SINGAPORE (Nov 19): Born in the Northern Italian town of Salsomaggiore in 1950, Pietro Negra was educated in the fields of chemistry and physics before venturing into apparel making, starting with Formula 1 branded T-shirts commissioned by Ferrari. It was only in the early 1990s that he and his wife, Cristina Rubini, decided to narrow in on womenswear as a business by starting Pinko, an independent, family-owned fashion label positioned as an entry into the luxury fashion segment.

The Italian womenswear brand now has over 170 retail stores and nearly a thousand wholesale outlets worldwide. In October  it opened its first Southeast Asian boutique in Singapore’s ION Orchard shopping mall. Negra and Rubini hope to continue its expansion in Asia by opening more stores in the city state, as well as other countries in the region such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Pinko’s foray into the Southeast Asian market comes at a time when store closures and bankruptcies are making headlines in the retail industry. A recent report by real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield estimated roughly 9,000 retail store closures in 2017, double that in 2016 and even exceeding that of the Great Recession of 2008.

One common gripe among major retailers is the rise of e-commerce, whom they blame for plunging in-store profits and the subsequent closure of brick-and-mortar stores. Yet instead of feeling threatened by the rapid adoption of online retail, Negra, whose website also offers an online shopping experience, welcomes the phenomenon. “I don’t see e-commerce as competition at all. Be it online or brick-and-mortar stores, these two channels are synergistic and are currently at a point where they are converging,” Negra tells Options through his translator

“We do not differentiate between ‘online’ or ‘offline’ sales performance. We have received very good responses for both retail platforms. What’s more important is offering the best service to our customers. By providing our audience with both choices [of online or in-store retail], we enable them to choose freely between how they want to shop. It is simply allowing [the customer] to decide on how she wants to buy our products,” he declares.

Negra co-founded Pinko in 1993 as an entry-luxury brand for women.

Going digital
According to Negra, Pinko is considered an early adopter of digital marketing and retail trends. In 2013 — before retail technology was all the rage — Pinko’s store in Milan was the first to undergo an extensive revamp to unveil a concept that combined both online and traditional shopping features in a single space, he says. Through a touchscreen “Store Stylist” located at the outlet, customers were able to directly preview and purchase the latest Pinko ready-to-wear products and have them delivered to their address within days. This pioneering concept soon extended to other Pinko outlets, and in recent years has become a common practice among popup stores and “click-and-mortar” businesses that offer both a website and physical store.

More recently, Pinko introduced near-field communication (NFC) technology to its iconic Love Bag range as a method of certifying product brand authenticity. Starting with the latest Fall/ Winter 2018 (FW2018) collection, which is now available at the new flagship store in Singapore, users may use their smartphones to verify the authenticity of their Pinko Love Bag. This is an alternative to scanning the QR codes on the heart-shaped labels  which are attached to the bag for the same purpose. In Negra’s view, it represents a further step in battling every fashion label’s worst nightmare — counterfeiting.

Pinko has seen its fair share of counterfeits over the years of products ranging from the brand’s signature canvas bags to its Swarovski crystal-embellished sneaker collection entitled Shine Baby Shine. While Negra acknowledges that counterfeiting is dilutive to brands and their trademarks, the 68-year-old believes that the biggest damage dealt is to the brand’s customers: “[Fashion designers] don’t sell anything that customers really need; our products are not a must-have. If you buy something [for example, a branded product], it is only to attain a dream. For consumers, it’s a nightmare to wake up only to find out that somebody has a copied version of what they have bought.”

Distinguished by two swallows that meet on a rounded metal clasp, Pinko’s FW2018 Love Bag collection can be checked for authenticity using QR and NFC technology.

New marketing tool
Aside from confirming authenticity, Negra sees myriad purposes for NFC technology, which he thinks will become an integral part of more Pinko products in the seasons to come. “NFC has the potential to serve as a good marketing tool for us. It would be very nice to show more information about the product — who made it, how it is done… The technology could also be used to give our customers suggestions on how to wear or style the clothing or accessories, or simply provide them basic information on how to wash or care for it.”

The industry veteran’s foresight extends beyond technology in the retail scene. Just as he is undeterred by the rapid rise of e-commerce  Negra is convinced the trend of renting designer clothing is just one of the several movements that will make up “the future of fashion”.

“Clothing rental is going to be a huge opportunity in the fashion industry. It is much more ethical to rent a €2,000 ($3,124) dress  which you intend to wear for one time only. Environmentally friendly and sustainable fashion, such as products that address concerns over how these items are disposed of, are going to be some of the biggest trends,” he predicts.

Negra’s optimistic and open outlook indicates that Pinko’s business model will undergo more changes as the industry evolves  “As fashion designers, we should always strive to never stop experimenting with the new as we anticipate the trends of tomorrow,” says Negra.