LONDON — London-based footwear label Bionda Castana is back — and on its own terms.
After a two-year hiatus, the brand, led by designers Natalia Barbieri and Jennifer Portman, is relaunching with a new direct-to-consumer, digitally focused and no-waste approach.
“Taking the break gave us the foresight to think about how would we be able to approach it in a smarter way and still be able to be creative and meet our customers demands, if we were to get our brand back again,” said Barbieri, adding that due to a lack of “shared vision” with the brand’s past investor, the duo had to step away from the brand and then buy back the trademark.
“We weren’t aligned with our external investment team and therefore there was a process where you have to break up and then start back up again.”
Having taken a step back from the never-ending fashion cycle, Barbieri and Portman looked at rebuilding the brand in a more sustainable manner and offering products targeted to customers’ needs.
The result of their renewed approach is a business model that sees four different shoe styles being offered on their e-commerce platform once a month. Customers can place orders on the first week of every month and the remaining three weeks are dedicated to production. Orders will be shipped directly from the brand’s manufacturing partner in Italy, straight to the customer.
“We realized it was always our top 15 to 20 styles that were selling out over the 12-year period [we were operating] and we wanted to make this into a business opportunity with a pre-order service. It allows us not to be holding onto stock or making styles that don’t sell and people don’t want,” Barbieri said, also pointing to plans of using leftover fabrics to produce the shoes. “We are able to have a bit more of a democratic approach and it’s far more manageable from a production and marketing perspective. We know exactly what we’re working towards each month.”
She added that by shifting to a direct-to-consumer model, the brand can keep customers interested and engaged by offering a small taste of newness each month: “I wouldn’t want to compare us to a street drop by any stretch of the imagination, but those kind of things garner excitement. That’s why we want to have newness every month, in small quantities. There is more desire for a well-edited collection that’s only available for a short period of time, as opposed to a larger drop of styles into a store at the start of a season’s delivery window.”
It’s also able to become more competitive and lower its price points, not having to adhere to the pricing structure wholesale partners require to keep their margins high — while the quality of the shoes remains the same, styles that previously retailed for 545 pounds will be priced at 395 pounds.
“We are at what I would now call a mid-level price point, which is important given that the market is more competitive than ever,” Barbieri said.
The site launches today, with four of the brand’s most popular styles, including the Bay mesh and suede pointed-toe pumps and the Denni lace-up flats made famous by the likes of Alexa Chung.
“It’s a luxury, no-waste offering and shows that our collections haven’t dated. It’s not the case of hashing out styles that look like they date back to the year they were designed in, they still are pretty current.” added the designer. “It’s apparent that product doesn’t get enough shelf life and that’s why past styles are selling out on Vestiaire Collective. People still want what was; look at the craze around the Prada flame sandals that just got rereleased.”
The brand picked the signature styles it will feature on its new web-shop after conducting a series of questionnaires on social media and analyzing past retail and wholesale data to define the styles, heel heights and colors that customers had the most appetite for.
The ongoing demand for these styles — with customers messaging the brand via social and placing personal orders before the launch itself — offers an opportunity to renew the styles and give then a new lease of life, while new designs are also in the works.
“The next 12 months will see us gaining back the confidence of our wider customer base and gaining new customers, too. Then we would love to drop [new designs], even if that’s one new style per month, because it’s still a wonderfully creative process and we have an opportunity to refresh certain existing styles with fun prints and textures we haven’t had the chance to use before.”