Maurizio Donadi began his laudable career in fashion viewing it as a job that offered a steady paycheck, but over time, he fell in love with the artistry, the history and the people. During his time globetrotting at Benetton, Diesel, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s, Donadi amassed an archive of vintage clothing, accessories and other objects, some 8,000 pieces in total. Some he wears, some he marvels at, some he surveys, some he uses as inspiration; but with all, there’s been an emotional attachment to them, they’ve meant something to him.
“Meant” because those that have lost their purpose, don’t just get tossed back into the mix, sitting in the parking lot of a secondhand store or in a mountain of waste at a landfill; they’re now awaiting their new homes and a another life.
Just as Donadi grew a love for the beauties of fashion, he also developed a disdain for it’s excess. In 2015, he co-founded Atelier & Repairs, a company that “re-engineers” and “re-designs” reclaimed clothing — unworn, damaged or otherwise — into one-of-a-kind pieces with unique embellishments like embroideries, patches, distressing, and piping.
Dedicated to this form of circularity, Donadi launched Transnomadica in 2020, a digital marketplace that sells off pieces from Donadi’s massive archive. But it’s not just another secondhand e-shop. Each release is highly-curated, telling a particular story of “mankind’s capacity for innovation, evolution and beauty.” With an educational section, aptly labeled “Research,” Transnomadica challenges us to reconsider our buying habits, particularly around clothing, and see the artistry, the function and longevity in the many garments that already exist.
Together, Atelier & Repairs and Transnomadica, complete Donadi’s goal of circularity; the former repairs existing clothing, while the letter informs and excites us on the significance.
We recently spoke to Donadi as he embarks on the latest evolution of his businesses, a large-scale partnership with Dockers. Titled “Oh Khaki, My Khaki,” the Transnomadica-curated collection features over 100 vintage pieces of various Dockers garments from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, celebrating the history and craftsmanship behind the iconic khaki pant with re-use and sustainability in mind.
We talked at length with Donadi, touching on his career, his frustrations with the fashion industry, the future of Transnomadica, and what’s inspiring him these days.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
FUTUREVVORLD: Can you tell us how you began your career in fashion?
Maurizio Donadi: Well, I was never really attracted to fashion. It might sound a little strange but it’s the reality. I started in the clothing business when I was very young, just because I needed a job change, and not because I was interested in that particular field. I started as a stock boy in the ‘80s at the United Colors of Benetton. I was lucky to start there at the right moment. The expansion was immense, and gave me the opportunity to work in France, Germany, Nashville, Miami, and the Carribean. Then after 10 years of this nomadic life, I landed a job with Diesel Jeans in the mid ‘90s as a retail director for the US expansion.
Then I went to Armani for another six years, in a creative role. And then I went to work for Ralph Lauren for five years, working on RRL and Rugby. Then I went to work for Levi’s for three years, and that was my last corporate job. It was Levi’s XX, which incorporated all of its premium brand expressions — Made & Crafted, Red, and Levi’s Vintage Clothing.
Then in 2012, my wife and I moved to Los Angeles and we opened a consulting studio, which we still have. And then we got involved in several projects, until launching Atelier & Repairs in 2015.
FVV: It’s fascinating that you weren’t initially attracted to the fashion industry. I imagine you developed a love for it over time, since you stayed for so long.
MD: I really enjoy the people. I have a tendency to like people and even the people they don’t like. I’m interested in people, even though I’m told I don’t ask a lot of questions, but I look at people for inspiration.
Fashion is a very rich industry for experiences. The traveling, meeting people, learning, being creative, being resourceful. But then that’s when the epiphany started. All of a sudden you realize that this beautiful industry is also not behaving as well in certain areas. And sometimes it’s not because of anything malicious, it’s just because people are not thinking about it. In the name of globalization and growth, and making a small company bigger, we forget that it could be a real bummer for the people and the world.
So in 2014, 2015, I realized that I still liked the industry, I was still very attached to it, it was still very dear to me, but I wasn’t comfortable with certain parts of it.
FVV: Is that why you started collecting and curating clothing so many years ago, because you were inspired by the stories behind and in vintage clothing?
