Tag Archives: Apparel Industry

Different Worlds: Exploring the Fashion Systems of France and Italy

By Pamela Ellsworth
Chair, Global Fashion Management

Didier Grumbach, Honorary President of the Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (center) on campus at Institut Français de la Mode after his lecture on “The Invention and Reinvention of Haute Couture.” Students hold copies of his book, “History of International Fashion.”


GFM Seminar: April, 2018

This year’s Paris seminar was devoted to an understanding of the professional organizations established to support France’s legendary fashion industry. In addition, the multicultural team assignment was created to provide a deeper analysis of the design inspiration of current couture members. Fascinated as we tend to be by the Paris collections for their creative beauty and extravagance, as well as for their excess and occasional insanity, it’s easy to forget that they thrive and contribute to France’s economy based on the strength of powerful state-run organizations.

Dr. David Zajtmann, Professor at Institut Français de la Mode presents his lecture on Haute Couture and Fashion in Paris to GFM during the Paris Seminar.

David Zajtmann, Creative Brands Strategist at Institut Français de la Mode, and author of Understanding the Role of Professional Organisations in Supporting the Creative Industries writes, “the presentations of collections in Paris remain important events for the global fashion industry thanks to a long-term strategy of strong professional representation, regulation and integration of national and international key industry players carried out by the Fédération over time.”  Mr. Zajtmann presented to GFM on the first day of the seminar, laying an essential foundation for the following several days of immersion into the structure of the organization and the creators that uphold its reputation.

By the end of the seminar, our knowledge of the Parisian fashion system – the introduction of the couturier in 1858; the creation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 1911; the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s; and the establishment of the Fédération de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode in 1973 – helped us to understand the methodology and evolution of what is still the world’s most well-developed fashion system.  In his article, Mr. Zajtmann discusses the French government’s supporting role in establishing a list of authorized couturiers every year, and, until 1979, even financing the purchase of French fabrics to be used in the shows, in addition to making it possible for fashion companies to host fashion shows at the Louvre until 1986.

This historical insight and much more – as we heard from a broad range of speakers at the IFM’s YSL Amphitheatre as well as at site visits – provided essential background in making comparisons and contrasts to the company structures and organizations we would visit when we continued on to Florence and Prato, Italy at the close of the Paris seminar.

Our brief seminar in Florence and Prato was organized to introduce GFM graduate students to a textile and fashion system that was culturally, historically, and organizationally different from the Paris system of haute couture we had just experienced during our 10-day seminar at Institut Française de la Mode.

We organized our two-and-a-half-day Italy seminar with the guidance of Pascal Gautrand – a founder of Made in Town and a consultant for Première Vision – a French colleague who studied at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, and has worked closely with Italian companies in recent years. In his introduction to our students, he described the unique history of Tuscany as the inspiration for the region’s ability to manufacture luxury goods since the Middle Ages, and how Italian companies are reinventing their heritage to survive in today’s highly competitive business climate.

We began our seminar with a private meeting in the conference room of Pitti Immagine, with Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO. This organization is devoted to promoting the Italian fashion industry, and is perhaps the most important trade show for menswear in the world. Mr. Napoleone began with an overview of the American Marshall Plan’s impact on the Italian fashion industry following World War II, continuing with statistics on the large volume of Italian women’s fashion purchased by American department stores post war, and describing the struggle to compete in the 1970s based on the small size of individual companies and lack of organization, resulting in the industry’s move to Milan. Mr. Napoleone has reinvented Pitti Immagine from a conventional trade show to one that reaches beyond fashion to a cultural strategy, by offering a research division, art, architecture, food, wine, and fragrance. He commented that because fashion can change easily and be communicated quickly, the trade show must reinvent itself season after season.

As one of the most high-profile business executives in the Italian and European fashion industry, we knew that Mr. Napoleone didn’t have a great deal of time to spend with us, but none of that seemed to matter as he answered every question around the table (and there were many), even leaving time to make recommendations for the best spots for lunch in Florence. Happily, we could think of no place farther from New York City, and no one more generous or knowledgeable in relating the details of the Italian fashion industry.

The Global Fashion Management Florence Seminar began with a meeting with Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine (left), inside the headquarters of one of the most impactful menswear trade show events in the world.

Our next stop was Scuola del Cuoio, a leather school founded by Franciscan friars after World War II, located near the banks of the Arno River, which has been the location of the leather tanneries since the 13th century. The portion of the building that we visited was donated by the Medici family during the Renaissance, with the photo below showing one of the frescos from that time.

