From Italy with Love
Writer: Gary Picariello
The short version of our story is that Feltro Fashion Italy has grow to be a family operation which creates luxury clothing and accessories, using the techniques of wet felting, ecoprint, and shibori felting. Now, let me fill in the blanks. (Rightfully so, we designated my dad to write this story, the only vetted journalist and writer of the family).
In August of 2011, my wife and I moved from southern Italy to Rochester, New York. A year or so before, I had retired from 22 years of service as a broadcast journalist in the United states Air Force. My wife Giulia, who is Italian, had just wrapped up a career as a teacher. I had spent all of my military time overseas with several stints in Italy, so, once we both retired, it was a no-brainer to settle down in Southern Italy, where we'd purchased a house many years before. Giulia's family still lived there, and that's where our daughter Jasmin was born and raised.
While we were inItaly, our daughter won a scholarship to study abroad in the United States for her junior year of high school. The school assigned to her happened to be in upstate New York. We had no intention of moving to the United States! My wife and I were perfectly happy to sit on the beach and enjoy the sunny weather of Southern Italy. But Fate apparently had other plans.
My daughter packed her bags and departed to a small town outside of Rochester, NY. She lived with a host family. She enjoyed school, learned impeccable English and did things that she had always dreamed about. One of the classes at school was the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (better known as YEA!). The kids were learning about writing a business plan and creating and operation a business. Our daughter explained this to us one evening as we were skyping, and she casually related that she thought it might be interesting to create a business based on mom's "latest hobby,: which was wet felting.
Our connection with felting began when Giulia saw the creations of a friend, who in turn was nice enough to teach her the basics of wet felting and shibori felting. After that, it's a matter of practice, practice, practice -- or finding another hobby. After a few sessions, Giulia was off and running and thought the basics to Jasmin as well. I should mention that my wife is so hyper-creative that felting barely registered as a blip on my radar. In fact, she was involved in so many projects that felting was just one of many, as far as I was concerned. It wasn't until our daughter needed something to base her business on that Giulia started to pursue the wet felting technique seriously. And even then, it was only because our daughter didn't want to be creating a business on paper; Jasmin wanted something concrete to sell. The end goal of the Young Entrepreneur Academy was to present the business to an investor panel and then set up shop in a craft fair or expo. Before you could say, "Go to the Post Office and mail this to our daughter," Giulia was creating felted scarves and accessories and sending them to Jasmin, who was in the United States organizing her newly created "business."And in that moment, a new livelihood was born!
Before our departure, we had made a conscious decision to pursue our new business. After all, that was Jasmin's big pitch to ensure my wife could dedicate herself to something if we all moved. What this decision would entail was beyond us, but thanks to the principles our daughter learned in her entrepreneurship class, and to us asking lots of questions to local business owners, we tentatively started moving forward. While Giulia was in the basement cranking out felted scarves and accessories, I had my own learning curve: finding and booking art shows in the local area, purchasing a gazebo, in addition to everything else a household move entails. At the same time, Jasmin was applying to colleges and wrapping up her senior year, but at the same time trying to grow our social media outreach, improving the website, our content and our overall image.
Two months later, we were ready. I will never forget the excitement of our first show. It was a small weekend crafts show at the "Moose Lodge" in a neighboring town, in the basement tavern. This time out, the basement was full of craftspeople. In the short order, we sold our first scarf and I tell you, we felt like we had won the lottery.
By the end of the show, we'd made a couple hundred dollars. It was a feeling of gratification that I can hardly explain even now. I was especially thrilled for Giulia, who had put in (and continues to put in) the hard work, and for our daughter, who had create the Feltro Fashion concept and could see it evolving before her very eyes.
Now, almost six years later, Feltro Fashion has progressed from the Moose Lodge to shows at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Our profits, likewise, have increased ten-fold. In addition to doing nearly two dozen high-end juried art shows, we cater to several boutiques as well. The felting process is more streamlines now. I contribute with public relations and with physical labor, massaging and rolling the fiber. Our daughter now works full time on the business (although she has another full time job as a project manager) focusing on marketing and business development. It's a family business to be sure, but make no mistake: the success of Feltro Fashion rests entirely with Giulia and Jasmin. What I do pales in comparison!
For me, the big lesson is that it's still possible to see the kernel of an idea evolve into a real business. Where we go from here is a work in progress, but as long as we keep the same enthusiasm we had at the first craft show at the Moose Lodge, we will continue to work as a team for Feltro Fashion Italy.