gradually, we took the road of sustainability, choosing a traceable supply chain and nontoxic materials, even for the smaller parts of the bags,” the entrepreneur explained. Pianese is now planning the opening of her first showroom in Milan, while production remains between Tuscany and Apulia.
In the Belgian Focus area, organized in partnership with the Flanders District of Creativity, sustainability was also a priority for brands such as YNGR, with its recycled leather bags, or Anse Van Gestel’s Moon Games and her knitwear and accessories collections. Gestel’s knitwear is inspired by a spiritual vision of the world, a vision she brought from the daily practice of yoga. Therefore, a design similar to a “third eye” embellishes the left side of sweaters, “as it’s the side of our heart,” Gestel noted. Each piece is made of sustainable materials like eucalyptus wood or traceable merino wool.
Gestel also designs travel bags, laptop covers and handbags with the goal to raise awareness about the environment and human rights. For the “Awake” pochette, the materials used mainly come from partnerships with African workers, who supply recycled paper, combined with the European knowledge of water-resistant technologies.
At the White Basement area, The Sustainables showroom brought several brands committed to a more responsible fashion. Founded in Ukraine but now based in Paris, The Sustainables represent 15 international companies, from Peru to France, which have to guarantee the use of sustainable materials up to 80 percent of their production and a traceable supply chain.
Devo Home showed a faux fur collection made of hemp and other natural fibers, which replace both animal and synthetic fur produced from petrochemicals, succeeding in becoming entirely natural and biodegradable.
Ochis Eyewear stood out for a delicate smell of coffee, which came from the brand’s sunglasses made with recycled coffee waste. Each piece is sold at around $100 dollars. 91Lab knitwear showcased looks in recycled polyester and organic cotton, while Sinobi presented slippers with vegetable-tanned leather and recycled soles.
One more interesting area was Focus on Sicily, which hosted 41 Sicilian companies thanks to a partnership with Sicilian institutions, following the effort of supporting artisanal work. NN Couture by Elio Ferraro stood out for its precious and colorful caftans handmade on 19th-century looms and inspired by the Moghul Empire. Ferraro launched his brand three years ago with a price range that goes from $600 to $1,600.
Another Sicilian entrepreneur who is getting good feedback from the U.S. is the designer Giada Pavone, who founded her company with her sister Roberta three years ago. The two sisters gave the brand their grandmother’s surname — Antoniani — as she was a dressmaker born in Northern Italy but then decided to move to Sicily. Antoniani’s bags collection is inspired by the world of fashion: materials used are leather, cotton and canvas and each piece is handmade. Thanks to the Sicily Nights project, which was launched in Arkansas by Giada Pavone’s husband, Marco Pomara, the company is expecting a rise in American sales as the project will move to cities like New York, Boston and Baltimore in the next months.
Young designer Emanuela Bertino presented Danima, a hair accessories brand. Headbands made by hand with around nine meters of ribbon were embellished with Italian feathers and French velvet and cost around $100.