The incredible times here in Italy continue to roll in. It’s hard to believe today is only day two because of all we have done already. Today we visited Duomo square and saw the Cathedral and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II while there. We took a guided tour through this area, visited shops in the Ticinese area and finished the evening in the Navigli area on the canals. The area is incredibly beautiful, with many picturesque scenes. It’s a great experience to also be able to use the public transportation in Milan. We used both the Metro (subway) and trolley service to navigate the city. It’s very simple and efficient as well. We are getting an Italian experience here and I am taking every opportunity to embrace it.
On our tour today, we saw two very different sides of Milan. First was in Duomo square, a central tourist destination. This is where you would find all the high-end fashion shops you think of when you hear Italy. The shops ranged from Prada to Gucci to Louis Vuitton and Armani. In fact, Prada had two shops open in the Galleria area. Our tour guide mentioned that Prada pays a small rent of 8 million euros a year to maintain one of the two shops. The other side of Milan was in the neighborhoods surrounding the center plaza. Here we visited two shops of local businesses. The first one was a leather craftsman who has been making purses, wallets, etc. for over 40 years. The second was a backpack company that started in Milan and has grown to sell its products all over the world. It was interesting to compare the two different kinds of shops.
In the neighborhoods surrounding the main square were lots of Italian artisans and craftsmen. In the first shop we visited, we were introduced to a master leatherworker who has been making purses since he was 14 years old. We were shown how he uses cardboard models to cut and then fold the leather to manipulate the shape of the purse. Not only does he have his own line of models, but he also makes tailormade designs. A customer can come in and describe a product they would like made, and he will create a model to fit their specifications. The worker makes all the basic designs by hand in his shop, which didn’t even hold all 22 of us at one time. He buys the dyed leather (cow, veal, snake, alligator, ostrich, etc.) directly from the tannery. As far as the decorations on the bags, some he does himself, but he also sends the finished bags to a factory to put on the decorative stitching or printing. Our tour guide even had a bag made by him! The second shop we explored was a backpack making company. The idea for this shop (IF Bags) started in a small corner of a shop during Milan fashion week, and has grown to sell product all over the world. These bags are also “made” in shop. How it works is the customer is 100% in charge. The customer chooses a model and color for the bag itself and then all the parts that go into it as well, such as the ropes and decorative tips. The bags are then put together in front of you. The models and parts are made in a lab just over a mile away from the shop with materials only from Italy, one of the things the company takes pride in. The bags are personalized to fit the wants of the customer, so no two bags are the same. Every part is also changeable. So, for example, if a color is no longer in season, it can easily be exchanged for a different season’s color. In terms of supply chain, these shops are the main manufacturers of the final product. They are supplied materials, but the product is made in-house. There is no need for transportation (except IF bags are also sold online, so in that case, it’s slightly different). They supply the product directly to the customers and rely heavily on repeat customers and recommendations. This is different from the high-end shops we saw earlier in the day. They are very well-known by almost everyone in the world. There was no need for them to tell us about the product because of how much reputation the business has. The employees were not interested in ushering us into their shops because there will always be business. In terms of supply chain, these big businesses are the final destination. They sell products to the direct customers. There is no making of anything at the shops themselves. The products are made in factories and then sent to the shops to be sold. The clientele here is also more directed toward tourists. There may be some Italian natives that prefer to spend more on clothes like these, but most of the stores are dedicated to selling to those looking for expensive Italian goods.
It’s still only day 2 here, but it is interesting to look at different aspects of business culture in Italy. There is a lot more craftsmanship compared to the U.S. and these handmade goods are typically more durable. Of course, the handmade ones are also a little more sentimental in my opinion as well. It’s exciting to see everything, and I can’t wait for the rest of the