Q&A: Virtual commerce tools are a game-changer for fashion discovery

Gucci. Armani. Prada. Fendi. Valentino. Versace. The list of jewels in Italy’s fashion crown goes on, and the continued cultural relevance of the major luxury houses has solidified global recognition that Italy is an epicenter for the best fashion has to offer.

These houses and their stories are part of the Italian fabric, woven into the vernacular of every fashionista and fashionisto. But perhaps the most familiar reference to Italian fashion and accessories defies brand names and designer profiles. The promise of “Made in Italy” carries a connotation of unmatched quality everywhere in the world — one that has lasted for centuries. 

From exceptional leatherwork to the finest gauge of feather-light cashmere knitwear (and everything in between), the phrase “Made in Italy” conveys an assurance of quality and value. Scattered across the country of Italy are master craftspeople — artisans whose handmade abilities mix Old World tradition with the best of modern technology, and who spare no expense in their selections of the best Italian materials. 

There are heritage brands that are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation family owned. There are emerging brands with eyes set on applying their excellence to unexpected fashion and accessories categories. There is much to be discovered beyond the household names of the Italian luxury houses, if people only know where to look — but after nearly two years of global lockdowns caused by the pandemic, discovering these gems has proven difficult. 

Supporting fashion brands through a virtual platform

In this interview with Custom, the in-house agency at Digiday Media, Paola Guida, head of the fashion and beauty division for the Italian Trade Agency, discussed how the ITA is helping fashion and accessories designers find retail success through digital tools. 

Custom: How did your team help Italian brands impacted by the pandemic?

Guida: The Italian government sprang to action to support a curated mix of its top creative talent through a dedicated grant and the birth of the EXTRAITASTYLE platform. An acronym for The Extraordinary Italian Style, EXTRAITASTYLE.com is a digital platform run by the ITA to support Italian fashion and accessories designers doing business specifically with American retail store buyers. 

Early on in the pandemic, Italy was one of the hardest hit nations, with businesses grinding to a staggering halt. International trade fairs were cancelled. Production was forcibly stopped — even photo shoots became impossible for burgeoning Italian brands. 

Seemingly overnight, the reliance on digital tools became the only means available to keeping commerce alive. The question quickly became: What can a government organization like the Italian Trade Agency do to best support its creative talent — not only to help them bounce back, but to lead them to thrive? The answer: develop top-notch digital tools for the best “Made in Italy” brands. 

Custom: How does this virtual platform support the creatives behind these brands?

Guida: This fall alone the site has welcomed 75 new brands, and now features an even wider assortment of categories of men’s and women’s fashion, shoes, handbags, swim, fashion jewelry, leather accessories and more. And with a 2021 platform refresh came more multimedia content than ever on the website, so that brands can virtually present their collections through a myriad of lifestyle imagery, product photos, videos and more — all on their dedicated brand pages. 

Custom: What tools does the platform use to drive discovery among retail buyers?

Guida: There is a greater reliance now on digital imagery and assets — especially video — and conversely the platform offers real value to retail buyers as well. It is purposefully designed to allow retailers to discover many new brands all in one place. Hundreds of top-profile retail buyers from American independent boutiques and department stores are registered now, and we project that number to double in the next year. 

As for tools, approved retailers have private access to view each brand’s custom-made, 3-D virtual boutique showcasing favorite pieces from the upcoming the spring and summer 2022 season as well as season-less, iconic pieces. Retailers can also review product catalogs and pricing, notate favorites items, read about each company’s heritage and values and contact brands of interest directly via email messaging or by setting up a virtual appointment.

Looking ahead: Where Italian fashion is headed in 2022 and beyond

Beyond what Guida had to say in the Q&A there is more news as well: Recent reports show Italy’s fashion is seeing a major comeback. “In 2021 we are seeing Italian exports to the U.S. in the fashion sector significantly outpacing exports in 2019, pre-pandemic – so this is cause to celebrate and even more reason to support our Italian brands,” said Guida. 

With travel set to open back up for Italians visiting the U.S. in early November, along with it comes a sense of normalcy — but also a new normal. The pandemic unquestionably and irreversibly led many Italian brands to better embrace technology as a means to grow their international business with the support of the Italian Trade Agency vis-à-vis the Italian government — and the EXTRAITASTYLE platform is a virtual passport for U.S. buyers to discover truly special Italian fashion and accessories brands and share them with their shoppers.

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