17 July 2008

The slow suit experience

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A few days ago I was part of a panel at the Biella Chamber of Commerce.

Biella is a small city in the North of Italy, that became wealthy because of its textile industry, and is now coming to terms with a new global landscape that is not so favourable any more. Some companies have managed to do rather well – Ermenegildo Zegna is an example – while many others are struggling.

The town is now trying to put itself on the map – globally – as a place of exquisite textiles. Their marketing campaign is all about the “art of excellence“.

So in our panel discussion I quizzed the audience on what the concept of “slow” might mean for textiles. What could slow fashion be? How could the concept of slow thinking be applied to the textile industry, a very crucial branch of Italy’s design industry? And how can we make it into a lever for sustainability (with fashion often being exactly the opposite)?

One of the audience members, Paola Fini, wrote me about a new company she started – partly inspired by the internationally known Biella-based artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and his Cittadellarte – trying to address these questions.

byBiella is all about traditional suit making, with a special slow experience. The entire process of selecting the fabric, choosing the style and taking the measurements is done at the client’s home. The bespoke suit – Made in Italy of course with great attention to fabric quality and detailing – is then produced in four weeks.

Moreover, much like Slow Food, byBiella emphasises the culture of dressing and elegance, as a balance between the inside and the outside, with the individual at the heart of the company’s activities.

A great initiative it seems, that I can only applaud, although I would like to hear more about sustainability and see a stronger storytelling component (especially on the website which didn’t make me feel part of a vision that I would want to share, endorse and promote to others).

Now what does “slow” imply for the not so high end in the clothing industry? byBiella is an entirely valid concept, yet also a company that offers “slow” products that are probably out of reach for most people. What might slow fashion mean for more modest budgets? How to bring the excellence, the sense of quality, and the natural purity so pervasive in Biella, into textile products that are also within reach of a wider population, let’s say for children, teenagers or young adults – much like Slow Food has done with excellent quality local food products?

I don’t have the answer, but the question needs to be addressed urgently. We need many more Paola Fini’s in Biella.

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