Italy is known for meticulous craftsmanship, luxury fashion and unparalleled textile & apparel technology, which collectively have helped it attain supremacy in the world market. The country has produced the finest of garment technologists, and undeniably, their technical contribution in fabric manufacturing, apparel pattern-making and construction is exemplary. Today, Italy stands on the podium with around 14,000 textile firms and €48 billion of combined production value in textile and apparel segments. The companies like Macpi Group, ViBeMac, IMA Spa, FK Group and Morgan Tecnica, among many others, are supporting the world market of manufacturing with their innovations and unbeatable technology.
However, COVID-19 mayhem has rattled the country big time, as it’s probably the most pressing dilemma Italy has been facing, which has disrupted major supply chains across all industries, and apparel is no exception. Not just Italy’s nationwide lockdown has been stretched till April-end, longer than most of the nations, and the death toll is massive, but the COVID-19 pandemic has also severely impacted its northern industrial zones including Lombardy, a major industrial hub and a home of big textile companies, bringing the economic wheel of the country to a standstill.
To know the real-time situation, impact of COVID-19 on the industry, future strategies and the role of technology to uplift the industries, Apparel Resources got in touch with three renowned technology suppliers – ViBeMac (a leading jeans automation company), Morgan Tecnica and IMA Spa, which are integrated cutting room technology companies for fashion and textile industries.
A majority of factories are not even operating at the moment due to lockdown. Furthermore, the dip in demand from the buyers is making almost everyone re-evaluate the expansion plans. This means that the companies may not see new investments for a while. This has altered the forecast for the rest of the year and since the clouds of uncertainty are still there, it’s very difficult to speak about the real damage and impact on the businesses. “No business is moving, no sales and even no deals at this moment. And the question is – when will we be able to move again without doing 14 days of quarantine?” shares Mirella Sardini, President, IMA Spa, who, just like everybody else, is still unsure when the manufacturing industry will get back on track.
Resuming operations is the first priority
Despite a stretched lockdown, the Italian companies are geared up to partially resume their operations in order to help customers located in different parts of the world. They are also committed to assist the industry in making personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical sector, which is currently considered a highly innovative project and a derivation of new market need amidst the pandemic.
“In our Italian factories, all those who perform compatible tasks have been in Smart Working on remote basis for 6 weeks now, while the production activity has had to stop on the orders of our Government, practically only for 1 week, but we have already started to produce again,” informed Federica Giachetti, President, Morgan Tecnica. The company has been authorised to reopen its facilities almost immediately, naturally with all the necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of its workers, as part of a supply chain deemed essential for the country in this emergency. “In fact, many of our customers in Italy and abroad have converted the production into masks, gowns and other medical stuff, and Morgan Tecnica is providing them with the necessary technology (machinery and software) as well as assistance and spare parts,” shared Federica.
According to ViBeMac, the pandemic represents an opportunity for the company to venture into a different textile sector, and its R&D team is working towards solutions to assist in production of the personal protection equipment category. The think-tank of the jeans technology automats provider is communicating with its partners from the ViBeMac network, from India to Mexico, and trying to understand the consumer and buyer behaviour. “At the same time, we are offering inputs on what we see as the future of fashion. Alberto Guerreschi, our CEO, came up with a brilliant idea of a hybrid approach between fashion and personal protection equipment. I personally refer to the opportunity as ‘COVID Couture’. We have been discussing the practicality of this idea with industry influencers and production experts as well,” averred Ali Zain Raza, Regional Sales Manager (MEO), ViBeMac.
Ever since this pandemic has rocked the world, the textile industry and scientists are developing hygienic fabrics with the addition of various antimicrobial and antiviral compounds. The need of such fabrics becomes even more significant seeing how deadly this contagious coronavirus can be. ViBeMac takes this information as a next step to collaborate with all stakeholders to further see any possibilities to assist them with the right kind of sewing technology. “Being one of the oldest, we feel it is necessary for us to participate towards a better future for our industry by assisting players coming up with new product categories,” told Ali Zain.
IMA is also operational again – even if it is with a limited staff, thanks to the fact that some of its customers have converted to the production of PPE. Although IMA is not one of the indispensable companies in the supply chain, it still has the opportunity to work for customers who are part of it to guarantee a service, supplying spare parts and/or accessories useful for this type of production. “One of our customers has requested an essential modification to his IMA automatic cutting machine to be more productive in the manufacturing of masks, as he has received a big order of masks for ‘Esselunga’ supermarket chain,” shared Mirella.
