PERSPECTIVES

Innovating Sustainability at Salvatore Ferragamo

Zac Curtis, our Capability Director, recently attended the Front End of Innovation Conference in Florence. In a varied conference he heard from numerous industry speakers. Here he shares on perspective on innovation from the world of fashion.
Zac Curtis, our Capability Director, recently attended the Front End of Innovation Conference in Florence. In a varied conference he heard from numerous industry speakers. Here he shares on perspective on innovation from the world of fashion.

Innovating Sustainability at Salvatore Ferragamo

In these troubling times of probable ecological meltdown, climate crisis and lack of sustainability – especially in consumer habits and manufacturing – innovation becomes increasingly centre stage for manufacturers, retailers, designers, ecologists, public servants, and well, all of us really.

With the media spotlight being taken up so dramatically with overbearing eco-headlines, I admit I hadn’t really considered what real-world retailers were doing to innovate themselves in a sustainable way to:

  1. Future proof themselves
  2. Offer a sustainable option for years to come
  3. Genuinely look towards helping the planet.

At the ISPIM European Innovation Conference, held in Florence this year, I was given the opportunity to spend time deep in the vaults of Salvatore Ferragamo, a name I am familiar with as a premium Italian design house, to learn about their efforts to lead the fashion industry forwards in sustainability and away from the ‘fast fashion’ of recent times.

The first surprise was to learn of their partnership with various artists around the theme of sustainability and the artist’s impressive installations in the Ferragamo Museum, including a doom-laden cloud of 88,000 plastic straws. The learning for me here, was that if you are going to be part of the conversation, be part of the conversation, especially when outside of your usual line of business.

Having powerfully set the scene of why sustainability is important in fashion, we proceeded to the archive, where 14,000 shoes from the 1930s to the present day ached with stories. From the famous and enduring ‘invisible sandal’ (below) to prototypes made for 1940’s Hollywood movie stars, I was amazed to learn that Salvatore was accidentally using sustainable materials 80 years ahead of time! Thanks to political challenges of the day in late 1930’s Italy, Salvatore, who had set up in the very building I was standing in, was sourcing local materials including cork for shoe soles, fish skin when exotic leather was not available, fishing wire, old books, and anything else he could lay his hands on to design the shoes for his customers, with materials coming locally in small numbers. Don’t discard the methods you have used in the past! What can you repurpose to ensure effective innovation going forwards?

Moving to the present day, we explored the truly astounding innovation happening in the world of raw materials. Some of the highlights are the yarn manufactured out of old plastic bottles (the red yarn in the photo) and the dress made out of the same material (the black dress). Truly wonderful to see a high-end fashion house moving in this direction, though I am sure others are moving in this direction also.

We learned more of innovation in other materials, like silk, yak fleece, wool and cotton substitute, metal cap recycling and so on, all of which I had not fully considered in the context of innovation to support the sustainability agenda.

Ferragamo openly admit that even in the premium market the process of producing sustainable products isn’t yet cost efficient.  At least they are moving in the right direction, which is more than can be said for many others in that space.

What in your business will need to change in the coming year or years? How will customer and consumer habits shape the way you do things? Get ahead of the curve! Excellent customer insights will carve out the right route forwards for your business to ensure you meet the changing needs of consumers, and the world.

If there is a bandwagon to jump on, I will usually actively move in the opposite direction, but through the lens of innovation, and having previously considered that Ferragamo was ‘just’ a retailer, my eyes are opened to the importance of all companies… any companies… doing what they can to invest for the future using innovation. Without innovation and innovative techniques and minds, we look only to short term gain and we are in trouble!

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