GFM students inside Scuola del Cuoio, watch an artisan make a woven leather briefcase. The school’s original mission from the 1930’s was to teach a practical trade to orphans of the war.  Today it’s open to everyone and offers workshops and short courses to study under a master leather craftsman or craftswoman.

From Scuola del Cuoio, we visited the Palazzo Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum, a shrine to some of the most extraordinary costumes and contemporary garments in the world. The Museo della Moda was founded in 1983, and contains haute couture Italian design, cinema, and opera costumes, and a rather astonishing display of the funeral clothes of Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and his wife, Eleonor of Toledo. (Their bodies were disinterred, and the bones and textiles were examined.)

GFM students on a site visit to Palazzo Pitti Museum of Costume in Florence.
The Palazzo Pitti  Fashion and Costume Museum hosts a collection of rare and precious garments from Italian designers from the renaissance through the 20th Century. Shown here, are couture designs by Gianfranco Ferré, circa 1989.

By bus, we headed out of Florence to Fiesole and the Stafano Ricci atelier. Mr. Ricci explained the brand heritage, and his staff toured us through the small custom shirt and belt factory. You won’t see any photos because we were sworn to secrecy, but the small-scale atelier of beautiful quality Italian cotton shirts was unlike any productions facility we would find most anywhere in the world.

Stefano Ricci Spring Summer 2018 campaign
An image from the Stefano Ricci Spring/Summer 2018 campaign.

We continued north to Il Borgo San Lorenzo to visit Il Borgo Cashmere, a family-owned company since 1949 where research and experimentation is based on ancient craft techniques. Here, the company knits luxury garments and home products for Loro Piana, Bergdorf Goodman, and other high-end retailers and major fashion houses. In this small town, the company’s artisans train local crafts people to hand knit some categories of product out of their homes, which means that the company devotes considerable resources to time management and quality control, while still encouraging a spirit of creativity. The European Union finances a good part of this training. We were struck by this community dynamic, but had to keep in mind that its origin lies in the guilds of the Middle Ages, a system common throughout Europe.

Inside the showroom of Il Borgo Cashmere, a Global Fashion Management student takes a closer look at the craftsmanship of a cashmere dress.

From Il Borgo, we moved on to Capalle and Lineapiu Italia, an extraordinary company that designs and produces specialty yarns for designer fabrics. The company also serves as a repository for the research and protection of Italian sartorial art, housing more than 33,000 archived products, and providing trend direction. They worked extensively with Armani, for example, to develop new ideas and technologies for knits. Hermes and Chanel are also customers. The company runs two mills where they spin mohair, alpaca, cotton, and wool, and they took great pride is walking us through the combing, carding, and sliver phases, preparing the yarn for the knit machines.

Inside a spinning mill, students see luxury yarn being created.
Inside the spinning mill of Lineapiù Italia, a creator of luxury yarns. GFM students receive an overview of the process of creating yarn from fiber. Shown here in the foreground, is an alpaca/cashmere blend before the spinning process.

As we visited these small-scale, high-quality businesses, I was reminded of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s description of Italian companies in his book Trust, where he draws parallels between a culture’s characteristics and its prosperity. He argues that because of the nature of social capital in Italy, family bonds tend to be much stronger than those between the individual and the state, and where “private sector firms tend to be relatively small and family controlled, while large-scale enterprises need the support of the state to be viable.”  Fukuyama is careful to distinguish Italy’s highly productive “Terza Italia” (third Italy, which includes Tuscany) from the impoverished southern portion of the country. He suggests that the networks of small businesses – such as those we visited – represent “an entirely new paradigm of industrial production, one that can be exported to other countries. Social capital and culture give us considerable insight into the reasons for this miniature economic renaissance.”

The vulnerability of the small enterprises that we visited – their locations remote from a large, experienced work force, and dependent upon a rapidly-changing and quixotic luxury consumer – stood in sharp contrast to the depth of creative and manufacturing talent and commitment that we witnessed in every business. In describing the manufacture of the competitive products from the Terza Italia, including textiles and apparel, Fukuyama writes, “This confirms that there is no necessary connection between small-scale industry and technological backwardness. Italy is the world’s third-largest producer of industrial robots, and yet a third of that industry’s output is produced by enterprises with fewer than fifty employees.” Since this book was written, the point about robots is no longer a fact, but Fukuyama does make a strong case for the advantage of sophisticated, small-scale, highly skilled enterprises, based on their ability to adapt to changing consumer markets. Especially for those of us from the U.S. who have been made weary by the magnitude and monopolies of our retailers, we’re rallying to the side of Italy’s artisanal luxury designers and manufacturers to prosper.

