Top shoe label refuses to tread the fashion road

Diego Rossetti regards luxury as more important than trends.

It's been 57 years since his father and uncle laid the foundation for their €66 million (Dh330.32m) company, but Diego Rossetti, who, along with his brothers, owns the high-end Italian footwear and leather goods brand Fratelli Rossetti, says there's one thing his family-run business will never become: a fashion brand.

"I've always believed that when the marketing cost of products exceed a certain percentage so that the ratio of value for money is no longer there, customers will not accept that in the long term," he says.

"I see so many fashion brands that are expensive, but they are not really luxury. After the crisis, consumers have become more careful about their choices. But they still look for goods that represent a certain level of quality and are not afraid to pay the price if they are convinced."

And that is exactly the kind of clientele he believes his company has garnered over the years. "We were affected like everyone else but because we stayed true to our philosophy, we did not have to reconsider our business model," he adds.

Fratelli Rossetti opened its first store in the UAE in Dubai's BurJuman four years ago. Diego was in town recently to oversee the inauguration of a new store in the new wing of the mall.

"The region is a strategic market for us and Dubai is definitely the most important city in the Middle East," he tells Emirates Business.

"When we opened four years ago, it was the best location and in three years, it's now part of the older wing of the mall. That's how fast the city moves and we want to keep up with the pace."

The company is still privately held today. Founded in 1953 by Diego's father and uncle – "Fratelli" means brothers in Italian – it began by making shoes at a small factory in Parabiago, outside Italy's fashion capital, Milan.

Today, there are 27 Fratelli Rossetti standalone stores around the world with a number of retail points and franchises. Its two Middle Eastern stores are located in Dubai and Beirut. While a chunk of its product line continues to be footwear for both men and women, the company also makes bags and leather goods and has a ready-to-wear line.

Diego and his two brothers Dario and Luco share responsibilities in the daily operation of the business.

The challenge now, he says, is to make sure the company can survive independently from the family members a few years down the line.

"Right now, all shareholders are members of the family. We want to make sure that the legacy is intact independently from the family and that people work with the same passion and the same love of the product even when the family members are no more. So we need to ensure that," he says.

"Another challenge is the time factor. My father was a perfectionist. If he was working on an idea, he would not let go until he was 100 per cent sure that it was the right thing. Now you have to act much quicker. You have to take the best decisions in the shortest time."

Besides becoming a fashion brand, there are other things his company won't do, he adds.

"We will always concentrate on things we know to do well. There will never be a Fratelli Rossetti tie or shirt – at least as long as I'm in the company. I think we would betray the consumers' and our clients' faith in the brand. We have very loyal customers who trust the way we work. They know we just don't buy something from someone else and put a name on it.

"We receive offers to franchise everyday. But we are not looking to squeeze the name to get money out of it. So we will never probably become one of these fashion brands that have hundreds of stores because we will always be faithful to what we are."

Besides the Middle East, China is becoming an interesting place to be in, says Diego, who also serves as the company's marketing head.

"I'm looking forward to the opening of our first shop in Shanghai in May, which will be our entry into Asia.

"I've always been sceptical of China, at least for the short term because I thought it was more ready for global brands. I didn't think the Chinese were ready for a brand like ours, which doesn't create status, and which needs more knowledge of quality and heritage.

"But I was surprised at how many of them were coming to Hong Kong looking for quality products, for brands that maybe they only heard about or read about in magazines. So this is very exciting."

Still as economies shifts and definitions change, isn't Diego worried it will be increasingly difficult to stay true to the company philosophy?

"I don't think I will be arrogant if I say I'm convinced our philosophy is right," he says. "And it's probably righter now than five years ago. Five years ago, we could have done something that we haven't done to increase turnover. But if we didn't do it then, I don't think we should do it now."


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