Growth; Why? – A Conversation Between Stefano and Maurizio At Denim Reunion
During the Denim Re-union and AW22 talks virtual show held by Denimsandjeans on March 30 &31 , an interesting conversation took place between well known denim veterans – Stefano Aldighieri and Maurizio Donadi . They raised questions on the growth model that the industry is following and suggested that alternatives are there if we want to look at them. We bring their talk in a conversational format – a more informal way of understanding in detail what they talked about.
WHAT IS GROWTH
Stefano Aldighieri :
Economic growth is something that we’re all very familiar with. It’s that concept that to me is based on the false premise that it is possible to have an infinite wealth growth in a world that is actually the opposite of finite. Our environmental resources are not infinite, our human resources are not infinite.
I want to say that it’s almost like a Ponzi scheme . It works very well for the people who are at the top and it works very well only as long as you have additional resources or additional people who buy into it . Once these dry up , then the whole thing collapses but that’s the nature of such schemes and I think what we want to do is to try to analyze what is growth doing to us , to our industry . Where we are right now , how we got there . The numbers are there – we all know them we keep repeating them ad nauseam.
We make a hundred billion garments a year for just seven billion people on the planet. You go to any department store , you look around and you realize that there’s no way that all that stuff is going to be sold. As a matter of fact, about 30 percent of everything that we produce will never be sold to anybody . No customer is ever going to pick it up so that’s a complete and utter waste . On top of that maybe two-thirds of what we do sell will end up being discounted within a year or even less.
It’s absolutely beyond discussion that we are overproducing which means there is over capacity which means that there is a very strong pressure on cost because when you have so much product capacity the cost has to come down . There’s so much competition, there is pressure on wages and so a lot of people in our industry do not make a living wage and there is a pressure on quality because if you have to keep making your stuff and making more and more and more and people are not expecting it to last a long time that’s the first thing you’re starting to cut – you compromise on quality.
So, Maurizio, what do you think about the situation?
I think that to me this is central to our industry that we are producing more than what we need, it’s a fact. It has been going on for a really long time, the other side there is this false idea that happiness has something to do with seasons and prices and buying the need for showing.
For example your personality via clothes instead of using your brain for that and so it’s a combination of things that we are also responsible for . Because we have worked with companies and we have done our damage here but we are also at a point in our life where we think what it’s right and what it’s not and when I’m thinking about growth and all the complications that that comes with it . The best being maybe profit and the worst being destroying the planet and the people and these are the two elements that I always look at you know how much do I make what is my yearly profit with this growth and how many people I am responsible for there and what is the damage my factory or my operation does to the environment
So when I think about growth right now, instead of thinking about growth I’m thinking about reduction . The opposite it’s like what can I do less of that will be less disruptive and less negative what is the least impossible impact negative impact I can do to society to the people and the planet and I think this is a question that everybody needs to ask particularly when you have your own factory and when you are responsible for strategies and commercial strategies and the relationship that you need to have with people that are coming to you for certain products at a certain price point . We need to ask ourselves really what is right and what is wrong and how do we feel when we go home at night.
Stefano Aldighieri :
You’re touching on an interesting point that we’re a little bit responsible for all this because fashion is an interesting beast because you , on one side , have the artistic expression of something that is beautiful and we all love to develop beautiful fabrics, we love to develop beautiful garments, we love to see beautiful people looking beautiful wearing great stuff, so there is an artistic component in that . But what happened I think is that it’s become a tool for the marketing people of brands and retailers to basically keep selling stuff that the people don’t need.
You’re creating enormous psychological pressure on people you make people feel that unless they have the latest and the most beautiful sneakers that are out there you’re worthless, if you’re not wearing that jacket there you really don’t know what’s happening in the world if you don’t have the latest phone you’re a loser we’re basically creating this tremendous pressure and because people don’t really have the means to buy the really nice stuff but they still have to fulfill this pressure.
