Launching a line in Italy

I’m corresponding with Elisa Pasceri who lives in Rome. I don’t normally share all of my correspondence but I told Miracle about it and she thought you’d be interested in reading it (she is). Some of what Elisa had to say surprised me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t you think that the conditions for launching a line in Italy to be better than in North America? With the Italian reputation for craftsmanship, wouldn’t you think their schools and internship possibilities to be better? In her first message to me, Elisa explains she’s trying to launch a site similar to F-I :

I came across your amazing website, it shows a striking amount of professional experience, congratulations! That’s what is missing here in Italian fashion,where the Internet is still used as a mere copy of the magazines advertising. [I have] the goal of creating a community of professionals in the fashion fields. After the technical stuff, I’m finally able to showcase designers’ creations and insert my own articles and guide. I’m still learning myself, but I’d like to share the experience I had so far and the skills I got. And I really hope to be able to attract professionals to my web site and make them share their knowledge to the community of eager young designers, generally disappointed by fashion schools education!

I expressed my surprise at her frustrations with the educational system there, telling her that over here, we think they’re the experts. If anything, having the time and money, we’d happily traipse over there to learn from the masters. I did try to interest her in a book swap; I don’t have any Italian drafting books. This is what she had to say in her last email this morning:

As an ex-fashion student myself, I’m experiencing a lot of frustration. After living in London for a while, I came back to Rome, where I tried to set up my own brand of plus size clothing. After a while I had to acknowledge that either I had a lot of money to outsource everything or I had good cutting and sewing skills, which I thought I had after my 2 year full time fashion design academy.

I mean, I’m well aware of the fact that once the school is over you still have so much to learn you can’t even imagine, but after investing a lot of money and energies in pattern making and sewing classes, you expect to be able to sew at least some prototypes to show to distributors or sales rep. Well, the method I’ve been taught is so old fashioned and haute couture that it takes ages to sew even the simplest a-line skirt. It might be the most perfect and precious thing on earth, but how marketable is it? On top of that, almost no education in technologies, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, let alone CAD/CAM softwares. What else? No internship during school years or afterwards, even if it was clearly stated in the course programme. Not to mention the lack of marketing and business education.

So, no wonder that industries don’t care about your fashion diploma, you barely know what a seam allowance is. There’s no connection between school and daily life work techniques in the industry, not even the same language. In my school we used so many french words that nobody uses anymore (i think not even in France).

Professionals are just great. The quality of the final output is obvious, hence the fame of Made in Italy production! Thing is, they are not very keen in sharing and transmitting their skills to young designers and recruiting is often via friend of a friend rather than via agencies or classifieds…

Well, this isn’t a very encouraging situation, isn’t? Whereabout in the US you live? Is it very different?

Ok, thanks once again for your kindness and sorry for my english and for the length of the email!! Hope to hear soon from you.

Funny how it really isn’t any different over here, is it? For all we know, maybe the Italians think we’re business or some other kind of experts. The grass isn’t always greener…We should ask her about fabrics. They must have access to better stuff, we’ve seen it.

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  1. Karen C says:

    You know I had to add something to this post. I’ve listed the classes offered in the one-year and two-year program course at my alma mater in Milan:

    One Year Certificate

    History of Art
    Intro to the Fashion System
    Fashion Drawing Fundamentals
    Pattern Making Fundamentals
    Digital Design Fundamentals
    Collection Design Fundamentals
    History of Costume
    Fabrics & Materials

    Year 2

    History of Art
    Analysis of Contemporary Fashion
    Collection Design
    Pattern Making Fundamentals
    Graphic Design
    History of Costume
    Sociology of Fashion

    You can see, not a lot of technical or business classes. But I went for the design and art aspect, already having some technical background, and lots of business experience. The rest of my learning has been through self-education and your site. I liken it to law school. They teach you the theory of law, but working in a law firm teaches you the process of day-to-day law.

