MILAN — If you don’t find an inspiring case study, become one.
Essential gold chains, delicate ear cuffs, small hoops and extra-fine rings earned Varetta an increased following of Millennial customers who led her company’s sales to double in 2019 to reach 900,000 euros.
Soft-spoken yet with determination twinkling in her eyes, 28-year-old Varetta embodies the modern archetype of a female entrepreneur: she promotes inclusivity and female empowerment inciting self-gifting for daily achievements rather than celebrating Saint Valentine’s as a key marketing moment to have women gifted with jewelry by partners. Her success was a reflection of her ability to intercept all the trends that got jewelry back in the high consideration of consumers, as a longer-term investment in their own styles compared to fashion accessories such as luxury bags and footwear.
“I’m more interested in a wider, long-term vision rather than in the product itself. This brand is really an opportunity to create a community and telegraph values of positivity and inclusivity,” said Varetta. “Jewelry has always been exclusive as usually gold symbolize something aspirational, but I wanted to change that.”
For Varetta, the route to change started with an academic dissatisfaction. “I was studying Economics in university and it was all very theoretical and not very exciting, to be honest. All case studies were about metallurgy, there was nothing design or art-related,” she recalled.
Back then, in addition to a motivational boost as a student, she was in search of “simple gold rings that could be way more accessible than those offered by luxury brands.” She commissioned some designs to an artisanal goldsmith atelier in Milan, which caught the attention and interest of her peers.
“It was in that moment that I started to wonder if that could become a case study and to focus my dissertation on gold as a safe-haven asset,” said Varetta.
Her first entrepreneurial seeds decanted for three years, during which she moved to New York to work for fashion companies — including Prada — and on event planning projects. “I wasn’t ready to commit full-time to my line and most importantly, I needed to gain some experience first,” Varetta explained.
In 2017, the entrepreneur eventually decided to return to her hometown and commit to her own business.
“The strength of the brand was its organic growth. There’s no fund behind it, everything happened through me reinvesting what I was earning back in the company. I started from 2,000 euros, a little sum my grandparents gave me and talking with other female entrepreneurs who had access to those heavy investments, I realized that my situation was even better, because big sums can be stressful to manage,” she noted.
Manufactured in laboratories in the Italian golden districts of Valenza and Vicenza, the Lil Milan line spans from necklaces and bracelets to earrings and rings made in 9- or 18-karat gold and coming with price tags ranging from 60 euros to 550 euros.
Varetta said she focuses more on creating timeless must-have pieces rather than following seasonal trends, releasing new products about every three months.
Bestsellers include the “Boys Tears” 18-karat gold chain, a luminous and lightweight choker lining drop motifs, the delicate “Nude” diamond-cut ring and the “Galaxy” ear cuff embellished with three colored zircons, which is one of Lil’s most popular product categories as it doesn’t require ears to be pierced and “there are very few options of accessible options like this in Italy.”
The unfussy aesthetics, catchy names and sweet-spot price points quickly resonated with a young target of women, which Varetta defined “always on the move, the ones who have no time to change their accessories every day, so we are offering them a sort of gold tattoos, second-skin embellishments that don’t obstruct their daily activities.”
According to the entrepreneur, the brand’s core target is represented by women aged 20 to 25, who are finishing their studies or are starting to work and want to indulge in self-gifting, while customers aged 35 to 50 are also approaching the brand when looking for everyday and simpler alternatives to their luxury jewelry pieces.
In terms of distribution, 60 percent of Lil Milan’s sales are generated through its e-commerce that ships worldwide. In addition to Italian customers, most purchases are made from Germany and the U.K, followed by Australia, Hong Kong and the Scandinavian countries, “which are very receptive of this kind of understated aesthetics.” The brand also counts American customers, which led Varetta to stage a trunk show in New York last year, to test the market locally.
For instance, last December pop-ups installed in the Rinascente department stores in Milan and Rome contributed to increasing the brand’s popularity during the holiday season. Asked if she’s eyeing a permanent brick-and-mortar outpost, Varetta admitted that the idea has just started to sound appealing to her. “Up until last year I would have said no, because the world of monobrand stores is a tough one: you have to guarantee an experience beyond the product, otherwise it’s pointless. But the positive feedback we got from Rinascente pop-up changed my mind.”
In the meantime, on Thursday the label will unveil a four-day pop-up store in Milan’s Via Clusone to celebrate the debut of the “Choklet” product.
Intended as a step into the customization trend, the item consisted of mixing short chains ranging from essential ones, thick options and alternatives punctuated by pearls as well as multicolored stones, each retailing from 60 euros to 250 euros. The combination of the parts can result in bracelets, chokers and longer necklaces, intended to telegraph customers’ own personalities. Four options already assembled by Varetta will also be available with prices spanning from 500 euros to 800 euros.
“We have been working on this project for eight months,” said the entrepreneur, explaining that the timing of the launch has nothing to do with Saint Valentine’s day. “If we wanted to be strategic, we should have opened the pop-up earlier, but the truth is that I don’t believe in Saint Valentine’s day,” said Varetta with a laugh.
Each day, a different event will be staged to further enhance the engagement with final consumers, culminating in a “Pancake and Piercing” theme on Sunday.
Kicked off in June, the company brought the itinerant “Piercing Party” format in Milan, Brescia, Rome, Verona, Parma and London, upon request of the brand’s customers and followers. “It’s great to see groups of friends coming in and having their ears pierced together, as a shared experience they want to remember,” said Varetta.
“We like to experiment with different formats, every occasion is good to establish a direct relationship with our clients and thank them for their support,” she continued, mentioning astrology-themed events and the latest one hinging on the concept of Kintsugi. “We hosted a workshop focusing on this art, to repair broken pottery mending it with gold lacquer, creating something even more beautiful than before.”
This educational approach is mirrored by the strategy implemented for the brand’s social media channels, led by its Instagram account counting more than 47,000 followers. “It’s our first channel of communication, but I like to use it to answer to customers’ questions or their quests of info and curiosity about the world of jewelry. We like to create content that can provide an added value, as an Instagram Stories series we developed with an economist explaining the link between the price of gold and the political instabilities, reaffirming the former’s status as a safe-haven asset,” said Varetta, proving that she has brought her poignant case study to the masses with the move.