MD: My fuel for work comes from the emotional aspect of it. The clothes indeed become a second skin, and some of them are more dear than others, and you start thinking, I have these T-shirts that I will never throw away because it’s comfortable, or it’s fading beautifully, or for a million reasons. So you first experiment on your own and realize that an item not only reminds you of certain things that you have done in your life, but also inspires you for the future.
I might go to a flea market looking for an ashtray, and come back with a pair of shoes. The decisions we make when we buy things are all emotional. Collecting and building archives always starts quite randomly. I never met a collector that started with one thing, and they’re still doing exactly the same thing, because there is an evolution to it. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s very emotional.
When you work in a creative role in fashion, you need clothes to inspire you, new, old and imagery. Sometimes you dream about what something could become or will be. Sometimes you buy something because the fabric is incredible or the zipper is great. I buy things that are falling apart, and I think about what type of life these objects had, and who was the owner, and what happened to them.
FVV: It’s like a historical building, in that you wonder what the world was like when it was built and how that world has evolved around it.
MD: It’s a little bit of wabi-sabi — the beauty of things that are imperfect, that usually comes with age or usage. You mentioned a building, which is also very attractive to me. I see these old buildings that are faded by sun, rain and snow, and I feel that that wall, or that building, has a story to tell. And you know, maybe my archive right now has too many stories to tell, and that’s the problem, because I’d love to tell all of these stories.
The majority of my buying right now is on items that have either an interesting story, or of great quality, and they deserve a second life. The Transnomadica story is about less accumulating, and more about circularity and making sure that some of these objects don’t spend months or years inside a box, or in a landfill, but that they go to somebody that has the same appreciation I have for good quality and a sense of responsibility. Instead of buying a new pair of jeans, buy a used pair that’s still beautiful and has a story, one that you will add to.
FVV: You consider Transnomadica a responsible fashion company, what does that mean exactly?
MD: This world produces too much. It’s not only clothing, it’s in general. We don’t need all of these phones. We don’t need all of these shoes. We need more things that are important to our lives, and less of the things that are decorations for our lives.
I’m not sure if I can solve this problem, if any, I just hope that I can be an example for others to solve much bigger problems.
The problem is that we have already produced a lot of beautiful things that we have not utilized correctly and fully. And part of that is because of low quality, which will not merit another life. I wish that people would be more sensitive about this issue, and start recycling, thinking responsibly and educating themselves.
I also wish brands were more honest, with their strategies and their production, and then hopefully start designing for circularity.
But all without compromising creativity. This is not about killing creativity. You can be very creative with very little, in fact, human beings are amazingly creative when they need to survive. It’s when they need to prosper and grow exponentially that they lose that ability to create. And that becomes volume. It becomes industrialization and globalization.
FVV: With what you’ve just said about the changes you’d like to see, how can we as consumers change our purchasing habits?
MD: First of all, I want to say that every company on the planet today is looking at sustainability and circularity, so the world has changed a little bit from five, ten years ago. Companies understand that you cannot be 100% sustainable right away but you can start the process, and every company can choose what that process is, but they do need to start with something. So I’m happy about that.
My wish is for people to learn more about the power that they have to make decisions on what to buy and how to buy, and how to utilize all these objects. We need to really understand who these brands are, then decide why we want to support them: is it because of their philosophy, the way they do things, or the way they design or manufacture things. We need brands to be honest to do this, but that honesty only comes if citizens are informed and ask for that honesty.
FVV: Which is the goal of Transnomadica, correct, informing people of the importance of buying better and buying vintage?
MD: With my archive, I keep what truly drives my emotion, and I sell what has completed that job for me. I am recycling and circulating things that meant something to me, but now deserve to live another life with another owner.
The idea of sharing, inspiring, and being informative and honest with what we want to communicate, makes us more than e-commerce, the website is a magazine, a publication. I think the idea for now, before we get very deep and technical, we want to talk about things that can intrigue a conversation with people.
In fact, we just published a story today about what I’m not selling: my Mitchell camouflage stuff. It took me years to find them and there’s an emotional attachment that I have with them. So it’s not just about what I’m selling, but it’s also about what we are thinking and seeing that we want to share.
