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Conversation online – Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks

Remarks as keynote speaker delivered by Ambassador Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, at the Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks / Panel – Italian Fashion is “SDG’s during a pandemic”


(Remarks by Amb. Mariangela Zappia starting from 6 h. 37 min. 25 sec.)

A sincere thanks to the organizers of FashInnovation WorldWide Talks. It is great to be part of this initiative and to see how the fashion world is reacting with energy and innovation to the huge challenge we are all facing as humanity. Fashion is one of the most vivid reflection of our society and this is proofing to be the case also in this unprecedented situation.

The pandemic has put us in front of the reality of our fragility I would say. At the same time it is testing our capacity to respond and to recover better. I believe the fashion system has the strength and energy not only to overcome this phase but to become even more sustainable.

I will try to focus on how Italy’s fashion and textile industry is dealing with the pandemic, how it is reacting and how, sustainability, respect for the environment, protecting human rights and reducing inequalities will have to be at the core of this sort of “renaissance” for the entire planet. And I will start by quoting a great Italian master, “king Giorgio” as we call him in Italy, Giorgio Armani, who few days ago in a very beautiful open letter, said and I quote: “This crisis is a marvelous opportunity to slow everything down, to realign everything, to reshape a more authentic and real future.”

The immediate emergency, first: as you know, the virus has hit Italy massively and everywhere: major cities, small towns and communities, in the North particularly, but it has not spared the rest of the country. Italy is paying really the highest price and too many lives have been lost and still are unfortunately. It’s a terrible loss. Our Country has been hit at the socio-economic level as well, but it has never relented. In these long weeks Italians, at every level, are proving to have exceptional resilience, sense of sacrifice and solidarity.

Our production system has been ready to respond, showing once again that Italy is a cradle of creativity and know-how in all sectors and in all times. Many fashion-textile companies have promptly converted their manufacturing to help national healthcare system cope with this huge challenge. Not only the big ones like Prada, Gucci, Armani, but the sector’s medium and small companies have begun to produce gowns and masks for healthcare workers and have tapped into their global networks to find and donate ventilators and medical equipments. A true example of solidarity and social responsibility.

Second, how to cope with this crisis and avoid the risk of total paralysis. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving”, Albert Einstein said. And this is exactly what our fashion and textile industry is doing: it is indeed moving. The heart of Italian manufacturing, hundreds of fashion-textile companies are moving, they are adapting to the new reality, introducing new safety measures and placing even greater focus on the protection of their primary assets: their workers. To Go back to work by protecting your work force this is an imperative.

The challenge is huge. Our larger companies, the most famous global ambassadors of Made in Italy, have an innate ability to cope with crises. However, to sustain their levels of excellence, they need small and medium-sized enterprises that make up the backbone of Italy’s fashion industry, and in the majority of cases, are at the frontline of a long production process. These SMEs, in turn, need the pull of large companies to strengthen and open themselves to international markets. In normal circumstances, this is a virtuous cycle from which the various actors benefit. In a phase of crisis like the one we are living, it risks becoming a vicious cycle dragging down Italy’s entire fashion industry.

I recently spoke with a few entrepreneurs and representatives of professional associations. No one expressed the least hesitation: this is a time for our collective commitment to safeguard, bolster and innovate Italy’s production sector. We must aim for the authentic Italian product, for values of sustainability and of course for creativity.

The production process of Italy’s fashion textiles is unique in the world; it ranges from buttons to fabrics, to the most sophisticated apparel. It’s an ecosystem rooted in the excellence of Made in Italy products, whose distinctive features are quality, know-how and creativity. And of course the crucial, strong connection with the local territory, which means respecting traditions in production; a sense of community and widespread attention to social development in production districts.

This awareness of how important it is for the country, this industry, translates into a sort of pioneer spirit of the industry itself. When it comes to sustainability, Italian companies have been for years really at the forefront. Sustainability has become integral part of the business model of major luxury companies and for SMEs. Companies have introduced green policies and controlled production systems to reduce their impact, investing in materials, production, facilities, waste disposal, recycling and upcycling. Sustainable fashion has developed research in new materials from vegetable derived waste. Collections were created with eco-friendly materials, often taken from tradition, derived from fibers of nettle, hemp, bamboo and many others. There is also a growing use of materials derived from recycling heavy pollutants, such as plastic. In waterproofing fabrics, the use of chemicals is reduced and many companies have curbed emissions and consumption of water that is particularly abundant in this sector.

So this experience will become really fundamental right now in the moment that we are living. And another important thing is circularity. In the EU Green Deal recently launched, circular economy is well identified as crucial. It is a strong sign of progress. There will be critical regulatory and technological issues but we will overcome also that.

The fact is that sustainability and a circular economy don’t come free. This is why it is important for end consumers to be fully aware of the efforts made upstream by the production.

I believe that one of the opportunities that this pandemic will bring is more attention to quality, to what is behind a product that is beneficial to the society. I believe there will be less acceptance of things which are superfluous. Also it will accelerate our thinking and put ourselves in front of some important questions: Should major fashion shows entail the movement of so many people and cost so much? Shouldn’t they become more environmentally friendly? Would this be viable for the industry and the creation?

Greater sustainability for the fashion industry implies a less frenetic approach to the market: are we sure we need all these collections. So many collections every year? Running too fast risks throwing us off course, or even limiting and exhausting creativity.

So there are so many questions. Consumers will tend more and more to, I think, privilege durable, non-disposable goods, while manufacturers will be more and more reluctant to flood the market with excessive quantities. Brunello Cucinelli defined this time as “not so much a circumstance, but a new era that compels us to rethink the purpose and consumption of things.”Sustainability will be the keyword of the times we are embarking upon.

Thank you so much.