  2. Carmel Dolcine says:

    I used to travel in Europe a lot spending a considerable amount of time working (consulting) and hanging out with friends who are native to Europe and nice people in the expat communities.

    I have found that most of the places that were famous for a particular type of embroidery or perhaps an artisanal product of some kind such as wine or pottery do not have an institutional way of teaching the knowledge to emerging professionals or students.

    What I’ve been doing in preparation for the launch of a line is communicating closely with artisans and learning through ad hoc apprenticeships. It is difficult work to convince people to share what they know in an honest way.

    Most designers get carried away with technology and the desire to focus on a “vision” or aesthetical concept, they forget that it is necessary to know the nuts and bolts of things in order to be successful.

    What I’ve learned traveling about is that there are families that specialize in one way, shape, or form in certain skills of craftsmanship in many small towns. If someone with a forum and credibility (I nominate Kathleen) could get in touch with artisans and make a connection, then maybe it will be possible to at the very least learn some of the very basic lessons of craftsmanship via semi-annual retreats or workshops.

    The same problem exists in fashion business education – most people just think they can hire someone or find a partner to run their businesses. But it just doesn’t work that way, you have to get educated in multiple ways – university, apprenticeships, and mentorships, etc. to even begin to have a clue about why there is such a thin line between the truly successful, sustainable brands and companies that falter and will never make it.

    We thought Italy was Nirvana, now we know it just isn’t true – What did older folks used to say about the grass on the other side?

  3. First of all, thanks to Kathleen for having published my e-mail. And thanks to Karen and Carmel for their precise and attentive comments.

    Kathleen also wanders about italian fabrics. I’ve been in touch with many dealers and i have to admit that their products quality and beauty is unbelievable. And so are their prices, either wholesale and retail (average: €12,00 per metre, wholesale price, VAT excl.). Also, they ask you to buy very high minimum quantities (from 150 to 300 mt at least), which is definitely unaffordable if you’re a start up company.
    Unless you personally know their agents, who can ask manufacturers they represent to “attach” your order to a biggest company’s one. That is, if you’re lucky enough that Armani orders a production of 2500 mt of the fabric you like in the color you like, and if you know the people, you might be able to ask for your 70/100 mt. I hope it does make sense.

    This is the way it goes, as i’m sure it’s the same in many other countries. The problem is you can’t count on it, because there are so many conditions to satisfy before you can place your order.
    On the other hand, companies that manage to get into this system work with extremely professional people, especially concerning the costumer and post-sale service.

    That’s why italian fashion works so well. People really are professional, in every step of the supply chain and production and marketing. But you already have to be at the top of the industry to be considered. There’s no interest in young clothing companies, they’re seen with suspicion somehow. And there’s nothing like the british Graduate Fashion Week that gets a lot of media coverage.

    It’s a spiral. Well established companies don’t rely on fashion schools (and they’re right), consumers are not interested in not-famous-branded clothes, so aren’t distributors and retail.

    The good news is italian economy lives on fashion.
    It’s a huge industry that employes more than 800.000 people. I’m sure we’ll be able to find our place!

  4. nadine says:

    Interesting post. I think academia is the same everywhere. As a fashion teacher myself (accessory design) I can tell you that teachers, once in the school system can lose touch with what is happening on the “outside”. They are proud of their skills and make it a career to teach the curriculum but even that can be stifling to students who want to launch into creativity using the curriculum as a foundation. Senior thesis or graduating student shows are supposed to be about that but not all teachers have the flexibility to be a resource once it goes past the basic curriculum. Since I’m only a part time teacher, I have to work in the industry too so at least I can bring in to my classroom a balance of what they should learn with what is going on today as I’ve experienced it.

    It’s funny but last spring I had some british foreign exchange students take a belt design class from me. They were so excited about having an opportunity to drape a corset belt on a mannequin. They told me they don’t get to do any draping in their fashion classes because they learn the block method. Only at some distant point do they get to do it or have to go to another fashion school for a semester to learn draping more in depth. I was really shocked about that (and a disclaimer – this is just what I remember them telling me in case any british fashion people are out there and I’m not correct.)

