First Steps into the Industry

A chat with alumnus Federico Cina about life after Polimoda

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One of the brightest talents during his years at Polimoda, Federico Cina completed the undergraduate course in Fashion Design in June 2017 and today he is a promising young designer that is successfully building up his own brand.

We spoke to Federico about the challenges facing fashion school graduates when entering the fashion industry, what it takes to create a brand and why producing in Italy is relevant.

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

Please tell us about the past year; how is life in the fashion industry?

I love this life a lot and I couldn’t wait to experience it! This year was busy, difficult yet very exciting. I won the Fashion Clash contest in Maastricht, did my internship at a big luxury fashion brand, participated in Lisbon Fashion Week (Moda Lisboa) and a fashion contest in Poland. This January I was invited by Highsnobiety to present my collection at Capsule Show during New York Fashion Week, and finally, of course, I launched my own brand! At Polimoda we had a wonderful time also because we had a freedom for creative experiments, and designers want to be artists and poets, at least I am like this. While in the fashion industry you cannot ignore the commercial side, you must sell to survive. That is why the main challenge for me now is to find the right balance between artistic and commercial aspects.

How did you arrive at the decision to create your own brand?

Initially I thought I should work for a big brand in order to get necessary skill set first and then, in a couple of years, launch my own brand. Then I did my internship at one of the most important Italian luxury fashion brands that was an incredible experience, yet it made me realize that my strength is managing my own design process. Big brands have an advantage in terms of resources and efficient structure yet they are facing pressure of responsibility and limitations in terms of self-expression. Small brands face lots of constraints in terms of the production and access to market, but they are more free to speak out their mind and this is what fashion means to me – expression of my thoughts.

Which aspect do you find particularly difficult in running the brand?

Definitely commercial part. I feel much better working with design and following the development of the collection, prototyping and production. I like finding small producers and ways to get good quality fabrics at a better price. While I do not feel strong in communication, marketing and sales; dealing with social media is quite difficult to me and I am struggling to find the right retail chain for my product, so I need help because dealing with everything alone is complicated. My partner Simone, who is also running his brand Simon Cracker, supports me; we exchange ideas and opinions, which means a lot. However, in order to make the brand grow, it is fundamental to build a team.

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

Is your brand entirely produced in Italy?

Yes, I was born here and for me it is important to maintain the artisanal aspect of my brand. First, because “Made in Italy” is highly appreciated worldwide so it is beneficial for the image. Currently I make very small quantities and local companies that produce for big brands do not consider me yet I successfully cooperate with small laboratories and single artisans based in Tuscany or in my native region of Emilia Romagna. This highlights the second reason to keep production in Italy: I would like to contribute to preserving and bringing forward the unique heritage of Italian craftsmanship.

How would you do that?

In my native town of Cesena, there are three elderly ladies that help me to create beautiful knitwear thanks to their one-of-a-kind expertise. They used to work in a knitwear factory, which was shut down due to economic crisis, so they had to transport the knitwear machines into their houses and keep working from there. There is no one they can impart their knowledge to, so we risk that their trade and skill will not be passed down. I would love to learn from them, but it requires a full-time engagement that I cannot afford since I have to run my brand but I am sure that there are people that can do that. Of course, I cannot make a substantial change alone, but I hope that through my work I can raise awareness among people.

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

At times when mass merchandising and instant availability are prevailing, why do you believe that artisanal production has a future?

We all go to Zara to quickly grab some outfit; it has become a part of a daily routine, not an experience. Yet I know first-hand how special it is speaking to an artisan for commissioning work, living the period of anticipation and arriving to the moment when you finally touch the product. It is a very emotional and unique experience. Of course, we are talking about a very niche service that I believe has enormous potential also considering that it is becoming instinct.

Highsnobiety selected you among other young designers to present your AW2018 collection at the Capsule Show during New York Fashion Week. How did it go?

It was a crucial experience as it was the first time I was meeting the buyers, so also the first time I was developing a collection driven not only by the concept, but also by the necessity to make it commercially successful. After some market analysis, I decided to focus on outwear, create less pieces but more calculated and go for simple and wearable design that would still express my identity. In future I plan to create two lines: one more extravagant for a fashion show and another one more wearable to be presented to buyers and sold in stores. What I experienced with my graduate collection for Polimoda, that was very artistic, is that people pay a lot of attention but they don’t buy it. New York was a wonderful experience but I think Paris is the best city in which to present my brand.

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

Why Paris?

I have discovered that my product works better for the Asian market and the majority of buyers from Japan, Korea and China come to Paris. In fact, the first shop I started working with is in Japan. Therefore, I would like to present in Paris, but first I have to prepare, understand prices, find showroom, so this is work in progress, the next step.

During your last year at Polimoda you had a chance to spend an exchange semester in Japan, at Osaka Bunka. Could you tell us about it?

It was a challenging experience yet so amazing that I would repeat it without any doubt. Communication in Japan was complicated because of the language barrier and cultural differences. Sometimes, even if surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt very isolated and lonely, a weird feeling that Sofia Coppola expressed in the movie Lost in Translation. Yet this mental isolation allowed for a deep journey inside myself, when I discovered a number of things about my personality that I was not aware of.

Compared to Italy, where we dedicate a lot of attention to artistic creativity, fashion schools in Japan are more schematic, with focus on pattern making and technical side of design. Moreover, the atmosphere is different, maybe even more tensed, as students are extremely concentrated on work and never allow themselves to be distracted by jokes. In a way, I am very Japanese because I am very dedicated and demanding in my work yet I cannot help but make little breaks just to have a small chat, while in Japan it is rather uncustomary. Operating in the society with different rules and mentality enriched my personality and stimulated my growth.

How would you define the identity of your brand?

My brand is my diary and every collection is a chapter of my life. My graduation collection was inspired by the experience in Japan, so I communicated the feeling of inner vacuum and outer constraint through leather garments. While the AW18 collection was created during my first year in the industry, when I felt that my creativity is caged and that the majority of people do not take me seriously because you I am too young, so through oversized volume I was portraying a child who in order to look elder puts on the garments of his parents. I want my clothes to tell people my personal experiences and emotions.

What are you working on at the moment?

Previously I have experimented with volumes and leather and currently I am working on knitwear that I will bring forward. For the upcoming collection, I plan to discover various possibilities of textures and prints because my idea for the future is to make simple designs yet with particular and elaborated details.

I imagine you have a crazy working schedule but once you have a free moment, how do you enjoy it?

Together with my partner Simone we go for a walk around Milan, eat sushi, visit some galleries and museums like Fondazione Prada or Triennale di Milano where recently we have seen the amazing exhibition Subhuman, Inhuman, Superhuman of Rick Owens. We love going into beautiful stores like 10 Corso Como and in a way for us it is also like going into a museum because you see the store selections, work of merchandisers and analyse it. If the weather is beautiful, a day in a park is always a great option.

Any advice that you would give to the students who are graduating this year in Fashion Design?

Be determined, strong and work hard. Never compromise on your beliefs and always try to speak out your mind. You are one-of-a-kind and your personal story makes your work unique.

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

Federico Cina - Manifattura Tabacchi - Almanac

This article is an excerpt from Polimoda’s long-form publication Almanac, an expanded catalogue where courses and content collide to offer a comprehensive compendium of all things Polimoda. From interviews with cutting edge designers to essays on the future of fashion, we will be featuring a selection of the Almanac’s most interesting visual and reading material on our journal.

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