Rossi & Rei, a Global Marketplace for Custom Luxury

December 3, 2017

in The Craftsman Newsletter

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The enthusiasm that exudes from Elisa Rossi when she talks about her new company, Rossi & Rei, is comparable to the enthusiasm you find when you visit Silicon Valley. That’s not a coincidence given that she has worked in the Valley for over a decade at companies like Steve Jobs’ Apple, Eventbrite, Square and most recently Yik Yak. While working during groundbreaking product launches like the iPhone and the iPad has taught her an obsession with details, you also get a sense of warmth when talking to her that is not usual in tech executives. And this is probably be a key skill in her mission to create a global marketplace for custom luxury goods.

Cardigan by Maglificio Tomas

Elisa grew up in the Marche region of Italy. Unbeknown to most, Marche’s economy is dominated by luxury manufacturing shops, with a particular excellence in shoe-making. Back then, she would be able to walk into an artisan’s workshop and have boots custom made and talk to the artisans, which eventually became family friends. When she moved to the US though she realised that what was normal back home was rare and highly sought after by many, in particular bymiddle-upper class urbanites in search for meaningful, long-lasting products that go beyond consumerism at all costs.

“Life is bigger than the stuff with which you fill it.”

In the long term, Rossi & Rei wants to become a marketplace for such talent, the world’s destination for custom luxury, with a particular focus in the markets of the USA, Asia and Russia. In her ambition and market potential, Elisa Rossi reminds me of Eataly’s founder Oscar Farinetti, who’s shops feature small Italian producers that follow the Slow Food movement precepts.

Hat by Veronica Marucci

To launch, a public beta release in tech lingo, Rossi picked a limited number of artisans to feature in a series of trunk shows across the US, including pop-up shops in New York and San Francisco. These are milliner Veronica Marucci, bag makers Le Panier and knitwear producers Maglificio Tomas. Starting small allows the young company to generate awareness and start fostering a community around their offerings, get feedback and improve the service. Eventually, the next steps are to build the supply side by adding more craftsmen and scale to the right size and not more, nor less. This last thing is important as way too often companies with a Silicon Valley mentality stretch themselves in search for more scale, which ends up watering down the offering, and when it comes to Italian luxury craft, that’s the one thing you don’t want to do. The good news is that it has a long list of amazing candidates to feature on their platform, the kind that offers products that once you touch them, you feel the difference.

Elisa Rossi, founder of Rossi & Rei

Working with artisans might seem as a far stretch for someone who’s forged most of her professional experience in the tech industry, but according to Rossi traditional craftsmanship and hi-tech work are not as distant as one might think. She finds that working with artisans relates very well with her past as a Product Manager. Artisans are very good at what they do and have an obsession with details, something that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive became famous for. This strong focus on the product though often neglects everything else, especially business development. And here is where Rossi & Rei comes into play. Rossi translates this attention to details into great storytelling online, and for its initial batch of videos it has recruited Fabrica, the communication research centre established in 90s by Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani. Making a video showing how a product is made, unlike photography, is one of the best ways to really show the high quality of the product.

Handbag by Le Panier

Against many common myths, Rossi has found that so many modern craftsmen are not the old person in the shed hunched over. The artisans at Le Panier are all in their twenties. More so they are even tastemakers, like with Paris based Veronica Marucci, who’s an aspirational model to many of her customers.

And these craftsmen understand that the market is changing and they can no longer cling to the fate of the big luxury brands that often employ them as contractors. Some of these big conglomerates are struggling and often, due to the big difference in negotiation power or how easy it is to move production to cheaper markets, are not treating their suppliers fairly. They know that at the end of the day all that matters is building their own brand. Rossi & Rei is providing them with a global marketplace with a strong focus on provenance and transparency, that celebrates the story of each individual artisan instead of hiding it, and is allowing them to be more resilient and expand their businesses into markets they would hardly reach on their own.

All photos courtesy of Rossi & Rei.

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