However, these Italian companies know quite well that these small businesses are not enough to support and to continue their activities, which will be suffering a lot from the general lockdown, but at least they are not completely idle. Meanwhile, they have got enough time to transmit/bring a positive thinking for future. “In any case, our entire software department has never stopped, and this has certainly been a great opportunity for us to fix various tests/points/issues/versions to test during these tough times,” rued Mirella.
Heat is already there due to changing consumer habits
Post COVID-19, the consumer habits will drastically change. Majority of shopping malls all over the world are now closed, pushing clothing retailers to halt operations for quite some time now, and even when they will reopen and people will be again allowed to go out, they will not follow their pre-COVID-19 shopping habits. Also, shops are not expected to offer the same apparel products as before due to consumers’ reduced buying power.
“We expect online shopping to eventually take off, which will also create a completely different manufacturing process, managing individual orders, even customised and just in time. Manufacturers need to adapt quickly with proper technological solutions, in order to be competitive,” shared Federica. In order to cater to foreseeable demand, Morgan Tecnica has made its ready to offer its specialised solution for this new business model – 3Dress Shop and Ply1 production line.
On the other hand, ViBeMac is contemplating this very dilemma nowadays and has been able to run a few simulations for the post COVID-19 world. It’s a fact that the businesses are going to lose a big portion of their sales due to reduced spending from consumers and it will take a considerable amount of time to catch up with the losses. This industry-wide ripple effect will be more challenging to the manufacturers of apparels, and hence, manufacturers of machinery. “While we carry on this journey together with our customers towards achieving the benchmarks of pre-COVID-19 era, the order sizes will shrink. Moreover, consumers around the globe will be much more aware of sustainability now more than ever. We may be seeing the final nail in the coffin for fast fashion, as the consumer will be more aware of the environmental effects of excessive production,” predicted Ali Zain.
If predictions of the industry players are anything to go by, the shorter quantity of orders will be based on better quality. Another important aspect to consider here will be shrunken economies and decreased economic activity for a while, which will result in lesser economic incentives. In short, people will want better quality, more durable products for attractive prices. “Last but not the least, the digital age is now in full swing as people avoid contact. Social distancing will be a norm for a long while across several markets and we will see a boom in the digital channels of businesses,” opined Ali Zain.
Endorsing the same thoughts, Mirella added that quarantine and social distancing will oblige to accelerate the strategies that only a few months ago were at the test, and tried to make their way but at a very slow pace. Virtual fashion shows, digital showrooms, live-stream trade and the latest 3D design tools are all now essential parts of the forward planning of businesses. “It is necessary to understand where to focus attention and make technological innovation a long-term investment, recognising its fundamental role for the future of the sector,” corroborated Mirella.
Post COVID-19: Major restructuring of technology the industry awaits
COVID-19 crisis will shake the weakest, encourage the strong and accelerate the decline of those realities that were already struggling before the pandemic, leading to massive waves of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, insolvencies. To ensure their future, companies must rethink on revising their strategies right now and must adapt to the new market environment, evaluate the opportunities for sale and acquisition, identify strategic partners to strengthen the core business, increase earnings, create operational and financial stability right from the beginning of the recession.
ViBeMac, post COVID-19, is gearing up with its top-notch technical support, informing its customers that its team of experts is on standby and awaiting their instructions. Once the lockdown situation improves in Italy, ViBeMac plans its production to stay on course.
“Everyone is just waiting for the right time. A big part of the post COVID-19 strategy requires us to stay in contact with our customers and global buyers, and we are doing just that through our systems and partners. We are closely monitoring the economic developments in each of our markets, in hopes of better understanding and being ready for when we are called upon again,” asserted Ali Zain.
Government support is must and Italy is getting that
The way Italian Government has laid out plans to safeguard businesses is commendable. Though the Government is very much focused in managing the sanitary emergency at this time, the officials have already stated some extraordinary measures to support economy and to protect the occupancy for the next future, such as tax suspension, a financial loan guaranteed by the State for all companies who need it, partial cover of salary for the workers who cannot work, incentives for the Smart Working and for the investments in technology for medical productions, etc.
“The Italian Government has also been discussing with the EU, pushing for some shared extraordinary strategy and strong measures to safeguard the European economy in general, in every sector and every country, because this is not just an Italian problem; it is everyone’s problem, and together, we could have a much stronger reaction,” informed Federica.
Additionally, the Italian Government has activated financial support for those companies who are transitioning from apparel manufacturing to PPE manufacturing and tenders with subsidised loans to encourage the purchase of new technological equipment with the aim of modernising their own business. “And, of course, our products fall into the category of these financing. Right now, we are submitting several offers of IMA complete lines and it is the only opportunity we have since the rest of international market is completely stationary,” told Mirella.