Italy is taking its homegrown fashion brands on the road for a U.S. tour that had its first stop in Los Angeles.

Under very rainy skies, 29 small and medium-sized Italian labels showed their collections at two trade shows held March 13 to 15 during L.A. Market Week.

In the past, most Italian brands have focused their marketing on the East Coast and attended big trade shows like Coterie in New York. But there is a vast world beyond that for Italy’s small and medium-size brands to sell their collections.

Many consumers are “stuck on the names of the big Italian brands. You know, the famous ones,” said Paola Guida, the head of the fashion and beauty division at the government-backed Italian Trade Agency in New York, which organized the trip. “And then we started thinking that the United States is not just one market. The East Coast is different from the West Coast, from south Florida and Chicago.”

Outside of Europe, the U.S. is the leading market for Italian fashion brands. Last year, Italy exported $2.8 billion in fashion and fabric to the U.S., up almost 25 percent over the previous year.

Analyzing the market, the Italian government decided to introduce Inspri Italia, Innovations in Style, a show encompassing apparel, footwear and accessories brands to buyers around the U.S., starting in L.A. and then moving on to Miami, Dallas and Atlanta.

For L.A., the roadshow organizers chose to participate in Designers & Agents, a semiannual show housed at The New Mart showroom building in the city’s downtown Fashion District, and at Brand Assembly, a four-times a year event across the street at the Cooper Design Space building.

At Designers & Agents, the Italian contingent occupied its own section with 15 brands showing an array of goods — from clothing to handbags.

One of those brands was Etici, a sustainable label of natural fiber clothing made since 2015 in Carpi, a town of about 71,000 residents in northern Italy. This was the first time company owner Andrea Vignoli had been at a L.A. trade show. “We’ve done three shows in New York, but we are new to Los Angeles,” he said.

The company is dedicated to manufacturing more climate friendly goods. “We are trying to reduce the carbon footprint of everything we do,” Vignoli said, who noted that even his hangtags are made of recycled paper. “We do only natural washing and natural coloring. We are trying to do our best to reduce our water consumption and have no allergy causing fabrics.”

That sustainable approach was paying off. Vignoli said he had seen about 20 buyers at the three-day show. They came from places like Jackson, Wyoming, and California cities including Manhattan Beach, Sherman Oaks, San Marino and San Francisco. “It has been a good show,” Vignoli said, adding that several U.S. agents inquired about representing his company.

Another new brand to the show was Alessandro Aste, a line of Italian designed cotton, wool, silk and cashmere sweaters and felted cashmere scarves manufactured in Nepal.

Owner Alessandro Aste said he has shown his line at Designers & Agents in New York, but he wanted to expand his U.S. sales, which now account for about 10 percent of revenues. He had seven buyers place orders — half for scarves and half for sweaters retailing for more than $300.

While he thought the show was a bit slow compared to D & A in New York, he said it acquainted him with the California market. “I want to understand the people and the fashion here because everyone says it is kind of different,” he explained.

Elena Ghisolfi of Whyci Milano. Photo by Deborah Belgum

Some of the Italian brands included in the roadshow have been to L.A. before, including Whyci Milano, a line of contemporary silk, wool, cashmere, linen and cotton sweaters, blouses and pants run by the same family for three generations. Everything is made in Italy and 75 percent of the company’s suppliers are within a 30-mile radius.

Elena Ghisolfi, one of the owners, said the company has attended Designers & Agents in L.A. several times. But after seeing orders pick up following the pandemic, the company is working on expanding its California business.

“We have been placing orders at this show with our old customers, but we’ve seen a few new orders here,” Ghisolfi said. She and her husband will then travel to San Francisco to check up on their existing accounts.

At the Brand Assembly show, 14 Italian designers selling mostly footwear, jewelry and leather goods had booths located on a different floor than the main Brand Assembly show. That created a hit-or-miss business situation.

Fracap, a high-end collection of handmade leather boots, shoes and sandals now in its third generation of the Cappello family, hadn’t seen any customers during the show, Martina Cappello said.

But Laboratorio Mariucci from Milan placed enough orders for its fine leather handbags, including shoulder bags retailing between $70 to $120, to sell out of its current collection.

Despite the mixed results of this first show, Paola Guida from the Italian Trade Agency said the organization will bring more Italian companies back to the L.A. trade shows next October. “This is something like a trial,” Guida said. “But I think there is a potential for our companies.”

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