Italy Joins The Independent Retail Game

In a day and age where the number of independent retailers, both online and brick-mortar, are increasingly emerging, how can one stand out today?

Italians, have of late, been struggling to outmatch their foreign counterparts, whom over the years, have picked up a few tricks up their sleeve turning into true masters of the independent trade. Take, for example, Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s boutique in New York and Machine-A, the London-based shop owned by SHOWstudio, both of which have created experiential realities visited by many and equally followed on social media.

What is the reason behind this? Italy is after all, home to some of the most famous luxury clothing brands. And, as reported by German online portal for statistics Statista in a global analysis report on the Italian market, the peninsula has a strong clothing and apparel market, with a value that is expected to reach over 42 billion USD by 2020.

It wasn’t always this way though. In the past, multi-brand boutiques such as Biffi and Antonia, dominated the market with their mixed selection of independent and commercial brands.

In an interview with Nowfashion, Giulia Pirovano, the former general manager of the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana and latest Group Market Director of Milan’s Istituto Marangoni, weighed in on the matter.

"We have a very fragmented distribution compared to other markets, so I believe it is relatively harder to have a major impact.”

However and ultimately, when Italians do manage to find the right recipe for success, they excel at it. Actually, there are a few notable exceptions, both online and brick-and-mortar, that have most recently stood out in the Italian market.

Some, like Uberta Zambeletti’s Wait and See Milano and Macondo, the Verona-based concept store, have been around for a while. Others, such as TheFlamel, an e-commerce marketplace, have recently joined the retail game. All of them are working on the launch of new projects in early 2020, be it in the form of e-commerce or a store.

All  of them are different in their own ways. They have all slowly gained traction by implementing a series of successful business and communication strategies which target not only Italian customers, but international customers as well.

“When we first started working on the re-launch of Macondo, we decided that we would use a particular strategy in order to gain access to more brands and build lasting relationships: relying on marketplaces,” said Manuel Marelli, creative director and head of buying at Macondo Store.

Although the original Macondo store had been open for more than 10 years, the new and improved version of it has risen in popularity because of its recent partnership with Farfetch, the online luxury fashion retail platform that sells products from over 700 boutiques and brands from around the world.

Zambeletti, who opened her concept store Wait and See in 2010 in the heart of Milan’s artistic and cultural district, 5Vie, also employed an interesting business technique. Before launching her e-store, after many buying requests from all over the world, she then decided to start selling items via Whatsapp.

“Using the messaging app has been a successful way of selling clothes worldwide, from Thailand to Australia, before we actually launch our e-commerce which will come to life in January 2020,” Zambeletti said.

Interestingly, Alina Grigoryeva's recently launched e-commerce platform, TheFlamel, is like Farfetch, a marketplace platform - hosting and selling a selection of Macondo brands on their website and their own curated selection.

Grigoryeva’s platform at first glance may look like a normal e-commerce, what makes it different is the communication strategy she decided to employ with the help of her creative director, Michela Biasibetti.

“The idea was to create a platform which would appeal to all women and this is why the promotional imagery we share on Instagram is shot on real women, not models,” said Grigoryeva.  “We have our girls style themselves in the garments they like the most from our brand selection, and I think potential customers love this because it’s relatable. They can imagine how they would look wearing the brands chosen by our girls.”

All of them share very bold, and fun aesthetics, striking the balance between informal, ironical and playful.

Last but not least, brand selection is also very important and striking the right balance between the niche and commercial can be hard, especially if you want to appeal to a specific audience.

“Scouting brands is made easier by Instagram these days, as it is easier to see what people like and what will become big,” said Marelli.

Although sourcing brands has definitely made easier by Instagram, Zambeletti saidthat continuous travel in order to attend trade fairs and showrooms, is necessary to stay up to date with everything that is going on at the moment.

On the other hand, and in contrast to what many buyers would say, sometimes even a spontaneous approach can work. And the owner of Wait and See has proven it, as she has managed to create an atmosphere in her shop that is revered by many, scouting the most unusual objects and brands from all parts of the world. From vintage silk kimonos, to custom made boots and even a selection of independent magazines, Zambeletti often does her scouting by observing how women dress on the street and buying what feels right to her, of course taking into account of what fits, fabrics, colours, and price points of garments would work best in her shop.

In the end, be it brick and mortar or e-commerce, all of them agree that the most important thing these days is having a strong and powerful voice.

“If you’re able to communicate it across to your followers and target customers, then you’re bound for success,” concluded Marelli.


Photo credits: Francesco Stelitano

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