Our final stop was a guided tour of the Prato Textile Museum, which occupies a building and location that had been the site of textile manufacture since the Middle Ages. Prato’s textile history has enjoyed enormous success and has more recently suffered great defeat under global competition, but as often as they’ve reinvented themselves, their identity remains closely tied to the textile industry.

GFM students on a docent led tour of the Prato Textile Museum.

Since the focus of our study in Italy was creativity, makers, and manufacturers, our dinner location was no exception. In Fabbrica – the name of the restaurant, which also means Factory – is a silver workshop dating back to 1902. Above the factory on the second floor, we enjoyed dinner by candelabra manufactured on site, where the wait staff worked as artisans just hours prior to our arrival. (The chef, fortunately, was a specialist in food rather than precious metals.)

At In Fabbrica, GFM students tour the silversmith workshop with owner Gianfranco Pampaloni
Gianfranco Pampaloni, owner of In Fabbrica (left), shares stories of his most notable creations with Global Fashion Management students inside his silversmith workshop and showroom.
GFM students enjoyed dinner by candelabra at In Fabbrica. The workshop turns into a restaurant by night, where the silversmiths trade in their overalls for white gloves to serve as the restaurant’s waiters.

On Saturday morning, our last day in Florence, we met at the Polimoda campus where Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the Ecole Superior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal, delivered a lecture to GFM and Polimoda students. Professor Marchetti, who is from Italy and where he also studied, spoke about the socio-historical roots of Italian culture, making comparisons to France along the way. He defined Italy as a country with a “chaotic urban context” and one without a major social revolution, based on what he referred to as unstable and ephemeral power, as compared to France’s more orderly and defined regimes.

On campus at Polimoda in Florence, GFM students ended the seminar with a lecture on “Made in Italy, Cultural Imaginary, History and Identity” by Luca Marchetti, Professor and Researcher at the École Supérior de Mode at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

We felt that this brief visit to Tuscany could be the start of a much deeper exploration, comparing two of the world’s most important cultural centers. In Paris, we studied the structure and well-developed organization of haute couture and prêt-à-porter – a legacy with well-established roots in the luxury manufacturing and export of 17th century France under Louis XIV.  Italy’s small and widely scattered companies, on the other hand, reflecting its history of warring city-states until the 19th century, still struggle. But the dominance of China, Italy’s languishing export numbers, and the trend for ever faster fashion are not what we were thinking about as we witnessed the beauty, creativity, and superior quality of the products we had the privilege to see during our final two seminar days, as well as the humility and generosity of company hosts and artisans. We all agreed that the world would be a much poorer place without Italian and French fashion and the people that create it.

Found in Translation: A Visit to Japan’s Toyota City

By Michael Battista
Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program

After the Hong Kong Seminar, GFM traveled to Japan for site visits and executive lectures to learn more about the apparel and fashion industry from the Japanese point of view. Here, a student is explores the visual merchandising of Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

As a complement to the recent Hong Kong Seminar and its focus on apparel production and the Asian markets, GFM continued onward to Japan for an optional two-day segment of executive lectures and site visits. Here, the scope of our attention expanded to include merchandising techniques at Isetan Department Store, the ethos of home goods and lifestyle brand Muji, a presentation by renowned textile designer Reiko Sudo of the innovative textile corporation Nuno, and a visit to the headquarters of Toyota [cue the abrupt screech of a record stopping]. You may be wondering what a car manufacturer has to do with Global Fashion Management. The answer is actually, quite a lot.

Toyota is one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. Before these Japanese cars dominated the planet’s roads, it was a family business known as Toyoda Loom Works. Established in 1907, it became an innovator and inventor of a number of textile looms and cotton spinning machines, improving on the speed, quality, and efficiency of mechanical textile production, and ultimately developing the technology towards automation. The company headquarters in Nagoya, Japan hosts a museum dedicated to exhibiting this history and its pivotal transition to car manufacturing on its original founding site.

Before Toyota was the company that we know of today, it was Toyoda Loom Works, a manufacturer of innovative textile looms that improved the  productivity and efficiency of textile production. Here, GFM students are in the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, a museum at the original founding site of the company in Nagoya, Japan, dedicated to exhibiting this history.

The significance of Toyota’s contribution to the apparel industry transcends its historical role in loom development and textile production. The company pioneered a highly efficient and agile manufacturing methodology, known as the Toyota Production System, that serves as the foundation for the Fast Fashion models leveraged by H&M and Inditex (the retail group behind Zara), the second and third most valuable apparel companies in the world. Additionally, Toyota’s principals of flexibility, waste reduction, and efficiency are the foundation of the Eton System, used in Esquel’s vertical production plant in Guangdong. During our China seminar, students observe​d this flexible material handling system, which is designed to eliminate manual handling and transportation, resulting in an increase in production.

