In Hong Kong, the Global Footwear Executive Summit, held on March 12th, tries to analyse and find the countermeasures of the many “perfect storms” that are stringing the footwear world. And discover that the solution maybe is only one
By Luca Fumagalli
The words and definitions that bounce from the microphones of the Global Footwear Executive Summit organised by FDRA (Footwear distributors & Retailers of America) on March 12, are not matching with the austere, elegant, but certainly a bit démodé room we find ourselves in, in the Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong. The first impression is that of having (physically) crossed a time threshold, returning to the early 90s.
Then, when the speakers begin to talk about the contents of their speeches and mini-talks to which they are invited to participate, we seem to find ourselves, in an alienating way, ahead in time. In a near future that, in many ways, is no longer a possibility, but is already, forcefully, underway.
A “present future” that talks about:
- algorithms and the “death of the concept of distance”;
- 3d printing, “new software”, “new skills”;
- mass customisation and sample multiplication;
- multiplication of the samples and absolute constriction of the development times of one of them; smart intelligence and the ability to move incrementally;
- connections in real time between client and supplier, between style offices and The list could be (almost) infinite because (almost) infinite is, as explained by the FDRA’s CEO, Matt Priest, the list of “perfect storms” that have shattered the sector, “continuously transforming consumer behaviour, the commercial strategies of the brands and, therefore, the productive ones”. So the only possible answer is the one summarised in the title of the event: “Agility in action”. “Agility – says Priest – as a response to the changes that have permanently changed the footwear business, in particular the online and direct-to- consumer policies, without forgetting the particularly onerous implications of the ongoing trade wars that have set the basis to achieve in 2018 the tariff record per pair entering the united States”.
Always faster. More and more connected, more and more digital. The management is clearly one-way and as emerges from the most “prompt” interventions in terms of technological innovation applied to the footwear industry (materials/accessories/components, obviously included), requires the implementation of systems in which between “creation, development, production, marketing do not pass months, but at most 30 days”. Systems composed “of a greater number of players, a diversified universe of factories much more flexible than today, capable of producing so many different lots in lower volumes than in the past”. A “rainbow” production that sees mass customisation as a challenge and an opportunity.
It is no coincidence that in Hong Kong one of the speakers was Andrey Golub of ATOMLab Milan, creator of the start-up ELSE Corp specialised in virtual retail and digital contamination of the supply chain: “The part that must still to be adapted to this revolution – he explains – is that of supply chain. Some countries are so ready to handle production completely different, China and Portugal, for example. Others, not yet”. Here, then, is the potential abyss on which certain productions are entering: that of relying too much on their own, proverbial savoir faire, confining the digital to the commercial plan only. Being the best artisans in the world, proud of their manual skills, today is no guarantee of success and survival. “In this, part of Italian footwear still has a long way to go”. And from Hong Kong, for now, that’s all.
“Agility – says Priest – as a response to the changes that have permanently changed the footwear business, in particular the online and direct-to-consumer policies, without forgetting the particularly onerous implications of the ongoing trade wars that have set the basis to achieve in 2018 the tariff record per pair entering the united States.” – Matt Priest, FDRA’s CEO
It looks like a motivational nBA slogan. In reality, it seems to us the ideal denominator of the physiologically anxiety-driven approach required by the current market. Cherie Blum, Chief Operating Officer at Adesso-Madden, a company controlled by the Steve Madden group, acts as the intermediary in the management of footwear supplies for some big players in the specialised uS retail. In her speech in Hong Kong she said: “For us at Madden, “every day is a game day“. nothing more, nothing less than a mantra. It seems good to us to tell about the impossibility, as Blum explains, “to foresee how the footwear industry could be changed in 5 years time”. Better to stay on this business every day. It does not mean living for the day. It is the exact opposite. It means accepting to adapt and transform one’s strategies almost in real time. “Agility – concludes Blum – is a concept of decision making that must generate constant adaptation to the market”.
CODE WORD: Total integration
It is all too trivial, but, in its obviousness, it represents the absolute necessity for a footwear chain to accept change, fit in its needs, manage its dynamics and consequences. “In this “days of speed” – as said by choir of Hong Kong speakers – to guarantee the correct qualitative levels in terms of environment, safety, a total integration between fashion, development and product is needed”.