Then you feed them with cheap substitutes and you kind of create a monster that they keep getting bigger and bigger and I think it was acceptable to a certain point when you still had plenty of resources when you had an increase in demand because there were more people who had access to the more disposable income and they wanted to spend more and more.
So i think there was a point in time where it was okay it was not great probably but it was okay it was acceptable what if you bought three t-shirts instead of one when you really needed one it’s okay, it’s human nature . But it became something far worse than what it should have been and then we got to the point with this overproduction that has become counterproductive for everybody because people don’t get excited about new clothes anymore because there’s a barrage of stuff that keeps hitting them from every side.
It’s not great for the retailers because they have to keep chasing the new idea or whatever that might be , it’s not great for the factories because they have to keep producing new stuff and knowing that they’re producing things the people we probably never even look at and so we got to the point where it’s just too much . So the solution is that we should try and do is to look at it from the point of view of every component of our business let’s see how slower growth or a no growth or a reduction would affect all the components in the system.
Stefano, sorry to interrupt you, we’re not trying to be a downer here, we want to inject some optimism, we’re here to share ideas, we’re here to think out of the box. I’m feeling that we are trapped, in my consulting work I hear what companies and brands and factories and then there is very little happiness happening when I talk to people that they’re doing good business . So they have changed their business in order to survive and to prosper and to ensure a future for themselves and for the people working there fundamentally there is a lot of unhappiness.
People are not enjoying what they are doing and it’s a race. There’s no way it’s like the number of complaints and buyers are not buying property. Why do we need 20 t-shirts seasons and why do we need to buy all? We are trapped as producers and we are trapped as consumers and I want to rebel against that, I really want to make sure that people understand that when you’re not happy with something you need to walk away and we do have solutions, By the way, there are solutions there are ways and probably we need to be more opinionated and stronger with our government, with our ministers We should be collaborating and having intelligent collaboration between companies because there are ways of doing things differently.
THE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Stefano Aldighieri :
I think we should try to come up with some realistic and pragmatic ideas because otherwise, it’s a philosophical conversation, I think from the end-user point of view we see some signs that although we’re not even close to reaching the tipping point. I think there’s a growing sentiment among people that this is not fun anymore.
We don’t need to keep buying trash, some people are starting to reject the notion of just buying for the sake of buying new stuff so that’s one step in right direction . Sure now that brings us of course to the other side of the coin , there’s a whole industry living and surviving and driving on the assumption that people are going to buy something with all the talk of sustainability that people are having nowadays.
I don’t think any one of them is really serious until they tackle the real issue which is we are wasting resources that we cannot afford to waste unless we tackle that one we just greenwashing everything . You tell me that it’s sustainable because it’s using recycled plastic bottles – give me a break – it doesn’t do anything you’re basically taking away plastic that should be used to make new plastic bottles until we finally are mature enough to go back to using glass bottles or aluminum containers which are recyclable and we keep putting a plastic substance in our clothes which we know is going to generate a whole number of additional problems millions of tons of plastic being dumped in so-called third-world countries because we don’t really know where to put it anymore.
The real sustainable approach is to say we know that resources are limited and we know that we’re making too much so let’s see what we can do to limit that without destroying uh the whole business I’m not advocating that the brands or retailers have to close . I think we need to work smarter – so let’s say you’re a brand what do you do if you if you’re a brand . First of all, I think you should become a lot smarter in your planning and you know how much you’re actually making everything that you’re making in excess is a loss and better planning and maybe less by in the sky expectations of what we could sell but a pretty good place to start.
I remember Ferrari, he was not only a genius in making cars but he was a genius in marketing too because his thinking was always well I know that I could sell 1000 of this new model that I’m making now so I’m going to make 999 of them because I don’t want to fulfill the whole uh demand . I want people to want to buy my stuff and I want people to buy right now because they know that if they wait they probably be left with nothing . Some better brands used to do it in the past . They had smaller production . You knew that if you walked into the store and you liked something – you had to buy that and then because otherwise, it would never be there again.
