From Lids to Stilettos: Ben Fischman On His New Online Venture M.Gemi

Ben Fischman knew there was more to baseball caps than hat hair when he founded Lids. He realized the online frenzy “flash sales” for deeply discounted designer goods could create when he launched Rue La La. And now he’s tapping into women’s well-documented obsession for premium footwear with M.Gemi, a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business specializing in handcrafted, luxury footwear made in Italy at affordable prices.

“We saw a void in the footwear market — women crave gorgeous, high quality products but they realize that prices have become astronomical and they like to shop sensibly,” Fischman said. “We believe we have identified a category for which the customer has an insatiable appetite and we are providing an outlet for that. We felt it was the right time to offer women high quality product at accessible price points.”

Fischman launched M.Gemi in March with an initial collection of leather and suede pumps and peep toe heels, driving mocs, mules, slingbacks and wedge sandals swathed with fringe. Backed by $14 million in seed and Series A funding, the company has teamed up with family-owned Italian factories to create a new faster supply chain, designing and producing footwear in small batches. Think of it as fast fashion for the luxury footwear consumer. Each Monday a new collection arrives online, giving new reason for shoppers to comeback to the site for more.

“Our design team is constantly observing shoe trends, researching history in footwear, and anticipating what’s next, before creating each style,” Fischman said. “Our rapid supply chain also enables us to be inspired by and produce current trends.”

And by cutting out the middlemen (a.k.a. retailers), Fischman said M.Gemi is able to offer a unique value to clients and sell footwear at half or more than half of the prices they’re used to seeing. Shoes are all priced under $300 to start, a fraction, Fischman noted, of the footwear sold by traditional luxury brands produced in the same factories as M.Gemi and sold for $600 and upwards. “The core of our business model is redefining luxury,” he said.

Vamp caught up with Fischman, who shared how M.Gemi is an example of the changing retail landscape and how Italian footwear factories are adjusting to consumers’ demand for the tomorrow trends, yesterday.

Vamp: Describe the current landscape for Italian-made footwear in the U.S.
Fischman: American women crave luxury, handcrafted Italian shoes and we’ve seen beautiful, high quality styles from a number of brands; however, prices are astronomical. We are excited to not only bring Italian luxury shoes to the American consumer at an excellent value, but revive a supply chain that is traditionally very seasonal. By working directly with artisanal Italian factories, we’re able to speed up production and offer constant newness to our clients. It is in the U.S. that we recognized the need for a change in the luxury shoe market, and we are focused on filling this gap for consumers.

Baciami - Black 2 - $248

Vamp: With so much attention in recent seasons placed on fast fashion, does the consumer need to be reintroduced to Italian-made footwear?
Fischman: Country of origin isn’t always something that matters to consumers, but when it comes to footwear, Italy is synonymous with the highest possible quality, and this fact is shockingly well known across the entire market. After recognizing such a vast white space in the luxury footwear market, we knew there was a large opportunity for us to reinvent the supply chain of the more traditional brands, establish relationships directly with Italian factories and bring the product to consumers online. The most exciting thing about this, however, is that we’re able to constantly update our assortment, introducing brand new styles every Monday so there’s always something new to love.

Vamp: Who is the your target consumer?
Fischman: Our core client is the modern American consumer who loves gorgeous shoes, craves that feeling of discovery and exclusivity, and embraces the quality of luxury design and artisanal craftsmanship at a great value.

Vamp: How often will styles be introduced?
Fischman: New colors and styles will be released every week. A cornerstone to the business is weekly releases. Consumers can expect new shoes every week.

Vamp: Is the notion of traditional Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections a thing of the past?
Fischman: We’re seeing a desire for luxury, on-trend shoes year round. Although many brands are still creating new collections for the traditional season, for us, we know trends are constantly changing. By introducing new styles each week, we are able to keep up with the latest updates and continuously offer new designs.

Felize - Black and White - $198

Vamp: Any plans to expand into accessories or other product categories?
Fischman: We are truly focused on reinventing luxury footwear… We want to create remarkable shoe styles that our clients really want and we’re always looking for fresh inspiration, discovering new materials and treatments while creating what clients want right now. With that said, expanding into accessories or other product categories is certainly a possibility, but for now we’re fully focused on the women’s footwear market.

Vamp: We see a lot of brands go from clicks-to-bricks these days. Based on your experiences, why is online the way to go for new brands and retailers?
Fischman: We are a luxury brand born of the digital age. We believe that most importantly, the best way to create a true client-centric culture and experience is to own the relationship directly, and not operate through a classic wholesale model. E-commerce and mobile is the first channel we are focusing on, but we also believe experiential retail is valuable and we do plan to roll out our own take on this in the future.

Vamp: Do you foresee M.Gemi moving into brick-and-mortar anytime soon?
Fischman: At the moment, we are very focused on building M.Gemi as a direct-to-consumer brand online. This platform allows for direct communication with our clients, providing us with instant feedback and enables us to constantly update our offerings and provide impeccable service. This feedback is extremely valuable, especially as the brand is in its beginning stages.

Vamp: Shopping for footwear is such a hands-on experience for women. How is M.Gemi bringing that experience to consumers online?
Fischman: When visiting our site for the first time, every potential client experiences a simple three-question widget that allows us to better understand them and their ideal fit, which is so important to us. Since each style is made by hand using formas, or lasts, that shape the toe, heel and pitch, our footwear is consistent from shoe-to-shoe. This means that once a client finds a fit she likes, she can shop for more styles in the same forma and not think twice about size. In addition to this customized process, we have a top-notch customer service team who is on stand-by and will pick up phone calls directly. The user experience is one of our top priorities.

Cornetto - Capri Blue 2 - $248

Vamp: How is the declining Euro impacting the Italian footwear business?
Fischman: The declining euro enhances our business model, but overall, selling any European experience is a more profitable endeavor for a non-European company.

Vamp: Are factories more willing to produce smaller batches, or do business with new and smaller brands?
Fischman: Teaching these family-owned factories with longstanding traditions to work as part of a rapid supply chain with frequent releases has been a challenge that took us many months to develop, and something that we continue to hone. That being said, these small artisanal factories are very eager to work with us, and produce more shoes on a more consistent basis. They love the fact that their craft, something they have been practicing and perfecting for ages, is something we admire and idealize, and we tell that story to our clients. We bring their stories and the beauty of their craft to the surface for the American market.

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