Speaking of “beauty” one cannot help but think of Italy: history, art, landscapes and cities have been sources of inspiration for the greatest artists for centuries. Yet, even if many creative director roles in the great fashion houses are now occupied by Italians, I would like to affirm that creativity is by no means exclusive to Italian designers only, but it rather is a widespread feature internationally: there are extraordinary designers, coming from all over the world, who were trained in the main design and fashion schools, many of which are located in Italy. The vast majority of these designers have a dream: to produce clothes and accessories in Italy by exploiting the extraordinary heritage of history, culture and skills that deeply belongs to us.
This is exactly the reason why many fashion schools opened their offices in the main Italian culture and art cities: Milan, Florence, Rome and Venice. It suffices to get closer to the locations of these schools to fully perceive the multiculturalism of the student community. Welcoming students from all over the world for the three years of a bachelor’s degree, two years of postgraduate degree or one year of master’s degree is an extraordinary opportunity for Italy and for all the brands that our country represents, since these are young people often endowed with important economic resources, who come to know the places, the language, the culture and the Italian food. Young people, who do not just bring material wealth to Italy, but also a plurality of experiences, cultures and above all talents, which cannot be overlooked. The negative impact that the restrictions on international travel imposed by Covid may have had on the training sector is therefore easy to understand: “remote” teaching has partially obviated, but it is clear to everyone that, in a long term perspective, the only way forward is being able to return to welcome foreign students in Italian cities.
“Well done” is the main value, which distinguishes the products made in Italian factories, from those made in the rest of the world. The opening of international trade to Far Eastern countries, and, in particular, the massive entry of low-cost products into European markets, which took place in the last thirty years, has triggered multiple dynamics that have had profound effects on the Italian manufacturing structure of shoes and bags. Just to name a few: the relocation of part of the production to reduce labour costs and the effects on “made in” labelling, the focus of the Italian manufacturing on fashion products positioned in the higher price ranges and the consequent increasingly flexible reorganisation of factories. Some say that a significant part of Italian factories have turned into product development and small series production centres at the service of designers and powerful international fashion houses.
In any case, there is no doubt that the unparalleled competitive advantage of the Italian manufacturing of shoes and bags lies in the globally recognised ability to transform the best creative ideas into products of absolute excellence and in the “human capital”, which remains the soul of the Made in Italy product, creator of that unique beauty and quality workmanship recognised all over the world.
Hence the relevance of preserving technical and manual skills, which characterise and distinguish the savoir faire of those who create Made in Italy clothes and accessories. And yet, from a subject of great topical interest, which reached its peak when the “quota 100” came into force, in the last two years it seems definitely declassified, overshadowed by the discussions on the effects of the pandemic.
Yet, the theme continues to be extremely topical, if not by now critical. Probably, in times of crisis, it has lost some position in the priority list of entrepreneurs, managers and political decision makers, but it certainly is a theme destined to return to the fore. In the first place, because in Italy the average age of the population that occupies key roles of these manufacturing professions continues to grow, which, despite being carried out within an industrial context, maintain an important manual and artisan component, which requires years of training in the field to make sure that there are senior figures, who today guarantee production excellence.
“Sustainable” is no doubt the key word of these years, especially in the two-year period of the pandemic. A complex term, to be mastered looking at its different facets. The only certain thing is that we no longer can ignore it and it is difficult to think of being able to avoid confrontation much longer, in any segment of the fashion market.
In particular, talking about sustainability in reference to the manufacturing of shoes and bags traditionally produced in Italy adds, to all the manufacturing issues, even those relating to the impact of the upstream supply chains and, in particular, that of leather, a historical material, cornerstone of Made in Italy production.
Training courses are being created that specifically address the issues of sustainability and in particular those related to the fashion product. It is clear, though, that these themes should permeate learning and teaching. Those who do training know this well: students’ questions on these issues are on the agenda and it is not possible to be caught unprepared.
The real critical point is that the theme is really very broad: the analysis made “cradle-to-grave” , which is the only way to photograph, in honesty and transparency, the impact of a product on the environment, requires great technical competence and synergy between all the players in the production chain, especially in sectors with a long, articulated chain and which are relatively new to a methodical and detailed survey of every step, a practice, which is instead consolidated in more advanced industries.
Planning and organising training in the fashion sector
Having therefore traced the reference context and highlighted the main values to always keep in mind when planning and organising training in the fashion sector, we can ask ourselves which other themes should be put in the foreground in training. I have highlighted four, which I believe are the priorities to be considered in didactic planning.
The role of digital technologies
in a world where it is necessary to very quickly interact with customers and suppliers, who are located anywhere in the world and who, as has happened in the last two years, may have difficulty moving around, digital culture is essential to improve efficiency and shorten the timing of decisions. At every level in companies today it is essential to be familiar with technology and training must take this into account. For those, like us, who directly deal with products, there are many themes: graphics, presentation and video programmes, software for CAD design, 3D scanning and pattern design, material digitisation, rendering and animation, software to categorise and organise the product life cycle.
Maybe, the challenge today is to understand the boundary between technology as a means and as an end, in the wake of what Claudio Marenzi said during the Pitti fashion week at the The Future of the Fashion Industry conference:
no matter how successful NFTs and the metaverse may be, we must remember that people will not wear pixelsClaudio Marenzi
A provocative phrase that I do not think wants to dismiss the potential of the digital business, but which, above all, intends to bring attention back to the central theme, which is training young people to “make” a product.
Training young people in technical jobs
an extremely controversial and difficult theme to solve. Is it possible thinking of factory jobs that are attractive to young people and their families? Without resolving this dilemma, it is clear that we are bound to see unravel the fabric of technical skills, which are necessary to produce high quality shoes and bags. I believe that the topics on the agenda are many: first of all, we must ask ourselves what image we convey when we talk about technical/manual jobs and the environment in which they will work, then, through which languages and which channels we can attract them to this type of professions and, finally, how we can organise teaching, on the one hand to be able to train professional figures necessary for companies in the sector to be truly competitive in the future, and on the other to satisfy the expectations and ambitions of young people. I personally believe that there is room to attract and train technical roles for factories, but I also believe that it is essential to “ennoble” these jobs by enriching them with skills, expanding their role and enhancing them.
Introduce good organisational practices into the company
Coordination and organisation roles have always been fundamental in the shoe and bag industry. However, if you want to achieve efficient objectives and, at the same time, consistency in the quality of industrial production, it is essential to have in the company figures capable of keeping together the requests of the various company departments and suppliers/subcontractors, always respecting customer deadlines. It is likely that, in trying to understand which skills underlie the training of those who work in coordination roles in the fashion accessories sector, we will find a mix of all the other aspects we are talking about in this article. There are, however, specific tools and skills to support planning and organisational coordination, which I believe are important to know.
The importance of soft skills
if you are wondering what these two words used and a little abused in recent years mean, think about when they asked you for a suggestion on someone to hire. I don’t know about you, but it has always come naturally to me to suggest people who manage to fit into a work group and relate to everyone, with intelligence and respect, who have respect for organisation and timing, who have no fear in the face of difficulties. Developing these characteristics during the training course is a challenge, but also a necessity, if we want to train a new generation of complete and valuable professionals, because they are able to contribute to the success of companies with expert hands, but also with alert and open minds.
Faced with the breadth and complexity of these educational challenges, those involved in technical training often feel unprepared. Yet, it is evident that, today more than ever, companies need people with a broader and more varied set of characteristics compared to what would have been enough a few years ago. It is therefore clear that the professions for which we must prepare our students today obviously require a solid base of traditional technical skills, but also skills that go beyond pure technical design and production skills.