Stefano Aldighieri At ‘What Next For Denim’ Webinar

Recently Denimsandjeans held a webinar ‘What Next For Denim’ with some of very well known and globally reputed denim professionals . The panelists included :

1. Albert Candiani (Owner – Candiani Mills) 2. Aamir Akhtar (CEO- Arvind Mills) 3. Alberto De Conti( Head Of Fashion Division- Rudolf) 4. Maurizio Donadi (Co-Founder – Atelier & Repairs) 5. Carlos Arias (CEO- Jeanologia) 6. Stefano Aldighieri( President – Another Design Studio)

The talk was moderated by Sandeep Agarwal and Stefano Aldighieri . We now bring the comments of the panelists of our key questions related to denim industry in a series of six articles with each article giving clear views of each panelist.

In the current article, we bring the thoughts of Stefano Aldighieri  – ex creative head of Levi’s and 7FAM and currently running his own design studio . Besides co-moderating the panel, Stefano also shared his own views on various questions put forward at the panel. We share his original comments on some of the questions that were put to him during the discussion . (video of his talk is here )

What is the way forward for denim? 

We need to look at reduction of quantities, we need to really look at the value priority for all of us and I think that’s going to change quite dramatically the way people buy, not only what they buy and why they buy. So the whole thing is pretty much going to be different. 

One day we’ll wake up from the nightmare , we’re going to find a very different world and it’s actually up to us to make sure that it is a better world, because going back to the way things were before, it’s not something we should aspire to because normalcy, the old normality is what got us into this mess in the first place. So we should really take this opportunity to clean the slate, and start all over again in some shape or form. I know it’s  utopian to think that we can reinvent the whole planet overnight, but I think there’s a lot of things that we can do, now that we know better. I think this is also, like some of us who were saying, this is basically accelerating the process that was already on its way. We are very sad to see a lot of big retailers going under now. 

There’s going to be more and more bankruptcies. There’s a new one every day now but, to be absolutely fair and objective, we had way over capacity in  retail, especially in the Western world. I’m not talking about emerging countries, where things are still in the early days, and hopefully they won’t make this mistake . We have way too many stores, and more importantly, we have too many stores selling exactly the same stuff with no differentiation. 

The only differeantiation I’m trying to be 50 cents cheaper than you. That’s no differentiation, that’s just me trying to screw my suppliers more, so that I can try to keep my margins. That’s not a sustainable business. Sustainability is about the planet, but it’s also about the people, and it’s about the profits and if you don’t look at all the three elements you really have nothing. So I think at the end of day it is not as horrible as this is. 

I think this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to start fresh and start doing things better; I think that is there is a general misunderstanding in what design actually means, because to most people, and unfortunately even in our industry, the designer is just the guy or the girl that we ask ”let’s just make it pretty”, make it nice for the customer. That is a complete misunderstanding. The design process is what actually determines the whole lifecycle of the garment. 

If we took more attention in the design process of our garments, the whole thing would be much easier . They look at ways on how they can minimize the footprint, but they’re trying to retrofit something in a process that is not designed for that. The right approach is actually to take a look at the whole life cycle of the garment from the get-go and say this is what my garment is, the lifecycle of a garment is this is, and what it’s going to happen to the garment at the end, when people stop using it,  where is it going to go, how it’s going to be disposed of. 

So you really have to look at every single step, let me look at the raw materials that I’m using, let me look at the yarns , where is the cotton coming from, where is  the dye stuff coming from, which factory is going to make it, how they’re going to make it, what is the most efficient way to avoid waste for fabric, what kind of chemicals can I use, how  to reduce my main packaging, how can I make sure that the packaging does not just end up  on the shop floor, and how do I make sure that the garment at the end of the day when it’s exhausted,  its  usefulness as a garment, maybe can can be  used again for something else. So being able to be recycled – to be upcycled, down cycled – and somehow avoid it going into a landfill.

What are the 3 key things the denim industry needs to do?

It’s three priorities. One is pretty much a given, we will have to look into rationalizing both fabric basis and garment basis because it’s quite frankly out of control. We think we’re also smart but we are really a bunch of idiots. How many fabrics have you made over the history of your company – maybe fifteen thousand, but how many of those are really truly different fabrics. Similarly, how many fabrics have you made just because we cannot say no to a customer – I say no we have this one, it’s exactly what you need, and eventually we end up looking at incredible amounts of stocks out there, and inventories piling up all over the place. That is all actually perfectly good, there’s nothing wrong with it, but we fell into this trap of this, it has to be new at all cost. We have to have a seasonal “newness”. 

What is the  seasonal meaning in denim?  Denim is the same fabric that you can wear all year round, a lot of these things  are self-inflicted. So I think now we’re going to be forced to look at these things more rationally and the reduction of quantity will come as a consequence;  I’m not advocating that we should raise our prices on everything. I understand very well there’s a lot of people who cannot afford to buy expensive clothes so it’s not like overnight we can say I reduced my quantities by 50% and increased my prices by 25% . It’s not that simple, but one thing that we should work on together as an industry is to try and educate people. 

We’ve done a phenomenal job at mis-educating our customers, and let them believe that it was okay to buy all disposable stuff. I think people should realize that it’s not. An old saying  says “I am too poor to afford cheap clothes” and it’s very true, if you buy cheap stuff , you end up spending a lot more at the end of the day because you’re going to have something that is not going to last, is not going to have any quality, any strength or anything. So that’s one major change that I want to see in the industry. 

Second one, we’ve been talking , ad nauseam , about sustainability for the last three years, I hope people will not forget it right away. They say we’re in survival mode now we cannot afford to spend more to try to recycle or to try to make better use of our resources. I see recycling facilities are struggling right now . Used garments cannot be shipped because there’s a fear of contamination. So there’s a lot of issues that we need to need to focus on and the third one that I think is pretty essential is that we really need to start looking at the definition of partnership again because it’s something that people have been talking about for so long .

Partnership is out of the window, and so many customers have shifted into panic mode; it’s not a judgment call. I understand that when you’re really having your back to the wall , you have to look at trying to save your skin and it’s easier to look at the immediate problems that you have to face now. We have to be  looking at the consequences down the line, but all these partnerships that we’ve been talking about are pretty much moot right now. 

We need partnerships more than ever, brands, retailers, factories, textile operations. We all have to work together because that’s the only way to get out of this. We can’t just keep pushing the buck down the line and just allow the lowest part of the operation to suffer the most, that’s just not right.

Stefano also quickly answered some more questions which were raised by the participants at the webinar .

Q.How important is HEMP and HEMP-blends going to be in the next few years?
A. I think the time is finally coming for Hemp to become a viable alternative to cotton.
Q.How does the panel see traceability of denim (from seed to garment)? What role Blockchain will play in that traceability process? Is the industry ready to collaborate to form different consortia that drive full transparency and elevated efficiency?
A. Traceability is indeed one of the biggest challenges that our industry faces; it has never been seriously tackled but it seems to be getting more traction now, there are a few interesting technologies already available, hopefully we will manage to find a common standard.
Q.Could Denim Fabrics be 100% Recycled?
A.Yes, it could; more importantly, can it be 100% recyclable? This is a more important question, and more difficult to answer.
Q.Talking about Brands making mIstakes “Where do you think Iconic Brands like Diesel and EXPRESS stand?
A. Diesel has been on an incredible trajectory for many years and eventually, I think, has become too big and lost its original “soul”. They should look back and stay true to what made them great in the beginning. I don’t think Express is an iconic brand, sorry!

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