Today I learned that Italy doesn’t mess with leather. I have never seen more leather in my entire life. And Gelato. I’ve only had one Gelato so far, and I know it won’t be the last, thanks to the hundreds of Gelato shops that currently surround me. The Duomo was the most magnificent building I have ever seen in my life. It seemed like every single building was charming and bright too. The juxtaposition of local and global brands in Milan was interesting and refreshing. On our tour throughout the city, we visited two (of probably dozens) Milanese leather shops: Travi and IF.
Our tour guide today translated for Travi since he did not speak English. Travi is an individual leather artisan who started the craft in his teens. He works out of his shop (named after him) which we got to go into and explore a bit. The tiny room was teeming with leathers of all animals and colors, cut into different shapes and sizes. I asked where he got his leathers and he said that he buys them from tanneries throughout different regions of Italy like Naples and Tuscany. He is the third level of the supply chain after the cow farmer and the tannery, and he is the manufacturer and retailer as he sells directly to his clients. He said that the more exotic skins like python, alligator, and ostrich are bought from vendors outside the country, as those animals aren’t native to Italy of course. Something that shocked me was that he used veal skin for some of his bags. I knew that veal was eaten in meals, but I had no idea that veal skin was used for leather goods! I was also a little shocked that all his business came from directly selling to clients. That is definitely not something you see in the US. As he was explaining his craft to us, clients and potential clients entered his shop, a witness to his good craftsmanship. Travi explained that he used to sell to clients and also some stores, but eventually he stopped selling to stores because he did not have enough time. The whole process of a customer going straight to an artisan to custom make a bag for them fascinates me. It is so foreign to me since I have only used retailers for my purchases in the US, but I definitely like the idea of customizing a bag with the person who is actually hand making it much better than buying something that was probably made in a factory. Another thing that surprised me was the fact that Travi’s shop didn’t look anything like a retail store. The presentation and store aesthetic was very casual and non-commercialized. However, the presentation of his products isn’t the main concern for him because his clients are mostly locals who already know exactly what kind of product they want. His clients are mainly locals who know of his good reputation. Though he did sell pre-made bags, most of his business was from his clients that had customized designs, so it makes sense that it doesn’t look like a Kate Spade or Coach store, which were my expectations of all leather shops in Italy.
The other leather shop we went to was IF Italia. IF Italia was another small leather shop, but definitely more commercialized. IF is franchised in Italy and throughout the world, so its shopping experience gave a much different feel than Travi’s shop. It looked just like a regular retail store: the products were neatly organized and on display, ready to be bought like stores in America. One thing a little different though was the added customization element of their purchasing process for their main product of backpacks. To purchase one, you can pick from many pre-designed color schemes but then you get to pick the color rope and rope stopper that you want, which they add in store right in front of you. The store was very young, modern, and hip. The manager was a fashionable young woman. The products of IF were made in the shop behind a door, so although the shop hid the creation process from the clients, the element of something being authentically crafted in the same store you’re buying it from is still present. IF also gets its leather from tanneries throughout Italy, but they use EcoLeather, which is traded in a more ethical fashion. This is a socially responsible fashion behavior that IF prides in, they even have include it on their bags. IF’s clientele is definitely a more young audience, as the aesthetic of the store targeted young people with its clean, fun designs, and bright, fun colors. IF’s supply chain is the same upstream design as Travi’s, as they make all their products with the supplies they get from tanneries throughout Italy. Despite this, the downstream supply chain looks quite different from Travi’s, as they a) sell their products in a retail fashion and b) also own franchises around the world which they distribute to, adding more levels to the supply chain.
Now to the galleria. The world renowned four letters “PRADA” could not be more different that the letters “GRAVI” or even “IF” that sat on the storefronts. The galleria definitely boasted the world famous, commercial brands we all know like Armani, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. Prada’s clientele and supply chain are quite different from the other two we visited, as people who shop there are either extremely wealthy locals or tourists who just want something with a famous name stamped on it. The exclusive shops in the plaza have a more complicated supply chain than the small leather shops we went to, as Prada buys its products already manufactured from another country and just displays it in its shop. Prada pays million of euros a year to keep its space in the plaza, so space is extremely valuable and best used to make sales. All in all, today was an excellent learning experience and I’m excited to see what else Italy has in store for the rest of the trip.