    It kind of blew away my preconceived fashion stereotype that they would be so much more advanced in fashion training. What I did see is that they love fashion, and can interpret fashion ideas into their projects while my “American Students” don’t seem to be as knowledgeable about fashion as you would expect a fashion student to be. Maybe it is our curriculum in accessories or that we really have a construction based approach rather than an art based approach that hurts them. I have my theories.

    But our school offers many many top internships with high level companies where they can get an inside view of the business. Even the not so good students seem to be getting jobs in the industry. We do have a starting a small accessory business course that is very realistic to provide this kind of information. So maybe it is just a matter of Couture catching up to commercial or the old masters not wanting to be flexible to the new global market? Interesting discussion to say the least.

  5. massa says:

    I just want to add some of my knowledge and experience in italiy to this article.

    In my opinion, the Italian education system isn’t that bad even though it’s not organized or systemanized well. If a foreigner can speak italian very well, she/he can get more out of it. About the internship…. I say, you should not expect anything from school. On patternmaking, most of the schools teach the traditional outdated/modernized drafting/block system. The instructors know the industrial way, but I think they are not paid for their secret method. I was just lucky to know the italian industrial patternmaking. Also, I think the “industrial” italian patternmaking is the most efficient to make prototypes. However, they are getting more inclined to CAD patternmaking.

    About sharing the knowledge/skills:
    Pay for it. Some people share their skills and experiences. In my case, I went to an old sartoria to learn the traditional sewing/patternmaking. I was told to call him “Maestro”, and he was really kind sharing his knowledge and how he thinks of the current italian fashion industry. I paid 500 euro for total 10hr/5days.

    About Fabrics:
    So wonderful, I have to say. Sometimes, in a small mercato(market), I found nice silk satin at 4 euro /m and silk shantung at 6 euro / m, which was an amazing experience. Also, by accident, I went to a Haute Couture fabric manufacture that I thought as a fabric store and I had to be on their client list to buy their fabric. I just got along with the secretary, and she was really kind to sell me some couture fabrics without minimum quantity. I think it’s all up to how the connection is established and speaking italian, which is just more important in italy.

    About launching a line in italy:
    I think it difficult to get one’s line into the mainstream like Milano Fashion Week (likewise in the US and Paris), but I find it easy to open a shop selling one’s own line at the right price range. A friend of mine does this in Torino, and he’s getting famous around his area. Or, Alta Roma, instead of Milano fashion week, would be a nice choice for getting into the mainstream and/or more media coverage if she/he has done some small collections before and gets accepted by the board of Alta Roma. Otherwise, like every coutry, they have to do what your book teaches.

    I briefly wrote what I experienced. If you wanna talk about more, pls send me an email or let’s discuss in the discussion forum.

  6. Donna Carty says:

    Thsi part was especially interesting to me because Kathleen and I had a brief e-mail “conversation” a bit ago about how to possibly market my handskills now that I’ve moved to a non-fashion-center city in the UK. She said that most designers don’t even go looking for such skills since they are so rare and that some folks with such skills are setting up their own lines to use them, so I’ve been musing on that, figureing out who I’d want to hang with and so on. Wouldn’t I love a way to make these connections! Perhaps a thread on the forum after I’ve bought the book?

  7. Hi Massa, i find your post very stimulating and I’d like to discuss about it. I think the forum would be the perfect place, can you point me to the the right thread/room? Thank you,

  8. caterina says:

    how nice was this post!
    I am saying this just because I am an MBA student, and I was thinking, as a project for an exam, to set up a plus size clothes company here in Italy (clothes at a reasonable price…). I was loking for data afor my project, but I found nothing, at least regarding Italy. But I am 100% sure it will works…even it is hard.

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