A leading arena for international dialogue

For the first time in Italy, the World Footwear Congress promoted by the CEC-European Confederation of the Footwear Industry chose Naples and its rich footwear-manufacturing district as the location for its sixth edition. 

Of international scope, the event hosted eight panel discussions with 35 keynote speakers coming from every part of the world, with the participation of the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities, Alberto Bonisoli, the President of Confindustria, Vincenzo Boccia, the Commissioner of Campania Region, Chiara Marciani, and the Mayor of Naples, Luigi De Magistris.

The public instead was made up by over three hundred participants coming from 15 different countries not only in Europe, but also from China, South Korea, South America, Canada, the USA and Russia.

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The three macro-themes of this edition – the connected and sophisticated global consumer, manufacturing towards a circular economy, and the next generation of merchants/retailers – allowed for a beneficial exchange of ideas and insight, while pointing towards the pathway of sustainability and digitalisation as the only option for those businesses interested in working with success in the present-day global scenario.

A pathway that is not so much a sacrifice, but rather a tool to be used in gaining a competitive edge and generating revenue. The programme both preceding and following the talks was also rich in content: Wednesday 3 April included visits to the Experimental Station Skins Industry, the Kiton Factory, and the Mario Valentino Showroom, which for many years has represented the excellence of Neapolitan footwear worldwide. There were then opportunities for socialisation represented by the inaugural cocktail with typical Neapolitan music held at the Circolo Nautico Rari Nantes, while the Gala Dinner, held in the striking location of the Railway National Museum of Pietrarsa, featured classic Neapolitan cuisine as its protagonist.

_dsc5444The Organising Committee of the Congress included Carlo Casillo, President of the Naples’ Industrial Union Fashion System, Pasquale Della Pia, Assocalzaturifici National Councillor, Michele Lettieri, President of the IUAD Accademia della Moda in Naples, Marcello Tortora, CEO of Medias, and naturally Cleto Sagripanti, President of CEC. Just as important was the network of sponsors and contributors, which included MICAM, UNIC, Gore-tex, Mario Valentino, and Intesa San Paolo. Among them, Edizioni AF magazine was also present as media partner to the event.

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The Royal Palace in Naples

Digitalisation and new consumers the keynote speeches of Dietmar Dahmen

One of the top European speakers for change, the future, disruptive strategies, digital transformation, innovative business models, and sales, marketing and customer-oriented success, Dietmar Dahmen, was charged with the task of warming the public up at the beginning of the Congress and giving the final speech at the end.

_dsc7495The contemporary consumer and digitalisation seen not as an option, but rather a necessity, were the themes of his speeches.

If global business is like a fight in the boxing ring, then Dahmer urges businesses to be proactive, more than disruptive.

The key words for conquering the modern consumer are easy, fast, connected, and fun. Or rather: everything that makes the lives of consumers easier, while allowing them to make a minimum amount of effort, is destined to be a success.

This is also true when speaking of the ability to rapidly satisfy consumer needs, or even stay one step ahead of them. Connection is a key factor that should constantly be put into use to keep the dialogue between business/brand and consumer open. It is also important to offer experiences that make the time of purchasing fun. “Let’s not forget that in 2025, 94% of all purchases will be done by machine! – he declared – The digital age puts an end to ‘business as usual’, and kicks off ‘personal business’, with individual sales and proposals. What’s the best way to deal with all this? By studying data”. “Today – he adds – platforms already drive 78% of all purchases, offering 89% of customers an experience that 86% of them are willing to pay extra for”. There is an extensive amount of available technology and knowing how to manage it is essential: AI, 3D robots, Xr mixed reality, blockchain… each one of these tools allows a brand to create its very own story that subsequently becomes a resource in generating profit.

As far as digitalisation is concerned, Dahmer’s recommendation is to no longer believe in the tale of the winning horse:

In the digital world those who are unwilling to change are destined to succumb”. The bet is to aim high, while not settling for a simple +2%, but rather aspiring to achieve +3400%! “The keys are passion, vision, getting out of your comfort zone, improving technology, digitalising, focusing on new teams and innovating, without letting those how have a pessimistic outlook discourage you”. “Remember – he warns – the future is for those who know how to combine man with machine, technology with the human element, in order to achieve the desired goal.

