Interview to Antonino Laspina, Italian Trade Commissioner

Italy is back in fashion in the USA. The new overseas market trends, which highlight bigger attention to quality and sustainability, have opened the games also for small and medium companies of Made in Italy. We met Antonino Laspina, executive director of the Italian Trade Agency in the American market. During his career, Laspina worked with universities, also in China, training centers, Italian and international magazines about topics linked to international trade and economy. He became a member of Young Leaders’ Group (council Italy-USA) in 1988 until the current assignment as an executive director of ITA started the last November.  

How American markets are changing in relation to Made in Italy? 

The American market, like other important markets in the world, changes a lot depending on the demographic composition and new subjects who intervene in the expense destined to the purchase of goods, in this case, quality goods, Made in Italy. In front of us, there is a scenario with a strong presence of subjects we can define as Millennials, who relate with Made in Italy trying to appreciate some emerging aspects but we also have some clients who are very consolidated and attached to this type of products. At the same time, there are also new trends related to the possibility that consumers belonging to quite high ranks can be interested in Made in Italy, even more than past years also for the effect of the growth of his perception on the American market.  

What is the perception of the Italian product in the USA?

The perception of the Italian product in the USA remains quite positive. I’d say that in some fields the Italian product doesn’t have rivals because it constitutes a product in a class of its own. However, we have to remember that some trends can approach products to other countries at the same level of standard of perception of Made in Italy product. For us, it’s very important to try to keep this leadership through a very strong promotional activity that on the one hand has to try to consolidate consumers in the areas we are already strong, like the coasts, above all New York, New Jersey, and California but on the other hand, we have to do promotion activities in the areas which already enjoy economic growth, like Texas.

Which are the assets at which Italian companies should aim?

To make their way and strengthen their position, Italian companies have to aim at assets and values which in the last 20 years allowed them to create the positions of leadership they got. There is the need to be known as companies that incorporate values like quality, exclusivity and the utilization of raw materials. Both regarding products related to the fashion system and the design system. Our companies need to insist on the fact that Italy is unique compared to its competitors because in our area the creative phase, the creative industry, and the manufacturing field coexist. Somehow, we constitute a unicum and we have to aim at it because in this mechanism it is possible to create a requalification of the Italian product in terms of high quality with components of craftmanship that are unique in our system. Every element starts being always more important for some bands of American consumers. Even more than in past years.  

How your plan and strategy of the relaunch of Made in Italy is articulated?

According to the results of past years, a plan and a strategy of the relaunch of Made in Italy have been invented. They aim at an increased value of resources destined for promotional activities. This strategy aims on the one hand on retaining and stabilizing the consumer we have in some areas but on the other hand on conquering other consumers above all in the areas where the economic dynamics have allowed having, like in some capitals, pro capita incomes which are superior to 60,000/70,000 dollars and show a delay compared to the perception of the Italian product. We have to work hard to bring the product to the territory. Clearly, an important tool is the activity of collaboration with the large retailers, both international distribution and the inter-state one. So we will invest a lot in invitations on the distribution networks, we will develop a bigger presence on the most important Italian trade fairs and we will also use promotional tools which are proper and autonomous activities realized by ICE collaborating with other partners. Moreover, it is very important to start an action plan which includes a bigger area to make us more popular. 

There is also a space regarding digital activities. In fact, we have improved an agreement with Amazon and we are studying other ways of collaborations. The main idea is that this market, like other markets in Europe and Asia, needs utilization of both online and offline channels. Obviously, a big effort to recover the interest of an increasing number of Italian companies for this market will be done. However, we noticed that on the Italian side there is the need to upgrade about the American market and for this reason, we have to send to Italian companies a message which allow them to understand that the American market has strict rules regarding the regulations on the composition of products and materials but also regarding the custom aspects. However, this difficulty doesn’t mean impossibility and so we can think about opening new perspectives for the Italian companies. Quality starts making its way on the market and for this reason for this type of company could be a chance to recover positions at a global level.

Which are the Italian companies which have been supported? The first feedbacks? 

The first feedbacks were quite positives. In fact, the time we had available for this new strategy was quite short but generally, we create strategies on undeniable successes. For example, we have a very consolidate presence on the fashion system and a qualified presence of quality producers. The aim is to create new trends, new creative and manufacturing subjects on the market because we have to take the opportunity that this market shows a big sensibility towards new themes, such as sustainability, green and the respect for nature: all issues which our companies have already experienced. Moreover, these themes have already reported important positive results in other markets. We feel that the most important aspect is to be known as carriers of these new values which are making their way on the American market. For our companies, during the last years, treatments that respected the environment regarding the leathers, the fibers, above all the natural ones or some treatments of products that are necessary to create the manufacturing process in the textile and clothing field were a bet. Today, probably, we also show in terms of research and development a more sophisticated and also more in line production with these expectations. We are very hopeful about the fact that this type of positive answer will be able to improve during the next years.

A first evaluation after the collaboration with Project?

Already with this event, we can say that we were able to interpret these trends I have mentioned before. Our companies involved in this Project were already an interesting number. For the future side, we think that we will aim to the communication aspects of our creative and manufacturing system. We have to be able to communicate these values that sometimes are peculiar o exclusive of our Italian system. In order to do it, we need to use different platforms. The main idea is to use consolidate platforms regarding the expositive system, but we don’t have to exclude the fact that we can also add other presences of new conception with the Italian companies and the structures which represent the interest of companies. 

There is much talk about sustainability, how is it transposed by the American market? 

Sustainability is a fact that accompanies an increasing sensibility not only on the American market but also on the other markets in relation to the issues of the treatment of products in the manufacturing phase, but also phases regarding the treatment of raw materials and also how to grow the plants from which come vegetal fibers or how to treat plants which come from the animal world. Sustainability is the keyword because on the American market this sensibility to nature and to processes that are not too intrusive or disruptive is making its way at the same level of what is happening in the most sophisticated markets. Here the answer to the Italian system, in my opinion, is live up to expectations because, as I have already highlighted, in our system of treatment of leather a series of processes that limit the use of toxic substances have been introduced. We applied recovery technologies and for this reason, we are producers of raw materials and semi-finished products which can be a guarantee in terms of sustainability. We also have companies that treat natural fibers like cotton, but we have already controlled the farming phase. Moreover, we have companies that already during the selection of the natural fibers, like for example the wool coming from different animals, have a great attention and care for the selective processes and then they transfer these fibers in the manufacturing processes, where coloring substances or any other substance has to be compatible with the system of nature.  We are obliged to do it because our companies are placed in a countryside context and the Italian system live and coexist with masterpieces of art and architecture. We have a campaign which essentially has great protection because from there other sources of income such as agriculture and tourism come. It’s a system that even before sustainability was important in the American market, had to make this choice for a natural cause, for its own internal forces, because the intervention of nature above all in Italy has to be very light because it has to safeguard also the other fields of the Italian economy. So, we are certainly a productive system able to satisfy these aspects of sustainability, green and these legitimate expectations in consumers. If the system of Made in Italy is improving more and more also in contexts not always positive from the economic point of view, it is because it was able to interpret and give appropriate responses to these expectations.

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