I think that would be exactly one starting point . Let’s say you’re a retailer and you have a huge space and you have to fill it up with merchandise and you know that a lot of that stuff is never going to be sold but you also know that a lot of people now are looking for uh for vintage garments or second-hand garments so why don’t you take some of your space there instead of making disposable crap why don’t you take good used garments and make a whole section where you’re only selling used garments for sure.
You’re still filling up your store you’re still making a profit you still have a margin you’re probably going to spend less on your procurement than you did before because you don’t have to go through the whole process and for sure you’re going to have a lot less waste at the end of the season . If you’re a factory then it’s a different story, of course, you have people that you got to keep employed and hopefully give them a living wage but even for a factory if you start taking old production secondhand stuff second quality goods and you mend them and you repair them and you make new fashion out of those you can keep a lot of people occupied by doing that.
There is plenty of opportunity of improving and changing your current business and finding new ways of business ways of correcting some of the mistake and some of the issues but I think that in the end is you know it comes down to people and their companies and their values and principles because there are plenty of solutions . I mean you have listed some very intelligent one at a brand level at the retail level and also at the manufacturing level and I think at the end is it’s all about what feels right for people and the environment.
If I had a brand what will make me happy that I do a product that it’s relevant, that it’s price right that actually the balance between quality and price is excused towards quality because that will give you longevity and durability . I will want people to be paid right price and actually, I don’t need to make a hundred million dollars a year . I don’t need to . I would be very happy with a few and if I have access in my earning which I need to be intelligent enough to say I can live with this and all of this is superfluous and I will try to help people that actually need that in order to survive and I think that’s part of the injustices that we see all over the world and I think I don’t have a technical solution but I’m thinking that we need to contribute towards the education of citizens.
We call a consumer I call it citizens and I believe that they have this incredible power of destroying a brand.
I wish Brands retailers started charging the true cost of product that instead of panic in thinking that if I raise my price by two dollars are never going to sell anything and they should stop that and should understand that people will still buy and will appreciate better quality it’s more about the value.
If you have something that you know is valuable you pay more for it and if you pay more for it then you don’t need to make that much because if you’re making a hundred thousand garments to make one dollar a garment or if you make ten thousand garments and you make ten-dollar garment at the end you have the same net result with much less work with much less waste and everything.
I think if you want to find an answer we can find it my appeal to all the companies that are claiming to be so sustainable and so worried about the future of the planet is that they start thinking about a more responsible growth
It’s a good point even though I think that responsible growth is quite what can we quantify for a company, it’s a free for all type of market where we have the idea of building a 10 million dollar company, and all of a sudden you get there quicker than you thought and all of a sudden you want to be a 20 million dollar company.
That’s the thing that I struggled the most with once you have a successful business whether it’s a 1 million, 2 million, 5 million what is the obsession we’re making the 10 become 15 and become 20 become 25 and become 30. why can’t you stop?
I’m not a successful entrepreneur fortunately or unfortunately but I would say that I do want to make money, I do want to generate profit for my company and it’s the profit that I see is the investment that I will make to prolong the life of a company.
I hope that brings me joy that makes people happy that I can create careers for people that eventually will take over my role and I think that the idea of building something that is interesting and relevant and also the profit will be definitely utilized to pay back.
You can watch the complete discussion here and follow our Youtube channel for more interesting discussions !
Stefano Aldighieri is an Italian born American design, branding and marketing expert who spent most of his working life in the world of denim. He worked with Levi Strauss in San Francisco as design director, 7 for all mankind and Hudson Jeans in Los Angeles as Creative Director, co-founded Tuff Gong Clothing with Bob Marley’s family and for the last years has collaborated with some of the major apparel manufacturers, brands and retailers worldwide. A strong participant in the movement to clean up our industry since several years.
Maurizio Donadi , creative Director and Vintage Collector , continues his mission to share his passion of vintage and archival clothing with the world and, in the process, promote new responsible thinking and practices through his latest consumer e-commerce venture, Transnomadica
Denimsandjeans is a premium denim website dedicated to global denim supply chain since 2007 – covering news, trends, reviews and more. .