Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Siro Badon, president of Italian footwear manufacturing organization Assocalzaturifici, discusses the advantages of Made in Italy and how the association’s trade show MICAM has evolved during the pandemic.
Name: Siro Badon
What’s the number one question or concern you hear from your members now that was never really a consideration before?
Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue for enterprises, viewed as a distinctive, strategic, competitive factor. Consumers are also becoming more and more aware of the value of sustainability. The rapid evolution of sustainability requirements may be associated with the level of business and reputational risk to which various players in the industry are exposed. In the absence of shared requirements and control schemes based on solid international standards, brands or retailers seek to develop their own customized schemes, increasing the effort required in terms of man-hours and organization of work.
We at Assocalzaturifici have come up with a tool for getting around this problem, and registered the trademark VCS (verified and certified steps) to allow brands to proceed with the initial step of self-assessment in order to come up with a multi-year plan for improvement in sustainability. This will serve as a platform for interacting with brands and customers that will be recognizable on the market thanks to the application of our trademark. The market is evolving, and we’re following it as it changes, anticipating the trends.
How should factories be evaluating potential brand and retail partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?
The pandemic has been very trying for all of us. But we have been able to give companies in the industry a hand by focusing on and promoting digital technologies. The MICAM Milano Digital Show turned out to be a highly successful formula, as demonstrated by the figures: more than 90 brands on the platform, with over 5,000 registered buyers who visited more than 35,000 pages, generating almost 2,000 connection requests and recording 60 percent growth in traffic in this edition. We have seen that buyers and brands can talk to each other digitally, but physical interaction is irreplaceable in our industry. The right mix is using digital technologies alongside in-person events, to take advantage of all business opportunities.
How can the relationship between these parties evolve?
Brands must customize their range more, adopting a more digital vocabulary beginning with their line sheets, which must be specifically intended for each destination country. Targeting is essential, because while it’s true that we are all living in a global world, every market has its own specific features. Failing to target your work dooms you to failure.
What should be manufacturers’ top lesson from the pandemic? How can they address this in their operations?
One of the things the pandemic has changed is people’s buying habits and preferences. Consumers are better informed than in the past and want to make the right buying decisions. They want as much information as possible on products, where they come from and the manufacturers’ sustainability. In this context, “Made in Italy” is a universally recognized added value, an absolute advantage.
What is the state of footwear production capacity in Italy? From your perspective, what is the outlook for 2021?
The market will definitely bounce back after the recession caused by the pandemic. The Italian fashion industry—of which the footwear industry is a part—is preparing to get moving again, and the reopening of the stores and easing of restrictions suggest that long-awaited normality will soon be back again. And our industry, of key importance in Italy, will soon be back as a leader of the country’s economy.
How can the Italian government best support the domestic footwear industry during this time?
We expect the institutions to continue supporting international growth and professional trade fairs, as they have done in the past. This is essential, seeing as our industry is particularly export-oriented, representing Italy all over the world.
If companies aren’t already producing in Italy, why should they consider using it as a sourcing location?
All the best shoe brands choose to make footwear in Italy, because consumers all over the world view “Made in Italy” as an extraordinary advantage. Our companies’ know-how, skills, quality and craftsmanship continue to stand out on the international scene. And consumers recognize the value of this.
What keeps you up at night?
The epidemic that has brought our industry to its knees is a problem that goes well beyond the sales figures. A huge number of related industries and jobs are experiencing crises. Employees and their families are risking their jobs, and the sacrifices they have made all their lives. This is the drama that keeps me awake at night. And the figures on use of wage support are very worrying. But I’m convinced that recovery will have a positive impact on the entire industry.
What makes you most optimistic?
We have a solid tradition of quality products and excellence in handwork, to which we add the great value attributed to goods made in Italy. We must continue to work this way, staying true to our nature.
What’s in store for Assocalzaturifici in 2021?
We are preparing a very important physical edition of MICAM Milano in September. Both exhibitors and buyers will be able to attend the world’s most important footwear show in perfect tranquility. We look forward to seeing you Sept. 19-21 in Milan for a show marking a new turning point!