How Italy Is Built On Fashion

Claudio Marenzi on the value of fashion

As the famous saying goes, "speak English, kiss French, drive German, and dress Italian". Italy has been renowned for its high-quality craftsmanship, sharp tailoring and luxury designs since the 11th century, and the manufacturing and export of fashionable items is an integral part of the country’s economy. To understand more about this unique heritage – as well as its promising future – we spoke to Claudio Marenzi, President of Sistema Moda Italia.

Industry & Trade Fashions Italy, by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1947 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)

Why is fashion so important to Italy?
The Italian fashion, textile and accessories sector is one of the most important in the world for revenue generated, number of people employed, and the number of companies involved. Since March, we have been able to gather the whole sector in Italy into a single federation; Confindustria Moda is made up of 67,000 companies and 580,000 employees, totaling 88 billion euros in annual turnover.

Besides its economic value, it’s also a creative hotbed for expertise and craftsmanship, rooted in centuries of culture and beauty. Italy has always had the taste for the beautiful, with foundations in the early days of the Italian renaissance. Today this tradition is represented by an industry that is to Italy what the automobile sector is to Germany: it’s the jewel in our crown.

Article from the magazine "Settimo Giorno", 1955 (From the collection of Fondazione Pitti Discovery)

Fashion is often seen as "frivolous" - is it true that the lives of people in Italy are influenced by fashion in ways they may not be aware of?
Fashion influences society as much as society influences fashion. It's a close relationship. Fashion gives people the opportunity to express themselves and everyone is free to choose how they do this. The fact that fashion is so important for personal expression and growth is also confirmed by the numbers: fashion is the third biggest industry in Italy, which is certainly nothing frivolous.

How does local manufacturing have a positive impact on local communities?
Local manufacturing creates jobs and wealth that circulates across the country. Investing in local production creates a future for the next generation – it’s really investing in people and the transmission of knowledge and expertise.

How does the impact of fashion vary from region to region?
Italy is a country characterized by strong area specialization, from which stems local excellence. From district to district, the knowledge and expertise can be different, but the importance and the need to protect and support 'Made in Italy' products remains the same.

Art. 256 pochette - Fase 4 - il taglio, 1950, Leu Locati (From the collection of Assolombarda Confindustria Milano Monza e Brianza)
Tombolo (From the collection of Unioncamere)

What do you think drives the industry to continue to produce goods in Italy instead of outsourcing abroad?
‘Made in Italy’ in fashion is synonymous with exclusivity. The industries that continue to produce in Italy know this well and focus on the quality of ‘Made in Italy’ products. It’s the know-how and expert craftsmanship that position them in the global market. Producing in Italy is a strategic choice.

How is Italy addressing the need to increase the sustainability of production processes to reduce the environmental impact of the industry?
The sustainability of the production process is one of the main challenges within the fashion sector. The modern industry demands more and more customized products, business and product sustainability, and a diversified social impact – and these are all issues that we observe in the Italian fashion ecosystem. In Herno, a clothing company that I chair as president, we’ve been investing in sustainability since 2015. Along with Eurojersey and the Radici Group, we presented a "Product Environmental Footprint" project in Brussels that measures the environmental impact of products.

What does the Commissione Sostenibilità Ricerca & Innovazione do?
The Commissione Sostenibilità Ricerca & Innovazione (Commission for Sustainability Research & Innovation) was strongly advocated not only by SMI, but also by Minister Calenda, who was the Deputy Minister at that time. The Commission has set up a single metric of quality and sustainability standards that govern the entire production process. The purpose is to define the guidelines for production standards and supply requirements that the modern market demands.

The leathers, 2000s (From the collection of Museo della Calzatura di Villa Foscarini)

How do you see the future of the Italian fashion industry?
Success in the fashion industry is not a linear process. Success is based on insights, on creativity, and on innovation. To this end, I hope that the know-how acquired over the centuries, combined with the creativity that characterizes ‘Made in Italy’ products, will continue to make Italian fashion a leader of the global industry. We want the fashion sector to lead in Italy’s growth.

Explore more on the impact of fashion:
- Caroline Rush on the importance of fashion to the UK economy
- Pascal Morand on the importance of fashion to the French economy
- Back to We Wear Culture

Claudio Marenzi

Claudio Marenzi is the President of Sistema Moda Italia- Italian Textile and Fashion Federation, President of Confindusria Moda, President of Pitti Immagine, Presidente of Classico Italia, and Presidente of Herno.

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