It’s the same thing for Dockers. There’s an appreciation for the brand, but there is a lot that can be told about the origin of the brand, and why Dockers, who they are, what they did, and what we did together. I would not be able to do this with a brand that I don’t like, or that I don’t respect. Regardless if I wear it or not — that’s secondary.
MD: The archive that we have is physically divided into colors: there’s a blue room, green room, white room and khaki room. We opened Transnomadica pondering the color blue, mainly selling Japanese denim, which I have collected seriously for the last several years.
Now, the second story is about khakis. I have French military khakis, US military khakis, and then a bunch of brands that I’ve collected for their quality, shapes or shades. For example, I have four pairs of Dockers that I bought in Europe around 2004, from the Made in History collection. The styles had a definitive streetwear baggy fit, artisanal “home-made” yet durable construction, and details taken from early 20th-century workwear. I was surprised, I had no idea Dockers made incredible chinos like that.
Looking at these four pairs, I thought the history of Dockers is a perfect khaki story. I really wanted to feature one brand, someone who would give us the freedom to talk about the brand without being pushed to say things or forced to portray the brand in a way that was not natural to us.
Dockers thought it was a great idea and wanted to build content around my research. I’m very appreciative that a company as big as Dockers can understand the language of a small company like mine. That relationship has evolved into being fully collaborative, where we share pretty much everything, the learning of all these experiences. And that is the ultimate goal, that we, this small company, can actually spark a conversation about where a larger company could go, what they could do, and how they can be even more creative, innovative and responsible. And that’s one of the reasons why they came to us, thinking about their position with responsibility, sustainability and circularity.
FVV: With so many new brands and everyone trying to tell their own story, we sometimes lose sight of these great stories from the past.
MD: We have pairs of Dockers from the late eighties, early nineties that are double pleated, and that’s what Japanese kids are wearing right now. Not flat front. So we’re learning that the old is actually very modern, just the way they style it is different. That’s what intrigues me, how things are moving in the clothing industry. It’s a solar system for trends, where all of a sudden you have this planet that comes back around — the double pleated planet [laughs].
FVV: What else are you hoping people take away from this partnership?
MD: For Dockers, the indispensable element is that it’s based in California. It’s the protagonist in casual wear. It might not be the only one, but it’s one of the most important brands in the casualization of our lifestyle. Then you have comfort. Then you have a color palette. There are many elements, and they’re all within Dockers.
In its 35-year history, there were themes. Dockers touched golf, it touched nautical, it touched workwear, military, and premium. The K1 for example, was designed by Europeans at one point, as a collaborative effort. Massimo Osti, of Stone Island and CP Company, even did a collection over 10 years ago, called Equipment for Legs.
FVV: How do you see Transnomadica evolving, especially post pandemic? Will there be a physical space, like a gallery? More research projects and partnerships?
MD: All of the above. We would love to open a gallery, where people can come and maybe they buy something, but they can look at something, experience something. Maybe they can have a coffee. Maybe I can have some people doing certain things inside. And everything may not be related to clothing, but it’s almost like a cultural space, a cultural gallery, a place for people to share, communicate and show off their talents.
Transnomadica is an encouragement to cross-pollinate cultural differences and backgrounds, which is nomadic for everyone. If that’s called a shop, let’s call it a shop, but I think the digital space we are creating is becoming that. There is a desire for that to become physical, because human interaction is central to what we do.
FVV: What in fashion currently excites you?
MD: What I think is really extraordinary right now is the planet of shoes, sneakers in particular. I think there’s a new wave that’s been happening for quite some time, but it’s becoming almost indispensable. It’s become frenetic, eccentric and technical, and very stimulating, from the colors to the materials. I think what the sneaker industry has produced in the last ten years is extraordinary.
Of course there’s always negative effects, and we don’t need to talk about that because you asked what excites me, and there are a lot of very good looking shoes. The shapes, the technologies, the colors, and the evolution of the forms and the functions; it’s extraordinary
FVV: Hopefully we’ll see Transnomadica explore a heritage footwear brand for a research project.
MD: I’d love to!