ITALY: BRAND PUSH ON TARGET

Byline: Arthur Friedman

NEW YORK — There might be no nation that treats its country-of-origin label like a brand as much as Italy does.
Through its four-year-old Moda Made in Italy program, the Italian Trade Commission has helped increase fashion exports to the U.S.; educate retailers and consumers about Italy’s apparel, textile and footwear industries, and promote Italian labels through a comprehensive marketing and advertising strategy.
Dr. Gaspare Asaro, senior deputy trade commissioner and director of the program, noted that in the first six months of this year, Italian apparel exports to the U.S. reached $602 million. Women’s wear accounted for 45 percent of that, a 13 percent increase from a year ago.
“Women’s wear has shown the most dynamic growth,” Asaro said. “The unit increase is even higher than the dollar increase, which is held down by the devaluation of the lire.”
Since the program began in 1993, Italy’s share of U.S. apparel imports jumped to 5.9 percent from 4.5 percent.
While continuing its retail promotional efforts and print ad campaign, the ITC is now taking the program to the next level — launching a Web site and related CD-ROM.
Demonstrating the Web site’s capabilities at his offices at 499 Park Avenue here, Asaro signed on to the ITC home page at fashionmadeinitaly.com.
He went through a comprehensive array of reference sites that break down the Italian fashion industry by product category, region of manufacture, company name, type of fabric or material, gender and price segment, in addition to stores in the United States that carry the 270 lines sourced in the site.
“As far as I know it’s the first attempt for an entire industry of a country to create a Web site,” Asaro said. “It will be continually updated and is intended to be used by retailers and consumers. The CD-ROM will be mailed to retailers for use as in-store promotional material.”
Moda Made in Italy’s ad budget for the year ending March 31, 1998, is $6 million, and a comparable amount is appropriated for the following year, Asaro said.
The all-print vehicle promotes Italian fashion with 70 ad pages, including a 24-page insert in the February GQ, two 14-page inserts in W magazine — one that ran in September and one slated for February — and a 12-page insert in Vogue planned for February or March.
In addition, the Italian Trade Commission will sponsor an 84-page insert in the spring Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus catalogs.
Also going full force is the Independent Retailer program, developed in 1995, linking Italian companies to select stores with a cooperative effort that includes fashion shows, cocktail parties with informal modeling and trunk shows. The Italian Trade Commission pays 70 percent of all promotional expenses up to a maximum of $10,000, and the stores pick up the balance.
For 1997, the retailer program involved about 80 stores across the country. Coming up this Thursday is a three-day promotion at Mitchell’s of Westport in Westport, Conn., followed by a four-day event beginning next Monday at Toby Lerner in Philadelphia. The program planning continues in 1998, and 30 retailers have been selected so far to participate, Asaro noted.
“We enjoy working with the Italian Trade Commission because it helps us to promote the many Italian designer lines we carry,” said Trish Thompson, an owner of Toby Lerner. “Our customers appreciate the quality and styling of Italian merchandise, the superior tailoring, attention to detail and distinctive fabrics produced only in Italy.”
Asaro said the program is successful because of Italy’s unusual industry structure.
“Quite often, the manufacturer of the fabric and the finished product are in the same small town,” Asaro said, which makes for “a customized and regionalized structure that is found nowhere else in the world.”
Asaro explained that the Italian textile-apparel industry consists of 75,000 companies, employing 880,000 people. It is at once vertical and horizontal in structure, providing raw materials and finished goods in a wide range of prices and product categories.
Yet, Asaro said, there is sometimes an inaccurate perception that Italian fashion is more artisan than commercial and is not available in the U.S.
“These promotions,” he said, “have proven to be a great way to educate the public and get the message out that Italian fashion is available everywhere in America.”

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