AEFFE: Tradition and innovation together to bring smart working to the heart of Italian fashion

Claudia Manca, Paola Giuri April 29, 2024 5 min read

Founded in 1972 by Alberta Ferretti, AEFFE is one of the jewels in the crown of the Italian fashion industry, a company that has spanned half a century of design and luxury. Deeply rooted in the territory of San Giovanni in Marignano, in the province of Rimini, it has boldly extended its presence beyond national borders to reach key markets such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Its evolution has been a hymn to Italian creativity and craftsmanship excellence, which has found expression in prestigious brands such as Alberta Ferretti, Moschino and Pollini. The international turning point came in the 1990s, when AEFFE began collaborating with world-renowned designers. A vision that was further consolidated in 2013 with the arrival of Jeremy Scott as creative director of Moschino.

In 2021, AEFFE celebrated five decades of success, but also faced an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a profound reflection on the way we work: the Italian government already in 2017, with Law No. 81, had laid the groundwork for greater work flexibility, but with the March 2020 lockdown there was a decisive shift. At that very time, in response to the challenge imposed by the pandemic, AEFFE launched a smart working experiment involving nearly a quarter of its employees, a significant move in an industry where physical presence has long been considered imperative. This initiative has become a Bologna Business School case study, edited by Paola Giuri and Claudia Manca of the Department of Management at BBS and the University of Bologna. Born as an emergency solution, in fact, the implementation of flexible working ended up laying the foundations for a new way of working, capable of propelling the company into the future, also thanks to the vision of its managers.

The experiment began in March 2020 and involved 24.8 percent of the company’s employees. Although this percentage may appear modest at first glance, it takes on another significance when considering the unsuitability of some tasks for remote execution. For example, for those working in warehouses, logistics and in general services departments, physical presence remains a must. In contrast, the finance, control, administration, commercial, sales, leadership and management, marketing, PR and communication departments showed greater flexibility, being able to adapt more quickly to new operating conditions. In August 2021, a survey was conducted to gather feedback on the experience. The results, based on the 92 responses provided by the pilot participants, revealed a generally positive perception of the new flexible working practices: 72.2 percent were satisfied with how they were managed and implemented during the pandemic, and 54.4 percent confirmed their intention to continue working this way in the future. However, the survey also highlighted how the willingness to continue with smart working largely depended on its governance and how there were substantial differences in views based on departments, time required to reach the workplace, gender, and age.  

The implementation of smart working under the circumstances imposed by the pandemic required careful planning and rapid execution. AEFFE approached the challenge with a holistic approach, considering the needs of different departments. The R&D department, for example, faced significant obstacles in turning creative ideas into tangible prototypes considering the physical distance imposed by the circumstances. The ability to adapt quickly was confirmed by the results achieved: by introducing advanced technologies, the department succeeded in reducing prototype development time, improving efficiency and stimulating innovation despite the period of crisis. The e-commerce department also adapted and reacted promptly and efficiently, thanks to a well-thought-out digital strategy that was able to take full advantage of the potential of e-commerce. The surge recorded in online sales during that period is a clear sign of the company’s ability to intercept and meet the changing needs of consumers. Marketing also played a crucial role in this transformation: AEFFE quickly succeeded in developing a virtual showroom that made it possible to maintain and even increase interaction with customers, which until recently was believed could only be developed in person. This innovation not only compensated for the temporary inaccessibility of physical showrooms but opened up new avenues for the presentation and sale of collections. 

Building on this experience and with significant data at its disposal, AEFFE realized that a new balance needed to be found, to be based on more open, modern and flexible labor policies. AEFFE’s story is an example of how innovation and adaptability can turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth. It also provides an opportunity to analyze how the application of trends that are changing the world of work depends on a plurality of factors, including the characteristics of the processes and activities performed, the composition of teams and the workforce, infrastructural alignment, and the ability to access critical resources remotely. The case thus makes for critical reflection on what it means to work truly “smartly” in any context. This is why it is valuable in academia, particularly for courses in Human Resource Management, Change Management, Creativity and Innovation Management, and Sustainability-related changes. The company has demonstrated that it is possible to meet global challenges while holding firm to its roots and pursuing the well-being of its employees and the interests of all stakeholders through new strategic tools. AEFFE, then, is not only a model of resilience, but also an example of how ingenuity and strategy can go hand in hand, driving a company to new horizons of success. 

This article is based on
Aeffe: a ‘smarter’ way of working in the Fashion Industry?
Claudia Manca, Paola Giuri