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Government Institutions at the Congress

The mininster Alberto Bonisoli
The minister Alberto Bonisoli

Underlining the importance of the Congress were the representatives of governmental institutions present on the stage of the Teatrino di Corte, who welcomed the Congress’s public, while also confirming their full support of policies in favour of this manufacturing sector that has contributed to the growth of the national economy.  The Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities, Alberto Bonisoli, spoke of how digitalisation and sustainability are two themes that should not be underestimated: “We believe that they are the two most important factors at play in today’s market, above all in our country that must have its ambitions aligned with the high quality of our manufacturing system”. On the occasion of the Congress, he launched an initiative that could also have positive repercussions for the footwear industry: “For the first time, Fashion and Design become part of the MiBac organisational structure: the new Management team will develop policies that support these two sectors, while promoting them with the creation of an International Design Day, which will protect this legacy of expertise in the industrial world”.

Vincenzo Boccia
Vincenzo Boccia

Vincenzo Boccia, President of Confindustria, revealed how sustainability represents an inclusive idea of society to which businesses must aspire: “Sustainability means awareness and economic sustainability generates jobs. However, what is needed is a policy that supports us, allowing us to achieve this goal: associations already represent these principles, acting as mediators between the needs of businesses and those of society”.

Luigi de Magistris
Luigi de Magistris

The Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, welcomed the public with great pride: “We are very happy above all because Naples was chosen for such a high-level international initiative, and also because our territory of Naples and Campania represents a rich heritage in these arts, trades, footwear, and in general, the entire manufacturing industry. It is a territory full of wonderful traditions that is capable of innovating and opening itself up to social contaminations”.

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The talks of the protagonists

In a digitalised world, where the consumer is always more connected and sophisticated, businesses must make new tools available capable of intercepting their tastes and desires.

Nicola Antonelli - Luisaviaroma
Nicola Antonelli – Luisaviaroma

The first macro-theme of the Congress dealt exactly with this issue, with two panel discussions explaining the role of influencers, kols (key opinion leaders), brand endorsers, and social media marketing in constructing a story that knows how to intercept the interest of consumers and generate eventual revenue. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the differences, languages, and targets of various media, making sure to approach them as if they were a traditional market and only after having done an in-depth analysis. One of the most successful examples in this sense is that of Luisaviaroma, the online platform of the self-named Florentine boutique, which was one of the first businesses to trust in the expertise of bloggers in the past, and influencers today, to create original and effective marketing contents:

A rewarding strategy – commented Nicola Antonelli, web project manager of Luisaviaroma – Today, our turnover is equal to 130 million euros and 90% of it is generated online, also thanks to the support of a network of 1200 influencers in the different countries we do business in.

The future is digital: adapting to the challenges it presents is no longer an option, but a must. This is what is confirmed by Maria Antonietta Odetti, head of business development at Secoo, the Chinese platform of the luxury brand that represents 25% of the luxury market in China and 15.4% of the luxury market worldwide: “Our formula for intercepting the consumer? – she comments – an online and offline omnichannel conversation, social media marketing, kols and experts who offer greater visibility to brands, co-branding customization, and services for enhancing the shopping experience”.

The macro-trend of “Manufacturing towards a Circular Economy” gets to the heart of the issue of sustainability. Here, Claudio Marenzi, the Confederazione Moda President, and Graziano Balducci, President of the Istituto Italiano di Ricerca sulla Pelle [Italian Institute of Research on Leather], underline how Italian businesses are the most virtuous worldwide in terms of sustainability. They need only overcome the specifics, while learning how to better communicate their own values.

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Graziano Balducci
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Diego Rossetti
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Claudio Marenzi

Two cutting-edge case histories in terms of sustainability are those of the footwear manufacturer El Naturalista (Spain) and leather goods company Belcinto (Portugal): they embraced this philosophy when it was not yet even in vogue, encouraging others to go down this road, while avoiding practices of “greenwashing”, which can create a boomerang effect. The role that transparency plays in sustainability accordingly becomes a critical factor, while generating revenue and providing a way to trace and certify it through blockchain technology: “Trust is now placed in algorithms instead of the middleman – explains Giuliano Pierucci, President of ABIE, the Italian Blockchain Association – In this way, there’s a savings in costs, while offering a version of the brand that cannot be counterfeited, with a certified ethical and sustainable code. The client can access this certified archive also through individual cell phones and be sure the guarantees offered are authentic”.

