Above: illustration by Margherita Perugini for the final conference at Università Cattolica.
F-SuSy is a project funded by Lombardia Region for research and experimentation of materials and processes to cut the hazardous chemicals in textile chain, improving the general sustainability level of this industry. The project aims at developing digital instruments for monitoring the innovation process, the comparison with market’s chemical safety standard, the circulation of knowledge and positive practices.
F-SuSy is realized by universities, consulting agencies and manufacturing companies.
I worked with MODACULT research centre, part of Università Cattolica. We focused on understanding how the efforts made towards sustainability by small Italian textiles firms could be communicated both to the supply chain subjects and to the final customer. The aim was to create a small manual made up of communication guidelines specifically designed for these small manufacturing companies.First, we focused on understanding the companies’ histories, values, know-how and efforts for sustainability; the way they have coped with communication until now - both offline and online; their needs and hopes for the future.
We conducted in-depth interviews with different people from the company and have a tour in their factories.
Some of the results of this phase were:
1. Small, family-owned companies ofter have a lot of stories to tell, but are not aware of that.
2. They are key factors of the change towards sustainability but do not have the tools and the ability to communicate it to the final customers.
3. Their clients (consumer brands) do value sustainability, but are reluctant in showing who their suppliers are, even though “transparency” is increasingly valuable in fashion.
4. There are no specific people in charge of communication processes, so we can not expect specific knowledge, nor dedicated budget, energies and time.
5. Offline communication and textile trade fairs still play an important role.
Keeping in mind these elements we then worked in team on the Communication Guidelines drafting.
1. We selected excerpts from the interviews to show the companies what could be turned into good storytelling - and that they have got already that material in their DNA!
2. We offered them practical examples of how they could reach a larger public, and the final consumer too, by exploiting digital tools and social networks.
3. We suggested that the more they work on their communication and brand image, the more likely it is for brands to make visible their suppliers to the final customers.
4. We stressed the importance of communication and the advantages of the digital tools, without writing 100 pages of argumentation. These people have no time since they carry on several different tasks at the same time (at least PR, commercial, marketing and communication management). We condensed the theoretical part in a few sentences and built the manual around case studies, good practices, examples but above all suggestions of tools and platforms they can start to use immediately. We kept it simple: the manual is modular, so that companies can use it to cope with the specific problem they want to solve. Each module is built around a question (e.g. “Which words to communicate sustainability?”)
5. We showed them solutions to integrate the offline and the online dimensions as a whole ecosystem. For example, part of the project was dedicated to develop NFC tags which are applied to the bolt of fabric and allows to track the whole supply chain. This was realized by S4GV (Solutions for Global Visibility) together with one of the three companies involved in the project.
The final part of the project lead us to organize a conference to provide a theoretical frame about the circular economy, to sum up the results of the research and gather all the subjects involved to build an interdisciplinary community for future collaboration.
The guidelines for sustainability communication will be published online soon with a new, final graphic layout.