Italy is a country renowned for excellence and the “Made In Italy” trademark indicates mastery in the fields of design, fashion, food and manufacturing. Italian craftsmen, in fact, have long produced some of the world’s most coveted items – such as leather jackets and handbags, suede moccasins, silk scarves and more – combining carefully honed skills and a keen sense of taste with a timeless design that renders Italian products distinctive, elegant and highly sought-after.
Traditionally, Italy’s locally-crafted items haven’t always found their way from the small-town workshops to the international market but thanks to MILANER, things are changing.
MILANER, a brand and e-commerce platform that promises to provide “luxury on a first-name basis”, was born from an idea to connect Italian artisans with a wider public. It is a business created by Elisa Rossi and her childhood friend Serena Spinucci, two women who began to recognize the appeal and singularity of Italy’s artisanal heritage after they left the country to move abroad.
Born and raised in the Marche region, Ms. Rossi and Ms. Spinucci grew up in Porto Sant’Elpidio, one of the country’s most dynamic manufacturing districts. This small coastal town may not boast major tourist attractions but it is renowned for its highly-skilled artisans: luxury shoemaker Tod’s originated here and brands like Prada and Chanel have long sourced their products from the local craftsmen.
“When we were growing up, we always bought quality boots, leather handbags and hats from the local artisans. Everything was tailor-made and customized,” says Rossi. “Historically, artisans have always specialized in one product and we realized that this the ultimate luxury experience: the opportunity to purchase a beautiful product directly from the person who makes it.”
Ms. Rossi’s career took her to Silicon Valley, where she worked as a software engineer and then as a product marketer for companies like Apple, Square, Eventbrite and others. It was a very different world from where she grew up, but one that would spark her future business venture.
At the time, Square was just a start-up that allowed businesses to accept credit card payments online and by phone. “Square revolutionized everything with its credit card processing system: it allowed all kinds of businesses, big or small, to accept payment by credit card anywhere, and it built a number of other software tools to help merchants grow their business. And that work experience opened my eyes because I thought, if a small piece of hardware could transform a small business, couldn’t it also be applied to the world of luxury artisanship?”
Ms. Rossi began to dream up a new project that would bring her back to her roots and help her raise the profile of Italian artisans from her hometown. “For me, creating MILANER was the perfect way to combine my experience in Silicon Valley with my appreciation of Italian craftsmanship.”
The brand sells a curated selection of clothing and accessories produced by the same artisans that make products for luxury names such as Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta and Hermes. Items include buttery-soft suede moccasins with hand-stitched details; light and breathable cashmere-linen scarves; handwoven straw hats with silk accents; beaded jewelry; and MILANER’s popular Vachetta leather woven handbags.
“What distinguishes our brand is this philosophy of human-to-human luxury: we shine a light on the stories and the traditions that are behind each product,” explains Ms. Rossi. The artisans are an integral part of MILANER’s branding and are featured prominently on the website, with images and videos that introduce them to their customers. “In the past, they were behind-the-scenes but now they can speak directly with the public.”
As you explore the website, you’ll meet the Spernanzoni family who makes shoes in Le Marche, Il Borgo Team who crafts knitwear in Tuscany, Le Panier Team who stitches handbags in Sicily and Veronica Marucci, a master millinery who creates hats in Paris (and lent her name to the brand). By seeing their faces and learning about their history, shopping becomes less about consumerism and more about human connection.
“When you buy a product from an artisan who has been honing his craft for 50 years – this memory stays with you forever and ties you to the item. It is what ultimately distinguishes MILANER’s goods from others,” says Ms. Rossi. “People don’t just like a product because it is beautiful, but because it has sentimental value and you feel connected to it.”
MILANER is committed to excellence and works with limited edition pieces that are ordered on demand. Customization is encouraged as well, and shipping and returns are free. The brand also plans to expand outside of Italy and add more craftsmen across Europe, in countries like France, Spain and Portugal.
“We always ask our artisans, “What do you love to make?” We want to create a sustainable business model where our artisans are encouraged to put their whole heart into every piece. And this passion is reflected in the quality of each product. When you look at our collection, everything you see is one of their “cavalli di battaglia”, a signature piece that represents them and makes them proud,” Ms. Rossi explains.
“MILANER may still be a small business but it shows that there is a different way of doing things, a more sustainable way of selling that helps craftspeople preserve their family business,” says Ms. Rossi. “And if our brand continues to grow well, it won’t just be a win for us, but a win for all artisans and producers.”