MILAN — Italian advanced contemporary women’s wear label Forte_Forte is not holding back on the plans for expansion set in motion in 2018 and is still on a growth trajectory despite the challenges of the pandemic.
The company as a clear path ahead marked by the optimism of the team and Roberta Benaglia, chief executive officer of investment fund Style Capital, which in April 2017 acquired a 51 percent stake in the brand.
“[Financial] markets generally soar when decisions are awaited and drop when those events materialize. The market is driven by expectations and we as financial investors have the same approach. We bet on the future when it has yet to materialize but there are all the prerequisites for it to happen,” Benaglia told WWD.
She expects a global consumption rebound in the second half of 2021 and believes this is the right moment to make investments and gain market share from other brands that have been hit harder by the pandemic.
To wit, Forte_Forte which is known for a feminine and laid back aesthetic rich in fluid silhouettes, has opened a new store on Rome’s Via Borgognona in the fourth quarter and plans to add new units in resort destinations Forte dei Marmi, Italy, and Cannes, France, in the first half of 2021.
“Overall our retail network is not losing money and still breaks even. We’re proud of this and we believe that it’s reasonable to continue investing because we are convinced that when better times come we will be in the right conditions to have a performative retail division,” Benaglia said.
The retail push might seem counterintuitive as the world transitions toward online shopping, Benaglia acknowledged. Yet she is convinced that Forte_Forte with five directly operated stores in Milan, Paris, London, Madrid and Rome and one in Tokyo with a local partner, in addition to international shops-in-shop, still has room for growth.
“The shift toward digital is not compromising our retail expansion plan that leans on doubling the number of stores in two years,” Benaglia offered. To be sure, Forte_Forte is also registering triple-digit growth in its e-commerce operations but the executive has a clear point of view about that channel, which the brand started in late 2018 and which accounts for 10 percent of turnover.
As of March 31, the brand generated 22 million euros and Benaglia forecast a contraction of between 10 and 20 percent to around 20 million euros in 2020. An optimist at heart, her projection is to reach 30 million euros in two years.
“We keep believing that retail is the best way to appreciate the brand’s products, not only because our stores really are works of art given the investments we make, but also serve as a great backdrop to our offer allowing clients to appreciate it,” Benaglia offered.
The Roman flagship is characterized by green onyx floor and walls contrasted with brass details and hangers, while objects crafted from jade, quartz and jasper add a precious touch to the accessory displays.
The executive stressed that to fully understand the quality of the Made in Italy brand, customers need to touch the clothes in person, while the online platform represents a service provided to loyal clients.
“The purchasing experience is very different online and offline — in the former case it’s much more driven by the impulse and quicker.…We tend to believe it’s a less effective channel to attract new customers because the experience we offer in our stores cannot be replicated elsewhere,” she mused.
Benaglia expects retail to account for 25 percent of sales by the end of 2021, up from the current 15 percent.
“This year retail was hit hard by lockdown measures but for the same reason we expect it to bounce back quicker when markets will start to thrive again. As is often the case, the wholesale ‘wave’ is longer, it loses less at the beginning, but it takes more to bounce back while retail is much nimbler,” the executive noted. The brand counts 550 wholesale partners globally and there are no plans to streamline that number.
Asked about the rationale behind the planned openings in resort destinations in Italy and France, Benaglia still sees an opportunity to bank on domestic markets, spurred by a pandemic-induced local tourism.
Rather than worrying about opening in such locations, “you always have to think long-term,” she said, noting Forte_Forte is in a good financial position and does not need to cut costs.
As part of its expansion plan, Forte_Forte has been diversifying its product range. While footwear is distributed almost exclusively through the brand’s retail doors to complement the ready-to-wear offering, costume jewelry positioned in the affordable segment have tapped into a wider audience thanks to wholesale partners.