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Ana Maria Vasconcelos – Belcinto
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Juan de la Pena – El Naturalista
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Maria Antonietta Odetti

The last panel discussion of the day ended with the case histories of Vibram, Gemi and Glent Shoes, which demonstrate how customisation and rapid delivery will be the trends of the fashion industry’s future, supported by new digital technologies that allow the individual needs of every consumer to be met: “Customisation is the next revolution in luxury – concludes Carlos Baranda from Glent Shoes (Spain) – It is what we offer our customers. Thanks to devices developed with the Inescop research centre, we allow our customers to measure their feet, create the shape, develop a personalised design, and then have their shoes produced by hand and delivered in a very short amount of time”.

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The second day of talks focused on the theme of the next generation of merchants/retailers with the case histories of Fratelli Rossetti, Del Pozo (Spain) and Cariuma (Brazil) which reaffirmed: “The digital world is not only about online sales, but also about constantly keeping the connection with the customer open – explained Diego Rossetti, general director of Fratelli Rossetti –without however losing the identity of the brand. In our company we are now about to enter phase three, with the implementation of CRM, customer relationship management, which will allow us to undertake targeted marketing actions and increasingly evolved clienteling”.

Ending the day of talks was Tommaso Cancellara, Director of Assocalzaturifici, who spoke on the role of the virtual and physical marketplace, Antonio Paone, manager of the Neapolitan company Kiton, who presented the great sartorial tradition of the company, and Nuccio Diliberti, who recalled how often digital vehicles, like a simple photo on Instagram, can result in a visit to the physical store.

The opinion of the associations and retailers

We interviewed three important protagonists at this Congress, including two institutional representatives and one from the world of international retail.

They are none other than Cleto Sagripanti, President of CEC and member of the Congress’s Organising Committee; Luis Onofre, the newly appointed CEC President who will take over in June as well as the President of APICCAPS; and Thomas G. Bata, head of Bata Shoe Organization with over 5000 stores in 100 different countries. Here’s what they had to say:

Cleto Sagripanti

Cleto Sagripanti
Cleto Sagripanti

Just how important is the organisation of the World Footwear Congress here in Naples?
“The organisation of the WFC in Italy is important, because by promoting a district that has given so much to the Italian association; we are able to introduce the rest of Italy through Naples. Also because Naples is a place that stays close to your heart: maybe when you first arrive you see its contradictions, but when you leave you remember only the best of the city: its art, culture, manufacturing tradition…”

This Congress also represents the final act in your role as President…
“My pathway in the association could not have ended on a better note: there was a wonderful event, with great contents, and I was among friends, because the often intense discussions I’ve had with people over the years have resulted in a number of important friendships”.

What will you dedicate yourself to in the future?
“In terms of the Association, I’ve already made myself available in the role of consultant”.

Luis Onofre

Luis Onofre
Luis Onofre

What direction will your appointment as the new CEC President take?
“I will continue to make great efforts to move forward with the same dossier started by my predecessor Sagripanti, and in particular, I will do my best to defend the European footwear industry also with regards to the ‘Made in’ question. Another issue I will focus on is the generational changeover, with an important proposal for the future. We must work to guarantee a future for our industry”.

Thomas G. Bata

Thomas G. Bata
Thomas G. Bata

How does Bata approach the theme of sustainability?
“We have always considered sustainability to be a theme of importance. Sustainability also means no material discards and an optimisation of resources, and this impacts the final price. If we do a good job in this regard, we are able to propose a more competitive product. We are dealing with what is an extremely sensitive aspect, which we introduced a while back, taking particular care with issues ranging from the correct use of water all the way up to the material of the soles”.

What is your take on digitalisation?
“I believe that big business today lies in the digitalisation of stores. With digitalisation, there is the extraordinary possibility of offering a greater selection and all kinds of information… it’s not just a gimmick to sell better through digital media, but rather a way of keeping customers informed, while offering a new approach for stores. And if customers are happy, they will return to the store”.