“People are getting used to good things taking time.” These comforting words of hope are by Elisa Rossi as we chatted over skype in regards to the future of fashion, a subject that is of great interest to many. Italy has always been known for artisan craftsmanship – a place where one can still find cobblers fixing shoes on street corners, easily customize a bag from the source or tailor a garment to the customer’s wishes.
That being said, as the world evolved over decades, thus did consumer’s appetites for quicker turnarounds and cheaper goods.
But there are ripples of change that are coming in the form of smarter fashion choices and consideration for the environment. Many artisans in Italy and not only have long built products to last – ones that dare I say, even get better with age. Elisa is one of the people whose brand connects this quality of goods with consumers around the globe in one functional, attractive online space.
Milaner was started by a team of Italian women to honor their roots through a more authentic, sustainable approach to making and selling luxury goods. Their mission is to heal the growing disconnect amongst artisans, brands and customers, and to return to authenticity and sustainable practices.
I asked her how she got into this business and Elisa replied with “I come from a small town in Italy, one of the epicentres of luxury manufacturing, Porto Sant’Elpidio in the region of Marche. This place is a hub of manufacturing (especially for shoes) and the number-one economic driver in the region, but not anymore. Emigrating to America, I’ve watched from afar the crisis of luxury manufacturing in Italy.” The issue wasn’t that people no longer had unique things, they did, but what they lacked was the know-how to take their things in an ever-evolving digital market.
As people started to pay more attention around the globe as to the quality of Italian products, thus began the process of copying these styles but in a cheap, non-sustainable way. Elisa’s solution was to create a marketplace for artisans to be able to sell their goods but through that process her and her team realized that it wasn’t just about a marketplace, people were connecting with them as a brand.
She continued “People loved the name of the company and the connection of the brand and the artisans were perceived as a part of it. I never dreamt of starting a luxury brand actually. I had a career in technology but I kept listening and staying tuned to how to showcase the beauty of what these artisans are doing in the best possible way.”
Milaner works exclusively with Italian and French luxury artisans who have spent their entire lives mastering their craft, and whose heritage and existence are threatened. Their production is based on a made-to-order, no-waste policy and on real, warm relationships. Elisa said “the artisans we feature come from our personal relationships and from word-of-mouth and traveling. We speak with these makers constantly, sharing daily updates on Whatsapp and over the phone. These are true, personal relationships”
“Our timeless products are a testament to their incredible wealth of skills, traditions and dedication” She explains.
I was naturally curious about how the current covid19 emergency has affected their brand, the customers, the artisans.
“We had to shut down for two months because the artisans had to shut down and despite having minimal inventory, we had to wait to place orders” Elisa said. Those two months were rough for them and much of Italy so they tried to get by the difficult period with a sample sale to help out the artisans. It worked. When May came Milaner had the biggest surge in revenue. A heart-warming surprise. One that truly helped the people they worked with since many of their other orders with luxury brands were cancelled.
Elisa also mentioned that curiously enough – Milaner’s customers have also undergone an additional paradigm shift.
“We have seen such a change in how customers see us, they appreciate the work it takes to create a handcrafted item. This is a brand that people connect with that isn’t solely talking about sustainability-- but actually doing it. We try to keep the products scarce; we keep it artisanal. We talk to customers to manage their expectations and serve as the mediator. Products are made to order and this means no waste. Items don’t need to be destroyed meaning no added pollution for the sake of having products at hand” Elisa shared.
Something Elisa and I both noted during our call is just how many people are talking about this subject lately. Of waste in fashion and authentic sustainability thanks in part to young activism on the subject. Consumers in many ways are becoming smarter and aware about the strength of their purchasing power. They want to see that there is a real network of people, not just clothes mildewing in warehouses in rural locations.
Of course, with all of the positivity there is always a grain of realistic reflection. Of course, Italy’s artisans continue to be unsure about the future and the digital world as the driver for their survival. After all, this is a country rooted in old school techniques and old school attitudes, the global online marketplace is still quite new to them. However, people like Elisa and the team of Milaner continue to care about the whole ecosystem of craftsmanship.
Elisa’s last food for thought was one that really hit home for me.
“The misconception many people have is that technology takes away from craftsmanship but the reality is the exact opposite. Now, more than ever, technology is an enabler, showcasing these handmade items to the world. What is sustainable is giving the artisan more control of their craft and destiny; letting them sell and communicate to customers in a way that feels comfortable and real.
Naturally I wanted to see what was on offer this season and Elisa and her team shared these following four items.
- The Classic Elena Woven Handbag
- The Travel Elena Woven Handbag
- The Julia Woven Fold Over Clutch
- The Christina Woven Heeled Sandal