Premium Italian Leather goods crafted by the same artisans that produce for Chanel and Gucci without the retail markup -- what's not to love about Armadio? Today, we're with the founder & CEO, Matteo Mattia Gemignani.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Lucca, Tuscany, and studied in Pisa, Paris and Madrid. I received a Law degree at Università di Pisa before joining the Milan branch of NYC based law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. In 2009, feeling that I wanted to create something on my own, I left the law firm to co-found GIR, a solar energy company based in Milan. We expanded the company across the UK, Romania, South Africa and the United States, where I moved in 2011. In 2014 I exited GIR selling the company to Panasonic. While living in NYC, I began to take notice of the incredible markup on luxury goods in the United States. With most of my friends in Tuscany working as leather craftsmen, I had visited their workshops and shopped their amazing products, so I knew that it was possible for beautiful quality and great pricing to go hand in hand. Realizing this was a perk only available to Italians, I decided to re-create the business model to bridge this gap.
Tell us about Armadio
Armadio is a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform offering consumers the finest handcrafted Italian leather apparel and accessories at an accessible price point, proving that luxury no longer has to mean expensive.
Consumers will be able to browse the site, which will offer limited-run leather essentials like bags, shoes, jackets and apparel that will refresh regularly with new colors and inventory. Behind each item, comes the story of the artisan who handcrafted the product, including a photo and details on the other mainstream brands the craftsman has also created for that season. For the American consumer, the result is authentic, high-quality leather goods that you could normally only find by walking the streets of Tuscany yourself--at 70% the price you’d pay at retail.
Leather craftsman in Italy are revered as the best in the world, and Armadio works closely with the same Italian artisans who supply the big fashion houses like Chanel, Gucci and Prada. Prior to Armadio, these local Italian craftsmen had no access to distribution beyond Italy for their personal brands. They were instead forced to work exclusively for the big fashion icons, who control the market and overprice these beautiful items they create to make them more exclusive and less accessible. Armadio has now given these craftsmen an online distribution channel for their designs without any middlemen or retail markup.
Are there any plans to open up a showroom or a brick & mortar location?
Not really. We are considering events and pop up stores to show our products in person (eventually with the participation of our craftsmen making the products live) but we believe that our distribution channel shall be exclusively the e-commerce. This way we save a lot of costs and are able to keep our prices fair passing the savings to our clients. Also, through the e-commerce platform we keep a direct channel with our customers being able to receive their feedbacks, opinion and wishes on the products and next collections.
How was your experience with Y Combinator Fellowship? Any tips or advice for people thinking about applying?
We just started but so far impressive. It feels like being part of a big family where everybody has more or less the same issues. The community is very supportive and goals are the same ambitious as the companies that are part of the program.
Tips: I can only copy a quote from YC: make a product that people want, ideally love it. Build the concept, sell it to very few people, collect their opinions and if it feels good you have business worth the YC program.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Work, work, work. We spent a full year basically only working (no weekends, no vacations). Sometimes it has been very hard but it’s the only way to build a business.
What is the biggest challenge of owning your own business?
Challenges change all the time but the most important is the sustainability of your life - once you can pay your living, then you just a business issue..
What do you love most about it?
Creating something out of nothing, transforming an idea into an actual business employing people, making revenues. The definition of “enterprise" is: “something extraordinary, incredible, out of the ordinary” and I believe that’s what an entrepreneur's mission is notwithstanding the nature or the size of the business.
How did you meet your co-founders, Pierluca Martella and Loris Pignoletti?
I met Pierluca in early 2014 through my former business partner. I pitched him my idea, we discussed it for months until we decided to start it together. Pierluca is an extraordinary cook and after sharing the same apartment for the last 10 months, I can’t like my own food anymore! We were then introduced to Loris in early 2015 by common friends. At the beginning we discussed about his beautiful bag project called Raixe but then we found out he was an exceptional photographer and super talented creative director in fashion. That’s when we brought him in.
What’s your favorite item from Armadio?
The “moto”, a biker jacket. The jacket is made of nappa leather and the most common comment we received from our clients is: “it feels like butter”. Also, the nappa is hand-paired to wool instead of carrying lining. This process is complicated and takes a long time but maintains the shape of the jacket close to the body. Wonderful. Also, Gabriele, the craftsman, is one of my best friends, and I love his work.
What was the biggest mistake you made and what did you learn from it?
Considering perfection the entry level to issue our product. If I could go back in time I’d speed up dramatically the launch of the website. It’s only since we actually launched our pre-launch campaign that we truly understood the real issues of this business.
What exciting new products can we expect from Armadio in the next 2 years?
Incredible Italian designer bags, accessories, shoes and apparel. Step by step, we’ll introduce a full line of leather products.
We would like to become the point of reference for shopping Italian leather. Ideally, when you want to buy a leather product, we’d like to be the first brand you want to check.
Is there anyone you look up to in fashion or business?
Warby Parker, Warby Parker and Warby Parker. Perfect idea, execution and growth. Everything they do is consistent with their values. And it rocks.
What are your passions outside of fashion?
I like traveling by being able to understand cultures. Learning languages and feeling part of a new culture is one the most exciting things to me.
Any final parting words?
If you want a little touch of Italy, visit armadiofashion.com!
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