If retailers can’t visit Italy, then the Italian Trade Agency will bring Italy to them.
In September, the group will launch a new digital platform called Extraitastyle to help Italian designers showcase their collections to buyers and press amid the continued disruption to the industry due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The initiative is funded in part by a $9.4 million grant from the Italian government to help its brands grow their business in the United States. Extraitastyle, an acronym for extraordinary Italian style, is hoping to become “the ultimate 3-D destination for the Made in Italy fashion excellence,” the company said. Its mission is to highlight small- to medium-size heritage brands and connect them to U.S. retailers, editors and customers.
The ITA will launch with 80 men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories brands including Adesi, Bessi, Enrico Mandelli, Sant’Andrea and others. Each will have its own virtual boutique with social media integrations, video streams, and a business-to-business reserved area. Designers will also be able to use the online platform to present their line sheets and collections digitally.
“After the debut, we will update the web site with another 20 brands and keep upgrading the platform depending on new entries,” said Antonino Laspina, U.S. Trade Commissioner and executive director of the ITA. “Our original idea was to limit the hub to 100 labels but the response has been so overwhelming that we decided to accept other submissions. The selection process is based on two criteria: the brand must manufacture its products in Italy and be keen on building a presence in the U.S. market.”
In more normal times, most of these brands would have shown in person at the MRket, Project or Coterie shows in the U.S. or at Pitti Immagine Uomo or the White Milano trade shows in Italy, all of which have created their own virtual platforms for this season.
But Laspina believes Extraitastyle will offer some unique features that set it apart from the other virtual shows. “We have been creating each section of the site from scratch,” he said. “Every brand will have their own 3-D boutique and a page where users can read original storytelling and view unpublished artworks. We processed each image provided by the brand animating the photos with innovative virtual effects.
The site was developed by a start-up Italian technology company, he said.
The way it works is that retailers will fill out a brief form and then be invited to a special business-to-business area where they can correspond directly with the brands and place orders.
“Due to COVID-19,” Laspina said, “several companies could not keep up with their production schedule, hence we offered them the opportunity to showcase ‘seasonless’ products, whether they are top sellers or in-stock items.”
The brands on the site are also being provided with a top 100 list of U.S. retailers that they can use for direct outreach. ITA’s primary role is to serve as a “facilitator,” between Italian companies and the U.S. market, Laspina explained.
He said that Extraitastyle is intended to be a permanent platform that will “work hand-in-hand with the physical fairs as soon as the regular calendar resumes. It’s a “fashion connector” facilitating the liaisons between Italian brands and U.S. retailers. At the same time, consumers will also be able to enjoy public sections like “virtual boutiques” and “brands” and learn about Italian fashion in a fun, interactive way.
“With the launch of Extraitastyle, ITA is focusing on both supporting emerging and established designers,” he continued. “While we will hopefully resume a somewhat traditional showcase calendar, our platform will be an all-year-round, one-stop-shop destination for consumers, press, retailers and influencers to explore and engage with historic and up-and-coming labels. The American market is of strategic importance for the Made in Italy fashion.”
Laspina said the U.S. is the largest non-EU destination market for Italian exports, and last year, the country exported approximately $9 billion in product to the U.S., a 4.2 percent increase over 2018.
Laspina said Extraitastyle is an entirely new initiative for the group and borrows the handle that was previously used for the group’s social media efforts focused on promoting Italian fashion in the U.S.
“When the industry was hit by COVID-19 and the trade shows were canceled, we thought we would create a digital platform that shares the same mission of our social media channels. Unlike our social media though, the platform is first and foremost a multifunctional marketing tool that wants to help Italian women’s, men’s and accessory labels to navigate through these uncertain times as well as build a long-lasting presence in the market.”