The Italian Trade Agency has announced today that it has increased its investment in promoting Italian-made goods in the U.S. market. For 2020, the Italian government has given the trade agency 28 million euros just for the U.S. market, an increase of 25 percent in funding over last year.
Through this new investment, the agency plans to increase its educational efforts outside of just the East Coast, with a desire to reach the West Coast as well as the middle part of the country. It is also planning more events and exhibitions to educate people on the entire Italian lifestyle and improve the knowledge of Italian-made products.
In 2018, Italy exported 548.22 million euros worth of men’s fashion to the U.S., an increase of 11.8 percent. The first nine months of 2019 registered an overall of 408.2 million euros of men’s fashion exports, a 3.37 percent gain from the first nine months of 2018. And, the Italian Trade Agency doesn’t want to stop there.
To get more information on this new investment, MR recently sat down with the newly-appointed Italian trade commissioner and executive director for the USA, Antonino Laspina.
MR: Why don’t you start on your take of the new program?
AL: The Italian Trade Agency is organizing the participation of a group of Italian companies to attend important trade shows and exhibitions [this year], which will be a window for those who are interested in the U.S. market. These companies are 100 percent manufactured in Italy, designed in Italy, and produce Italian-made products. This is very important for our market, and it is a fact that should be stressed.
Italy is, even today in this globalized economy, one of the largest centers of manufacturing fashion, from clothing and fabrics to accessories, and so on. This should give the American trader and consumer the idea that Italy’s system of fashion is not made up only of a certain number of companies that are leaders in the market, but that Italy is still a country where hundreds of companies are developing and perfecting new products, offering these products in the United States, and constantly developing new business models and systems.
The Italian system is made up of small and medium-sized companies that still carry their traditions, with thousands of workers that are operating and automating the process. In many sectors of fashion, there are people working with their hands. There is certainly a lot of sophisticated technology when it comes to designing, conceiving, and testing new products, but in its essence, it is still artisanal.
As the Italian Trade Agency, we need to bring attention to all of these factors, to the U.S. traders and consumers. In the last 10 or 15 years, other countries such as China and some in the Middle East have been able to gain big market shares. All over the world, we are moving towards the same goal, but most of the manufacturing happens in the far East. On the West, they will design the product, but then ask someone else to make it. This is different than the Italian system. We still have our clusters- where they are still working on specialized products in each city. The best leather goods can only be found in the center of Tuscany, and the softest gloves are found in Naples because that is their tradition. When we talk about fabrics, there are big names, but there are also companies specialized in certain niches- silk, wool, linen, and so on. This is what is now missed in communication during the last ten years, that has to be said in the market. Our system is like a laboratory or an experiment. We want people to rely on our ability to make and adjust our products, based on trends that are emerging from the United States. Italians are able to give correct interpretations because they are in control of the manufacturing lines, and they have that kind of flexibility. You can easily differentiate the product. This is the message that we have to start sharing.
MR: How do you plan on promoting this new initiative?
AL: The fairs (trade shows) are very important, and it depends on how you use it as a tool. In a traditional way, we can just set up booths, but that is not the best way because it is passive. The Italian Trade Agency will play an active role in taking care of communications. It is up to us to convey this message to the market about the aspects that we have talked about. This is a market that has great potential. Not only in this field, but in many other sectors, our exports have been in a limited number of States. We want to reach to other players that can play a different role. We want to make sure that the Italian companies know there are many other metropolitan areas that they could present themselves to, in order to penetrate the market.
We know that in the last 20-25 years Italian products are always starting to climb up positions, now we can identify three different factors. The first is a high purchasing power, which is indispensable. An element that goes with this is a high level of sustainability, which Italy has been able to adapt to radically. Even tanning leather is made with natural products, and the same goes for jewelry and beauty products. Another factor is a concentrated population of people in metropolitan areas. This is where it’s easier to communicate and acquire products. Online channels are still a factor, but in a certain way, the countryside and rural areas are to be excluded. The third factor is high education. Not like history or geography- but in a professional aspect of your life. You have time to be interested in other cultures. If you want to simply buy a suit maybe you are not interested in the details, like the fabric composition or some of the treatments. You just buy a suit. But if you want something different, you are looking for special details. And I think this is going to be our task and not only our task but more of a campaign that should be conducted by the companies joining forces with the Italian Trade Agencies. Great work should be done back in Italy as well, to explain this kind of evolution of the American market, because we want to show Italian companies that it’s difficult but possible.
MR: Where in the U.S. are you planning to expand your reach?
AL: There is interest in other areas that have been developing and expanding like Washington, California and inner states, like Texas and its triangle Dallas-Austin-Houston. In this area, we can see the factors that make possible the growth of Italian roots like it’s been happening in Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai, for example. This area is presenting, according to our analysis, the ideal scenario, but to make it possible for the people in Houston, Dallas, and why not, Denver, to understand this factor we need to go there or make possible for the traders to visit Italian companies in Italy and see by themselves the qualities that we have been talking about.
Some people think New York is already a saturated area but this is not the whole US. Depending on what you do, there are several other markets you can penetrate. Sometimes people in Italy do not have clear ideas of how big this country is, if New York has four seasons, there are other places like Miami and Los Angeles with very different weather. What is going on in the United States is what we want our Italian companies to know. Each state will be penetrated in a different way and we want to focus on the moments between the shows to gain momentum and tell our story.