3 Minute Conversation: The Boom of E-commerce - Men's Fashion or Mere Commodities
Born and raised in Biella, Italy, home to some of the world’s most prestigious fabric mills, Dr Zanone Poma was an integral part of the core team that transformed Ermenegildo Zegna into the menswear mammoth that we know today. He served as Zegna’s brand director for an enviable 24 years, ensuring that the brand stayed true to its ethos as it expanded globally.
Today, Dr Zanone Poma manages his own textile production company, GZP SpA, and enjoys the company of great friends and family in Biella. At the recently concluded Pitti Uomo 94, our fashion writer sat down with the charismatic gentleman for a chat about the impact of online men’s fashion brands and how the lack of supervision in the e-commerce market could hurt the industry as a whole.
Sean [S]: Buongiorno Mr Zanone. Thank you for making time.
Zanone Poma [ZP]: Buongiorno! The pleasure is mine.
S: Mr Zanone, You once warned about the boom of e-commerce in menswear. Specifically, you said you were cautious about how a web-designer can become an owner of a “fashion brand” overnight. Why do you hold such a view?
ZP: No offence to a web-designer or a talented IT programmer, but very often, they do not understand fashion and more importantly, they do not understand where to source for a well-made product.
In essence, I have strong views on this because these online “fashion brands” are misleading the average man, in particular, the young undergraduates who do not know where to find better price-to-quality options.
S: But surely, there are exceptions and some would say that these e-commerce brand has made menswear more accessible.
ZP: Indeed there are exceptions. If we look at what David Lauren did for the Ralph Lauren brand, we can see that an e-commerce platform, when done right, can really rejuvenate a brand. But Ralph Lauren is an exception and David would be considered as a marketing genius who grew up understanding his father’s brand better than anyone
If a young entrepreneur has a good fashion eye and understands the market, I for one would be so happy for him or her. But sadly, not many are like this. Many just want the fast money and put out a low-quality product and a relatively high price. I don’t agree with that.
S: Speaking of price, many would disagree and say that these online “fashion brands” are providing a cheaper alternative to the average male. What do you say to that?
ZP: For sure you are able to get a tie or a pair of alloy cufflinks under $20 dollars on these websites, but I am a firm believer of the “Price-to-Quality” ratio.
I am not saying that everyone should spend on luxury. But just for another $20 dollars, a discerning gentleman is able to get a tie that uses a better inter-lining (and give a more beautiful knot) or cufflinks that are plated with rhodium (which prevents tarnishing). For a small price, you are able to get a product with real value.
That is why I agreed to do this interview for you guys because I love what you guys are doing with the online store.
S: Thank you, that’s a huge compliment. We are flattered! We want to know from your experience and as a consumer, what do you appreciate about our work with cufflinks.com.sg?
ZP: Simple! First, I know your boss from 20 years ago when he was in Italy cutting his teeth. Your company has been specializing in men’s accessories for over twenty years. He understands the menswear market and this shows in the products retailed on your website. The designs are current, the corporate collection is classic and the cufflinks are all very well made. Perfezionare.
Second, neckties|cufflinks.om.sg is the sort of online retailer which I was referring to earlier. You guys give the average gent a product that has great price-to-quality value. For $39, $49 dollars, the gentleman is going to get a stylish and well-made pair of cufflinks.
Dr Zanone with Mr Mantero at the Matero Headquarters, Biella
S: Yes, that is indeed our team’s vision. But why do you think so many of these other online retailers cannot do the same?
ZP: Exactly! You would think that a person starting an online men’s accessories company would understand menswear and have his or her supply chain sorted out.
But it seems that many of them don’t have a plan. And that is what frustrates me. They are treating a menswear product like a commodity.
S: A commodity? That’s interesting. Can you elaborate?
ZP: From my observations, and please correct me if I am wrong, many of these online “fashion brands” are simply following the market leaders. Because these brands do not have their own design team and do not have access to quality suppliers, they simply follow whatever the big players produce. In essence, they are making inferior copies. Also, because many of the trusted suppliers are in exclusive agreements, they are forced to buy the defective pieces thrown out by the big players.
ZP: Yes, it is a common practice in many of the factories in China. When a big player places an order for 1000 pieces, say 10% would fail the QC test. The small online “fashion brands” that have no budget to produce their own designs will simply mop up the 100 defective pieces and sell whatever they can to the customers who do not know any better. They are treating cufflinks and ties like a commodity…
S: That is indeed shocking. But Mr Zanone, ending this interview on a more positive note, do you think that many of these online “fashion brands” will improve with time?
ZP: Perhaps, you never know. Many of them are young entrepreneurs and do not have access to reliable producers. Maybe those that are still around 10 years later may finally get a chance to enter the quality factories. That is life, isn’t it? You must have the grit and the passion for what you do. No shortcuts.
Dr Zanone making the introductions at Pitti'94