Late last year, the Italian Trade Agency’s NYC office welcomed Alessio Nanni as the head of fashion and beauty for the U.S. market.
In his new role, Nanni is now tasked to lead these two divisions for the government agency in America, with the mandate to support business development of Italian companies in the U.S. as well as promote the attraction of foreign investment in Italy.
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He joins ITA’s New York office from working extensively at the organization’s headquarters in Rome, where he focused on building business and evolving deeper relationships throughout the fashion sector. “I am very happy to use these skills to give a voice to Italy’s ultra-talented artisans and makers, to participate in a merging of passions on a global scale,” Nanni told FN in an interview.
His appointment comes as the Italian footwear segment ended 2023 in a state of flux. In fact, after a very positive start, 2023 closed with the sector on a downward slide, partly due to major increases in costs affecting companies’ profit margins, according to the latest data from Confindustria Moda Research Centre for Assocalzaturifici, the national association representing Italian shoemakers.
Italy’s footwear sector grew moderately in the first nine months of 2023, registering an increase in both turnover (3 percent) and exports by value (3.2 percent) compared to the same period in the previous year, the report said.
But Assocalzaturifici’s January report stated that a drop in volume of sales were seen across the industry last year. After bouncing back in the previous two years, the number of pairs sold abroad in 2023 began to fall, down 8.7 percent, as did industrial production, which saw a 7.4 percent decrease. The setback in the third quarter weighed heavily on results also, closing with a 7.2 percent decline in foreign sales in terms of value and a 12.3 percent decrease in terms of quantity.
As for the American market, Italian footwear sales declined significantly in the third quarter, with a drop of more than 20 percent in the U.S. The report also saw a 21.7 percent drop in the quantity of Italian shoe exports to the U.S. and a 7.4 percent decline in merchandise value of all footwear exports to the country in the first nine months of 2023.
With this latest data in mind, we caught up with Nanni about his thoughts on the future of Made in Italy footwear in the U.S. and what he’s working on in 2024.
FN: What does ‘Made In Italy’ mean in today’s competitive climate?
Nanni: “The concept of ‘Made in Italy’ remains as formidable as ever. Shoppers intrinsically understand its inherent meaning of implied, unsurpassed quality. This remains true in America. Here we see a shifting consumer ethos, with shoppers actively choosing to spend their hard-earned dollars with brands that have a soul. In the U.S. there is a growing resistance against fast-fashion, and we see even the youngest generations opting to invest in shoes and other fashions and fashion accessories that they will keep for a lifetime.”
FN: Do you have any further data and insights into the relationship between the two countries?
Nanni: “The U.S. market is of strategic relevance for Italian fashion manufacturers in the apparel, footwear, leather goods, hides and furs, textiles and yarns, eyewear, cosmetics and jewelry sectors. Italy is the fourth largest supplier for U.S. imports in the fashion sector. And the United States represents the leading non-European Union market for ‘Made in Italy’ fashion products. Given the overall softening of the U.S. economy, 2023 has seen a slight contraction in these first nine months of the year with overall fashion imports from Italy down by 2.4 percent. However, in the first nine months of 2023, Italy remained the top U.S. supplier in leather and furs (ranked first), eyewear and leather goods (ranked second), and footwear (ranked third).”
FN: How can the ITA grow its voice and influence in the U.S. market?
Nanni: “We are living in a hybrid world where I believe that the most successful brands are those that achieve a strategic mix of top-level physical events and interactions, mixed with a compelling online presence with a wide reach. ITA is dominating and growing in both of these capacities in tandem. We want to provide our ‘Made in Italy’ brands with as many integral opportunities to meet and build lasting relationships with the American audience as possible.”
FN: What projects are you focused on this year?
Nanni: “We are kicking off the year with Chicago Collective, showcasing 62 of the best ‘Made in Italy’ menswear and accessories brands. ITA will rapidly move into other tradeshows including Coterie in NYC, Miami Cabana and LA Market Week. Additionally, we will be refreshing and expanding ITA’s proprietary B2B digital platform, extaritastyle.com, to allow U.S. retailers a way to virtually discover over 70 of the best Italian fashion brands online.”
FN: What are you most excited about in your new role?
Nanni: “I am excited to work with ITA to drive even more opportunities for Italian brands to interact with the American audience. We can do this in a way that is both strategic, but simultaneously creative. When we create opportunities for Italian artisans to interface with the U.S., we are looking at both wholesale buyers and end-use shoppers. That’s an extremely big market with significant opportunities for growth through added events and a complementary bold online presence – throughout this vast country.”
FN: What are some of the challenges you are encountering right now?
Nanni: “We are looking into diversifying ways of promoting our companies in the market, this includes educating and reminding the American consumer about the traditions, materials and production of made in Italy products. We also must face the fact that some smaller Italian companies are not ready for this market, so we have to work on getting them ready as well. Plus, we are working to properly understand the gap between the demand in the U.S. market and the offering of Italian footwear brands we represent in this market.”
FN: How are you helping these smaller companies do business in the U.S.?
Nanni: “If I reflect on what we did in the beauty sector, we created an incubator accelerator program that enlisted experts in the industry to help educate our companies about the regulations and cost of doing business in America. We also worked with them on what to expect at the trade fairs here in the US and how to interact with the buyers here. It’s also important to point out that we work with our companies to make sure they have ‘something to say’ in terms of marketing their brands. We hope to bring this concept to the other segments we cover in the future.”
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