Italy’s already strict lockdown was made even stricter on Saturday night, when our Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a country-wide factory shutdown—including all fashion factories. It was a shocking moment in what seems to be an endless series of shocking moments we Italians have had to endure to rid ourselves of the pandemic. On one hand, the decree was surely a necessary decision to protect our collective health, but on the other it provoked quite a controversy, in that it threatens the survival of our fashion system. I asked Carlo Capasa, Chairman of Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda, for his opinion on the decree, and how it will impact not only the future of Italian fashion production, but also the prospect of fashion shows, resort collections, and campaign sales in the coming months.
What do you make of the factory shutdown decree?
I think the decree is undoubtedly necessary in this moment to help stop the aggressive spreading of the outbreak and safeguard the health of the workforce, which must obviously be our absolute priority. That said, of course there’s room for improvement, since the consequences on our entire fashion system will be very tough and challenging. In my opinion, restrictions should’ve been better modulated and adjusted to a fashion production system which is a veritable galaxy of factories of any size, where the smallest artisanal ateliers coexist with huge industrial facilities. One thing that could’ve helped reduce the harm would’ve been implementing even more extensive health protection measures in the workplaces, providing masks and gloves and protective gear to all employees, following even stricter safe-distancing rules. In China and Japan for example, every worker in any factory was provided with a mask and gloves, which were changed every four hours. Maybe the number of workers should’ve been even more reduced, even if it had already been cut almost everywhere to a minimum. Checking upon the safety of aeration systems, for instance, would’ve also proved beneficial, updating their safety standards where necessary. One of the problems of completely stopping the production now is also that many of our factories had begun working incessantly on producing masks and protective gear for hospitals, nurses, and doctors.
In the decree, fashion factories are included in the ‘factories producing unnecessary goods’ category. Yet fashion is one of the biggest industries in Italy. Is fashion really so ‘unnecessary’ after all?
Fashion isn’t obviously necessary to preserve life. Today, a steak is actually a much more vital resource than a dress, that’s for sure. But the fashion industry is a backbone of the Italian economy—we cannot forget that. It’s a €90 billion industry that employs 600,000 people—we’re not talking small numbers. Shutting down completely the production here will have heavy consequences. Factories were now supposed to finalize deliveries of spring collections to stores, which are instead stuck in warehouses without the permission to be shipped to those countries which are slowly resuming business operations—appetite for fashion is showing encouraging signs of recovery in the Far East, in Japan and Korea, even in China. It would be a big damage for fashion companies losing such an important business opportunity. Resort and men’s collections will also be impossible to produce and to present in June to buyers and press. This will hugely impact the balance sheets of all our factories and companies. What also isn’t reassuring, to put it mildly, is that we’re risking not being able to hold fashion shows and presentations the way we’ve always done—maybe we’ll have to revert to different formats, involving fewer people, using technology as a substitute. We still don’t know, but we have to obviously consider different scenarios at this stage.