MILAN — It’s no secret that Americans love Italy: according to the most recently available data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), over 4.54 million U.S. citizens visited the country in 2013.
Now, the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) is working to drum up American enthusiasm for Italian exports — specifically, fashion, accessories, eyewear, jewelry, home décor and fragrances — in a special partnership with Nordstrom. From a pool of about 700 small- to medium-sized Italian firms that registered online with ICE, Nordstrom’s director of creative projects Olivia Kim selected 140 to meet with in Milan on April 16 and 17, at the city’s Palazzo delle Stelline.
The idea was to spotlight high quality design products from Italian brands new to the U.S market: this year, a cross-section will appear in Nordstrom’s rotating “Pop-In Shops,” with a special focus on stores in Texas, a state ICE is eager to do more business with.
“We wanted to really celebrate Italian fashion and culture,” said Kim, adding that she and her team were seeking “what’s new, what’s emerging, what’s coming up, and filtering that down to what could be great for Nordstrom.”
“We saw about 35 brands this morning, and it’s been a really big mix. There’s been some really high-end luxury brands that have been around for over a hundred years, that are really experts at what they do, and then we’re seeing brands that are just in their third or fourth season,” she said.
Ines Aronadio, who heads ICE’s Rome-based offices of consumer goods, said the Italian ministry of economic development was making a special promotional effort in the U.S. in view of the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.
The accord would “be a huge advantage for our companies, because on average it is estimated that it will cut entrance costs by 30 percent,” she noted, adding that this year, ICE is set to invest about 2.9 million euros, or $3.1 million at current exchange, in support of the Italian textiles and fashion sector.
Marinella Loddo, director of ICE’s Milan branch, called the products on display “hidden gems” of Italian craftsmanship, adding: “many of these companies lack the necessary structure to approach foreign markets” on their own.
“Thirty percent of the Italian GDP stems from exports, which is certainly high, it’s a solid contribution. But it’s necessary to increase it even more,” she said.
Paolo Bastianello, vice president and treasurer of trade association Sistema Moda Italia, was also in attendance. He said Italian textile and fashion companies are increasingly savvy in selling their products abroad.
“There is ever more awareness on behalf of companies that internationalization is not something you purchase by the kilo: it’s a business organization process,” he said.
Among the designers hoping to catch Kim’s eye was Vittorio Ceccoli, who is based in Bologna and specializes in upscale, handcrafted jewelry pieces made from locally sourced materials. Having successfully tackled various Middle Eastern and Asian markets, he aims to boost his brand’s distribution in the U.S.
Domitilla Baffigo was setting up shop with her mother Maria Greca Baffigo, who founded the Maria Greca jewelry brand in Rome in the Seventies. Working with materials such as carbon fiber, resin, titanium, gold and even stingray leather, the company manufactures its own as well as private label collections.
“It’s been about six years now since we started on the path to internationalization,” said Domitilla Baffigo, noting that in 2014, Maria Greca collections appeared in the runway shows of five fashion labels at Mercedes-Benz fashion week in New York.