MILAN — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people all over the world to rethink their lives and their businesses, and entrepreneurs need to embrace this change as “signs of the times,” said Massimiliano Bizzi, founder of the White Milano trade show.
The fashion industry is no exception to this tumult, and an increasing number of partnerships and a stronger focus on quality, sustainability and responsibility of brands and companies have emerged in the last months as key for Italian fashion companies.
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“Sign of the Times” was also the title of the latest edition of White, which ran from Sept. 23 to 25. “It’s no secret that the number of people visiting White was quite unexpected this month, considering travel bans and other restrictions due to the pandemic,” Bizzi admitted. “That is a sign that people do want to share creativity and experiences in person and see firsthand places and products.” In fact, White attracted 13,000 visitors, of which 85 percent were buyers, including delegations from the U.S., including Lane Crawford, and the United Arab Emirates, such as Galeries Lafayette.
Fashion events were connected to White, as well as talks and focus groups on sustainability and retail strategies taking place in shops and showrooms around Milan during the fair. “We want to develop what Salone del Mobile has done in the design and architecture sectors,” Bizzi added, “which means engaging citizens and changing the way our fashion weeks are lived, involving small businesses committed to quality and environmental issues as well.”
At White, 290 brands showed their creations and highlighted their philosophies more than ever. Sustainability as crucial when considering the next generation of consumers was well-expressed by Ana Duarte. The Portuguese designer was bestowed the C.L.A.S.S. Icon Award for her strong creativity that goes hand in hand with her commitment to fight against pollution and forest destruction. “C.L.A.S.S. and I worked together for my collection using organic and recycled materials,” Duarte explained, “and now that I know more about materials, sustainable companies and how their production works. I think this experience is just a start for me.” Duarte used materials like Newlife, a 100 percent made In Italy yarn coming from traceable plastic bottles, and the Japanese yarn Bemberg by Asahi Kasei, made from the transformation of cotton linter.
These materials gave life to the 20 outfits in Duarte’s graphic and playful collection inspired by urban landscapes, where superhero Tadao, the designer’s dog, fights against monsters like Deforestation Man and Smog Man. “I think we all need to know how to consume better, less and more effectively by choosing sustainable pieces that last longer,” underscored Duarte.
In the Contemporary Area at White, Skin of Nature stood out. The company, founded by Italy’s Elena Beraldo, focuses focused on outdoor outfits. The Aquatilis line, in particular, was inspired by the work of Russian marine biologist and underwater photographer Alexander Semenov. The yarns used by the designer come from recovered plastic bottles and both packaging and labels are made of scraps and recycled materials. Patterns remind of the underwater world, with memories of jellyfish and plankton. “With my outfits, I try to make my contribution to save our mother Earth and respect both the people who work in factories and those who wear our items,” Beraldo said. “That is why I moved from Italy to Hong Kong five years ago, to closely monitor the entire production chain, from plastic bottles to the final product.”
Alongside with Aquatilis, Beraldo also presented her Different Kind capsule, made of KI-72 garment. Created by the Italian Madex, KI-72 is made of recycled materials and the final product is not only durable but also biodegradable in every single detail.
Shoes designer Francesca Bellavita had her booth in the Contemporary Area as well. Her challenge was to combine vegetable tanned leather with new shapes and to give life to her “dream of a shoe as a luxury toy,” Bellavita said. The Minnie and the Minnie-Bootie collections feature a cartoon-style round shaped plateau and a sinuous heel. Bellavita, who was named Young Italian Emerging Designer Around the World by Micam in 2019, added that her company (founded in Milan in 2017) has extended her target market outside Italy by selling in Russia, China and the Middle East.
Pakistan-born Meher Kakalia was back again at White with a line of recycled, handmade bags and shoes. Born in Karachi, Kakalia moved to London to study and work in the financial sector, until she understood that her dream was to show the world her country’s tradition of embroidery, applied to the art of shoe making. Europe, Asia and the U.S. are the target markets for the designer who founded her eponymous brand 10 years ago, following a slow fashion philosophy which promotes the production of products that have been preordered only, in order to avoid waste. All materials are recycled, while artisans are mainly women who work within their own families.
Old military uniforms got a new life to De’ Hart’s new collection. The brand, founded in 2012 by Tuscan company Lanificio Becagli, presented its outerwear alongside a capsule of bags and pillows. Simona Paolettoni, product supervisor, said their brand has increased sales outside Italy during the pandemic. Main markets are Europe and Japan, where De’ Hart sells through its website and Instagram. The company is focused on boosting its presence on the social network to strengthen its online sales.
Standing out for its deep research in the reuse of older pieces of clothing, Italian designer Giuseppe Mistrazzoso showcased his line Re-Worked. The new line features a wide range of shirts made of old silk headscarves. Produced by Mistrazzoso’s company Vento del Sud, Re-Worked includes a capsule of sandals and dresses.
White also offered special projects such as “Room 001,” dedicated to Vivienne Westwood and a selection of unisex pieces, and TWOBC, a ready-to-wear collection designed by British Italian designer Antonio Berardi. His colorful line, produced by Roberto Zanetto’s company T.E.C. and distributed by Marina Guidi’s Garage, was presented in an all-white version created for the Milanese trade show.
The trade show also held talks and meetings to explore the next generation’s needs in terms of shopping experiences, such as “Symposium 2021.” Organized by Gen Z strategist Laura Puricelli and The Sustainable Mag’s founders Francesca Manfredi and Paola Vinci, Symposium focused on sustainability and digital experiences from the point of view of Gen Z: reuse, recycle and rental are the foundations of new business models that the fashion industry needs to develop. The real challenge that emerged during the Symposium was about communication: using gamification and infotainment experiences, the fashion industry will have to work on communicating brand awareness and a commitment to a circular economy, while implementing exchanges between online and offline experiences.