While GFM Students explore the fundamentals of agile, efficient, responsive, and risk minimizing production models like the Toyota Production System in the program’s Production Management and Supply Chain course, there’s nothing quite like seeing the application of a methodology with your own eyes. The site visit to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, and then later to Toyota Motor Corporation’s Tsutsumi Assembly Plant, offered an additional opportunity for the concepts covered in the classroom to spring to life.

The museum’s textile machinery pavilion is a hangar-sized space of over 11,000 square feet filled with nearly 100 pieces of equipment from its archive­—many of which are functional—that showcases the evolution of cotton spinning and textile looms from the industrial revolution of the 18th century to today. Docents lead us through the exhibition, charting the historical progression of these production processes and stopping to demonstrate the machinery along the way. As we proceeded, we witnessed the evolution of technology, speed, and complexity, from wooden machines powered by hand to those forged by steel and guided by computer.

Inside the Toyota Museum’s Textile Pavilion, a docent holds a wooden shuttle and explains the innovations of this hand-and-foot-powered wooden loom model invented in 1891 by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works.
While it no longer operates as Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Today, Toyota Industries Corporation is still active in the production of industrial textile machinery. Here, GFM students witness a photograph transcribed to cloth right before their eyes with this demonstration of a contemporary jacquard loom.

Compared to the more contemporary and dizzyingly fast machines used by factories today, the earlier wooden looms from the beginning of the 20th century have parts that move at speeds more amenable for the human eye to process. For those of us on the tour without a technical background in textiles, it was an opportunity to better see and understand the mechanical process of a loom shuttle moving yarn back and forth between the vertical warp threads to create fabric. It was truly an aha moment for many of us, with the cadence of clicking heard from students and looms alike.

Additional wings of the museum are dedicated to the company’s transition from Toyoda Loom Works to the Toyota that we know today. The most salient changes result from the generational shift in management from father to son and a culturally astute rebranding that altered the company’s name to allude to good fortune in the written Japanese language.

By bus, we continued our site visit to the Toyota Motor Corporation Assembly Plant in nearby Toyota City. We ascended to a network of catwalks perched above the production lines. From here, we bore witness to a focused and coordinated effort of man and machine. There was a great deal of activity. Workers were staged across various points of the production lines, diligently and swiftly transforming frames of steel into cars by methodically adding its components. Small robotic carts tugged bins filled with parts to their respective stations. There was a symphony of coded tones and musical notes to indicate production status, delays or errors. This is where we could see and hear the Toyota Production System’s deployment of two of its core philosophical principles:

Just-in-Time: where the supply follows the demand, this is defined by Toyota as “making only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.” Each car we saw on the production line, represented a sale and customer order for that specific model.

Jidoka: a Japanese word at the intersection of automation and human intelligence has come to embody a quality control methodology to prevent defects throughout the workflow. Assembly workers stop the production line if a problem arises or is detected before the car moves forward to the next step in the manufacturing process.

Toyota’s growth and capture of the global market share is due to its development and refinement of these core principals (among others), which have enabled it to maximize efficiency and minimize waste (waste, in this case, being defined as overproduction).

The history of this company’s success across generations and industries illustrates the value of internationalism and open trade. Both generations of Toyoda leadership were informed and inspired by site visits abroad, building their respective global empires on the foundation of their impressions of best practices and innovations, and ultimately improving on them. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the company’s first incarnation, visited the global textile centers of his day, touring fabric mills in the northeastern U.S. and Manchester, England. His son, Kiichiro Toyoda, who transformed the company into an automobile manufacturer in 1937, went to see the Ford operation in Detroit at the onset of its development of the Assembly Line Method, a transformative innovation in manufacturing at the time.

For a grand finale, we witnessed the mechanical ballet of the welding machines fortifying the frames of cars-to-be, rhythmically moving to the beat of their own programming. Many large mechanical arms swiftly and articulately moved in concert across the body of a single car. They stretched, contracted, and rotated around each other, sending bursts of orange sparks into the air. At this point on the catwalk, we stood entranced by the performance, which would end within a minute’s time, only to be repeated on the next car frame in line. The speed and scale of the elegant process was both impressive and humbling. Many jaws had fallen ajar at the sight of it all. As we stood there above the manufacturing line, I could do nothing but appreciate that after nearly 80 years from the company’s inception, we were witnessing the fulfillment of a vision of automation, efficiency, and synergy of human and machine. And so I wondered, what potential advancements might lie on the horizon of the apparel industry’s future, and what visions have yet to come?

