Piero Turk is a living denim legend. In 2014, the freelance jeans designer, denim manufacturing consultant and amateur photographer, published his first book "Details - A Life with Denim", the second followed in 2017. Wen asked why Italy didn't ever manage to bring to life its own innovative denim fabrics trade show for our ITALIAN ISSUE, Turk recognizes that Italy missed some major opportunities in the past. However, he believes that educating youth in classic textile disciplines and supporting Italy's (apparel) economy locally can make its brightness shine again.
"In the ’60s Italy was a worldwide leader in many sectors such as the chemical one–we invented the first plastic material, Moplen; in the mechanical field we invented, for instance, the first washing machines and dishwashers; we also invented the first computers–Olivetti produced its leading typewriters and right after, the first computers.
Similarly we were leaders in textiles and fashion manufacturing. Our main weakness has been not to organize an important textile show when it was possible. This was due to the lack of strong political leaders able to give a clear political, industrial and economical direction for the country.
Through the years, Paris was able to grow and establish Première Vision as the leader among textile shows. In Italy, instead, we have organized many different trade shows like Prato Expo, Ideabiella, Idea Como and Moda In. All of them took place in different times and locations. When they all decided to happen together in the same place it was already too late and Paris was the leader for its organization, for its logistics and for the city that hosted it. When, for instance, Moda In took place in Lacchiarella, outside of Milan, that was impossible to bear. Consider, instead where PV takes place: just one metro stop from Airport Charles De Gaulle.
Considering more recent evolutions, no one might have organized a trade show such as Kingpins in Italy, as in our country the denim market is very small and not evolving very fast. If you take into consideration a product like a rigid unwashed selvedge denim jeans, in Europe there are about 50 brands of that kind. In Italy, only a few brands offer such products and almost no retailer sells them because the market is not receptive.
The Italian denim consumer is backward. Consider moms jeans–only a few girls are buying them here. In London, instead, chains like Topshop have been selling them since 2014.
Also in terms of production hubs we have paid a high price as the denim-manufacturing segment requires little technology and we had to face competing countries whose hand labor was lower. If much of the manufacturing once was done in Italy, Grece, Spain and Portugal, only a very small part of the jeans manufacturing industry has remained here.
For the cost for washing a pair of jeans in Italy, one can get a finished pair of jeans in Turkey.
Differently from other countries we didn’t understand that flexibility was important. Look at Japan, for instance: there are manufacturers ready to produce 150 jeans as a minimum quantity for reasonable prices. In Italy you may find such manufacturers but you have to pay extremely high prices. We have only always looked for great quantities and the companies that have survived have moved to Romania, Tunisia and Morocco. Most of the jeans industry’s production steps that have been moved somewhere else will not return here. And one of the reasons for that is that labor cost in Italy is very high, differently, for instance, from Turkey or Bangladesh where workers’ wages are much lower.
Some laundries started moving some of their production steps outside of Italy. Elleti and Everest, for instance, have moved part of their operations outside of this country to satisfy the needs of their international clients in terms of prices. Although they also continue to keep a part of their production inside Italy for some higher level brands.
In general the industry has become more and more pulverized. Many medium-high brands still resist–including Tommy Jeans, Calvin Klein, G-Star, Scotch & Soda–but many Italian stores have closed. Similarly, many interesting Italian brands including, for instance, Diesel, Replay and Gas, are registering fewer sales. Also “pronto moda” brands can mean something for this industry, though they often live for an average period of ten years and then die.
Moreover, many Italian brands have remained behind and didn’t start competing with other international brands.
With the passing of years also many entrepreneurs have lost their desire to dare. Consider groups like Benetton or Stefanel–they are facing hard times and have lost their leadership.
There are many factors why making an edition of Kingpins in Milan would not make sense: first there would be someone willing to be involved in organizing it seriously; secondly we miss sponsors and money for creating such events and third there would not be a reason to make it as consumers are very conservative, don’t wear very innovative denim, and rather opt for more basic styles.
I was recently at New York Denim Days. That was a great and lively occasion that registered about 7,000 visitors, who paid each a US$10 entrance ticket. In New York that is doable because many groups and design office operate from there like, for instance, J.Crew, Gap and Ralph Lauren, and visit the show regularly. Plus many people there love to wear denim.
For launching a denim show in Italy, Milan or Florence could be the best cities to host it, though if we compare them with Amsterdam, even if it is smaller, behind Kingpins Amsterdam’s organization there is a whole country supporting it. For organizing an event similar to Denim Days also stores should be involved and Florence has few denim stores, Milan is larger though it’s a different environment. Differently, in Amsterdam jeans are everywhere. Many small and big brands exist there and all over the country there are about 100-130 denim specialized stores.
In Italy consumers, instead, are not very interested in a high-research pair of jeans–and they never were. Moreover, economic conditions have changed, the middle class has almost disappeared. It only exists in Northern Europe and Germany now and most people’s purchasing power has lowered significantly as average monthly pay for Italians is around €1,000. So who can afford to buy a pair of jeans for €200? Either one has a culture in jeans or can afford buying expensive denim by labels such as Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga or Gucci.
Despite all this, Made in Italy still has a great charm and can attract consumers. We should rather focus on that and make it become our winning ace. We should find ways for sensitizing the younger generations to such products and such type of work. On the contrary it seems that everyone wants to become only a blogger or influencer, though it looks like there is no more interest for serious work. We should rather educate people and make them work again in fields that can help our country grow. Consider, for instance, jobs like pattern making or tailoring, In our own Veneto territory we count 50 specialized tailors. It is a richness we own and no one else does. This is a heritage we cannot lose as it can mean so much for our future.
I think that educating consumers is always more important. I like, for instance, a practice that many are doing and it is widespread in the US. There is much talk about SYL, or Support Your Locals. Everyone shall try to purchase nearby where he lives to help support one’s own local and national economy. Whenever possible, I try that too. Such behavior can be applied to many different categories–be that organic and bio food produced zero kilometers away, but also Italian apparel brands. "