As Micam Adapts to Pandemic Realities, Italian Shoe Players Up Digital Presence

Elbow bumps took the place of a firm handshake or customary two-cheek kissing greeting at Milan’s MICAM spring-summer footwear trade show, held here before a smaller crowd at Milan’s Rho Fairgrounds this week.

Organizers estimated that travel restrictions reduced the number of brands participating to 600 from an average of 1,300 exhibitors and more than 2.000 collections registered during pre-Covid fairs. Nevertheless, organizers, businesses and buyers remain hopeful that digital platforms and showrooms will drive business through the duration of the ongoing health pandemic.

In tandem with the fair, Micam, the largest physical footwear event in the world, launched a B2B digital platform to enhance its exhibitors’ digital capabilities by partnering with California-based tech firm NuOrder in tandem with Magic and Micam Americas.

“NuOrder is a powerful partner and sales oriented platform. We are now joining our buyer database of about 100,000 with theirs of about 500,000,” commented Tommaso Cancellara, Micam’s chief executive officer, noting that the site was officially launched Sept. 15 and the current spring ’21 Micam collections will remain on the site until Nov. 15. A total of 157 brands participated in the digital show. “Our target for the best case scenario was about 150, so things went a lot better than we expected,” Cancellara said.

Across the board, the Italian footwear industry was hit hard in the first half of the year and “severely tested by the pandemic,” reported Italian shoe association Assocalzaturifici.  Italy’s statistics office last reported that in the first half of 2020 industrial production index fell by 34.9%, while company turnover fell by 36.3%, according to the sample conducted by Micam of its Members.

In terms of exports, volume plunged 26.4%, while in value terms, the footwear industry dropped 25.4% versus the same period a year earlier. A total of 3.8 billion euros — or $4.19 billion (all values are calculated according to the exchange rates of the period to which they refer) — were recorded in value terms in the first half of 2020, while a total of 78.7 million pairs were exported.  To put things into perspective, the value was 24 percent lower than the 104 million pairs reported in the same post-financial crisis period of 2009.

With factories closed for a total of four weeks between mid March and Mid May, the footwear industry lost 77 companies (out of 4,350) and 520 employees out of a total of 15,500 as a result of the pandemic, said Siro Badon, president of the fair and of Assocalzaturifici.  “What we learned from the previous financial crises is that we need to act before and people shouldn’t wait around for government bailouts,” Badon continued.

Companies like Vic Matie echoed this warning. “We have been focused on our digital showroom sales and surprised by the success of our online wholesale numbers during Covid. It taught us that there is not a lot we can take for granted and I think our clients have had time to reflect as well,” said founder Renato Curzi, noting his brand’s sales slid by 20% in the first half of the year, due in large part to factory closures.

Artisan-tech startup DIS, a company based in the shoemaking heartland of Le Marche, unfurled its 3D customisation digital technology at MICAM.  With a network of over 3,000 artisans, DIS’s customers are able to cutomize their own handmade Italian shoe in a multitude of colors and materials. In turn, DIS is able to fulfill orders in 10 business days, digitize production.

The company relies on an omnichannel business model to drive its sales worldwide.  The team, which consists of a business economics PhD and a veteran web mobile techie, is banking on sales of its copyrighted 3D technology in the near-term. “We have received some positive signals already and we feel really confident that our technology will sell” said DIS ceo Andrea Carpineti.

For other online retailers, lockdown was a time to flourish, explained The Dressing Screen co-founder Stefania Inama, whose website sells made-in-Italy fashion.

“We quadrupled our sales during Covid. The brands we showcase on our site have doubled and as a result, our selection process is really rigid. Going forward, in terms of product mix, we are also looking for more footwear styles made exclusively for us because this is really what our customers desire… something as authentic as possible,” Inama noted.

The usual space dedicated to Micam’s emerging designers showcased items from 10 creative designers, including Italy’s Maiorano, Yatay, Déplacé and Les Jeux du Marquis, France’s Timothée Paris, DOTZ Brazil, Indonesia’s Pijak Bumi, Spain’s Alohas Sandals, Hungary’s Dyan and Morocco’s Contre-Allée   Their creations ranged from the rediscovery of age-old craft to innovative tech styles, mindful of the values of sustainability and brimming with influences from cultures all over the world.

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