Sparks fly inside the Toyota Manufacturing Plant as robots weld the frames of cars together. Photo source: Toyota.

Hong Kong: Gateway to Asia

By Michael Battista
Industry Coordinator to the Global Fashion Management Program

Unloaded container ships in Victoria Harbour, as viewed from Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a city that bustles with over 7 million people. Skyscrapers that are achieved with bamboo scaffolding rise from the mountainous terrain of a bay overlooking the South China Sea. Container ships filled with goods destined for the world’s ports dot the horizon. This sets the scene for the third and final seminar of the Global Fashion Management program, held in collaboration with the Institute of Textiles and Clothing of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Hong Kong is a hub for retail: filled with boutiques, shopping malls, and specialized districts. Street markets with literal names like “Jade Market” and “Sneaker Street” are destinations in and of themselves. It’s a place where luxury brands have – until recently – enjoyed great success. There are more Louis Vuitton and Prada stores in Hong Kong than in Paris and Milan. When immersed in the modernity of this city, it’s hard to imagine its humble beginnings as a small fishing village.

Hong Kong is filled with luxury shopping opportunities. Pictured above, in the Kowloon district,  is one of eight Louis Vuitton stores in Hong Kong. There are more LV stores in Hong Kong than in Paris.
Tai O, a traditional fishing village of stilted huts on the outskirts of Hong Kong, stems the tide of modernization and offers a glimpse into the city’s humble beginnings.

The seminar began with the positioning of Hong Kong as a gateway to Asia. According to visiting lecturer Pauline Hsia, American, European, and British brands come to Hong Kong to test their success with the Asian market before expanding further into the continent. Dana Craig, SVP of Supply Chain – Asia at Tory Burch informed us that the brand’s highest volume of sales, worldwide is at their Hong Kong airport location. Notwithstanding this success, Mr. Craig points out that building brand awareness remains a challenge to expansion in Asia.

While success can prove elusive to foreign brands, a strategy of testing and brand building is exhibited in the efforts of Canadian brand Lululemon. The Business of Fashion reports: “The company has stores in Hong Kong but currently only operates showrooms in Shanghai and Beijing, and sells online in China via Tmall [an e-commerce platform]. ‘We start with our showroom model, where our team can build brand awareness, test product, create authentic relationships and learn what is important to a community before we open a permanent store,’ says [SVP, Asia Pacific at Lululemon,] Ken Lee.”

A Lululemon fitness event in Beijing, as reported by the Business of Fashion on 10/10/2016.

The region now known as Hong Kong has been the gateway to China for centuries. The Portuguese maintained trading outposts there in the 1500s; and the Dutch and French would follow suit. By the early 1800’s, the British East India Company had a growing presence to feed Europe’s appetite for Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea. By 1839 it would become the epicenter of the Opium Wars – a humiliating history for both the victor and defeated – spanning two decades and ending with the cessation of Hong Kong to the British Crown.

A painting of a battle: one of many, collectively referred to as “the Opium Wars.” Oil on canvas, circa 1843: “Nemesis Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841” by Edward Duncan.

Though the sovereignty of Hong Kong has since returned to China, it continues its tradition as the commercial gateway to the world’s most populous country. The opportunity for growth in connecting the East and West is not one-sided. While western brands have their sights on expansion into Asia, Chinese brands also seek expansion beyond the Great Wall. This seminar’s case study brand, Hidy NG, sought a complete brand audit, and a defined strategy for growth and westward expansion. Students worked in teams to articulate a brand identity, craft a distribution plan, and develop product lifecycle recommendations. The culminating presentations demonstrated rigor, analysis, and professionalism comparable to a boutique consultancy.

Hidy NG (bottom, left), Creative Director of the namesake brand, debriefs student on their assignment for the case study at the brand’s showroom inside of their manufacturing facility in Hong Kong.

By the time the students travel to Hong Kong, they are nearing the completion of the program. They have spent the last year-and-a-half cultivating business acumen through the curriculum; and have expanded their world view through their work with diverse colleagues from around the globe. As a result, they’re able to offer insights with clarity, precision, and confidence. So when the students presented their recommendations for the case study brand, Hidy NG was listening.

Students work in multicultural teams across three continents to prepare for and present their recommendations for the Hong Kong Seminar case study brand. Hidy NG (bottom, right) responds to each presentation.