Former Silicon Valley executive Elisa Rossi is following the Etsy model to debut a marketplace for the independent work of artisans specializing in luxury goods.
Rossi, a former executive at Apple and Square, will launch Milaner on Wednesday, a high-end goods site she said is like “Etsy for luxury.” The site is intended to sell products from the independent work of artisans with day jobs manufacturing for luxury fashion houses. It will feature items made by a variety of mostly Italian artisans, with prices ranging from $120 for a scarf to more than $1,000 for apparel like leather jackets.
For Rossi — who grew up in the Le Marche region of Italy, an area known for manufacturing leather goods for luxury brands like Bottega Veneta and Gucci — the site is intended to give consumers around the world access to high-end handmade products. Rossi said her goal is to replicate her experience as a child, browsing storefronts and ordering personalized items from the artisans she lived alongside. As a result, shoppers will be able to customize products on Milaner, selecting features like colors and metals.
“As a consumer in that town, I could walk into their workshops and customize my products. It was a very special experience, and I decided to take that experience online,” Rossi said.
Artisans on the site include a mix of artisans identified by Rossi based on her childhood in Italy and craftsmen she found through more extensive research. Once she settled on prospective partners, she convinced them to join by promoting a platform for visibility, as well as a direct-to-consumer model. With the ability to sell directly to consumers, the artisans are granted more autonomy over pricing and production decisions — a vast departure from their roles as unseen middlemen within the highly regulated infrastructure of traditional brands.
“We went by word of mouth, since a lot of them aren’t easy to find. Luxury brands don’t want to talk about their supply chain, so we searched and talked to people,” Rossi said.
Prior to working in fashion, Rossi spent more than a decade at technology companies, after first working as a translator and interpreter with the initial intention of helping artisans expand their businesses abroad. She said it was her most recent stint at Square that inspired her to return to working with small-business owners. She saw a need for a site that was more befitting of the work of the artists of Le Marche and beyond, and saw an opening to expand their visibility while turning a profit. (Rossi will receive a cut of sales from each purchase that is negotiated separately with each designer, though said “the commission is much lower than luxury markups.”)
“The problem with Etsy is the quality is diverse, so it’s hard for [artisans] to market their product the same way a luxury brand would,” she said. “The marketplace doesn’t match the brand at all. For us, it was a matter of creating a space and a platform that could match the look and feel of their product. It’s not something you can always do on Etsy, because there’s a lot of noise on Etsy.”
Still, part of Etsy’s appeal is that it boasts a deep user base of 30 million buyers, an active audience of shoppers looking for everything from a wall print to a handcrafted necklace. Rossi said her team will focus on building a following through behind-the-scenes videos with artisans sharing their stories, as well as using the clout they bring from their work with high-end companies.
A video about an Italian artist featured on Milaner.
Michele Lopez, who oversees a manufacturing group that makes products for brands like Bottega Veneta, said Rossi’s platform will allow him to build awareness for his personal handbag company, Le Panier.
“It is really flexible,” he said. “It’s really quite interesting and useful for us, this kind of production. It’s very customized and personalized.”