A group of Executive MBA (Fashion) candidates accompanied by course leader James Clark and unit leader Sue Dean, travelled to Milan and neighbouring Como for a stimulating two- day excursion. Fascinating ‘behind the scenes’ tours and boardroom presentations brought to life various stages of the Italian fashion value chain.

As managers and leaders, we want to understand the full picture of relationships and synergies between product design (Zegna), manufacturing (Mantero), quality control (CQT), marketing and strategy (Zegna) and the whole Operations-Retail-Wholesale cycle (Coach/La Rinascente). Where does education fit here if it does at all? Javier Conde Pascual

The tours began with a day in Como, the historic centre of silk production.

The day at Como was also super interesting to me because I really felt the force of Italian manufacturing ecosystem. Italians are very famous for cooperating at regional level. The supplier / client relationship is very complex (in a good sense) and it creates strength for a region. The cross partnerships that are constantly in place in the textile and fashion industry mean that Italian textile and fashion companies to survive the international competitions. Jean Bouton

The group visited Mantero, a vertically integrated weaving factory and printing house. Supplying the world’s major luxury houses, Mantero demonstrated how the craftsmanship of screen printing is preserved and passed down to a new generation.

Mantero Spa, a family owned bespoke textile printing business, was incredible to see, with the detailed handwork of their screen prints, and the chance to peep into an archive that proudly houses tens of thousands of original designs, dating as far back as the 18th century. Joanna Watson

Meticulous attention to detail, vital in the luxury industry, was demonstrated during a fascinating accompanied tour of CQT Qualitex with Daniele Mauri. This company provides fabric inspection services and logistics for fabric producers and garment manufacturers.  The group marvelled at the painstaking degree of checking for flaws. Through a tour of the independent company, Lab Solution the group saw many processes of conducting chemical textile and environmental analysis, based on international compliance standards.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of Daniele Mauri at CQT Qualitex, his confidence, pride and passion about his work allowed me to see the positive future of fashion industry. The tour of his factory and the lab made me comfortable paying premiums for luxury brands as the amount of time and effort spent on the best quality product is just invaluable. Songhee Lee

Day two began with a visit to the stylish headquarters of Ermenegildo Zegna where fourth generation family member Benedetta Zegna gave an inspirational presentation outlining how the global luxury giant has developed its product portfolio through vertical integration “from sheep to shop”.

What stayed with me most is Ermenegildo Zegna and how strongly they value product by controlling the supply chain right down to the sheep. In this current and throwaway fashion climate, brands need to restore the consumer’s relationship with the product, educate them on its origins and on how it was made. The product needs to become valuable in the equation again. Joanna Watson

The visit was followed by a boardroom presentation at La Rinascente, Milan’s only department store, operating in prime position opposite the majestic Duomo where the buying managers explained in some detail how the product portfolio is edited and targeted for a growing number of international tourists.

La Rinascente put so much time and attention into their presentation. I loved seeing through their eyes how they view the business of retail. From viewing their buying cycles, to how they position product on the floor, it is clear that the formula for buying and sales is far more complex and strategic than having good taste. Gretchen Jones

La Rinascente’s competitive advantage is defiantly the location and historical roots of the building itself.  However, as they are still able to cater for such a high number of the local people, it should be about the accurate selection of product portfolio as well. Irina Gustomyasova

Continuing to a guided tour of the recently opened Coach flagship store on Via Monte Napoleone, the group gained insight into how the brand has been received by Italian locals and international tourists.

The second day ended with a group visit to educational establishment Politecnico di Milano for a presentation by Professor Giovanni Miragliotta about the changes in the Italian luxury supply chain.

The data presented at Politecnico di Milano really blew me away. No product can stand firmly in the modern world, let alone future without being dedicated to refining and innovating supply chain management and structure. Gretchen Jones

The experience in Milan brought together real world examples of many elements explored with academic rigor during the Executive MBA (Fashion) Course.

What struck me most about Italy is their love of fashion, not just in how they dress, but also in their connection to the product itself. The ‘Made in Italy’ label displays the country’s pride in manufacturing while the long tradition behind family-owned firms such as Ermenegildo Zegna gives their brand a clear competitive advantage. Joanna Watson

All images by Denisa Niculescu.