MOZZAFIATO: A BREATHTAKING eCOMMERCE VENTURE FOCUSED ON ITALIAN BRANDS
2021 . 11 . 19 |
Americans have had a long standing love affair with Italy for many years, probably dating back to the 1950’s with Cinecittà, Sofia Loren and the concept of “la Dolce Vita”. So when Mozzafiato, a new eCommerce site dedicated to the finest Italian beauty, fragrance, grooming and home brands, launched in the US last year, it was bound to be met with open arms and amore at first click. At a time when Americans couldn’t travel to Italy due to lockdowns, what may have seemed like an inopportune moment to launch, turned out to be great timing. While sheltering at home, people could enjoy brands they knew and loved while discovering new ones, bringing a bit of Italy into their lives. To find out more, I contacted Mozzafiato’s founder and CEO, Amy Parsons, for an exclusive interview.
You worked in another industry before Mozzafiato. What prompted you to come to Beauty?
I am an attorney by training and was Executive Vice Chancellor for Colorado State University. I left that position at the beginning of the pandemic to launch Mozzafiato. So yes going from being an attorney/university executive to launching an Italian beauty company seems like a gigantic shift! In a lot of ways it was, but in other ways it wasn’t because in my role with the university a lot of what I did was launching new projects, new programs, new buildings even. I loved the idea of taking something from concept all the way to execution and seeing that process through to the end, and I wanted to do more of that, but in a completely different environment. I’m someone who always followed the beauty industry as a hobby – I was listening to beauty podcasts on my commutes, I was following industry news, I was always checking out new brands and at some point I realized maybe that’s what I should be doing because that’s what I was spending all of my spare time on! I’ve also had the good fortune to have travelled a lot in Europe and especially in Italy where I’ve discovered a lot of these brands for myself. When you discover these craft brands that have such great style, heritage and stories and you place them among all your other things at home that you’ve picked up from Sephora or Target or wherever….you really realize how special they are. In the US there are a lot of mass market, big retailers, there’s a lot of clutter, noise, trends, influencer-celebrity based lines, and all of that. More and more, I’m drawn to craft heritage brands and so I wanted to create a counterpoint to the way people are really buying beauty in the US. That all culminated into the concept of Mozzafiato.
Why Italian products? Are you of Italian heritage?
Not at all! One of my business partners who I have known for a very long time has Italian heritage and he likes to invest in Italian businesses. He loves the idea of supporting these Italian heritage brands, bringing them to a new market and audience and helping to make them more of a household name in the US. I’m just an afficionado of Italy. So many great things come from Italy including wine and food and fashion and cars and of course beauty.
How did you come up with this name?
We wanted to find a word that was distinctly Italian, that looked Italian, that sounded Italian and that had a great meaning. Mozzafiato translates into “breathtaking” and we thought that was appropriate for our brands and our products. We also thought it was a word that most Americans could say because you can sound it out. Sometimes people trip over it but if you can say “mozzarella” we thought they could make it to Mozzafiato. It is a big, ambitious Italian word!
How have you gone about curating the assortment – and especially during the pandemic when travel wasn’t possible?
This is a great question and in fact it’s a bit counterintuitive because the fact that we were in a pandemic, locked down in the US, locked down in Italy, made a few things easier. We set about finding the best native Italian brands that had great Italian stories, great products, great style, and then we would reach out to the brand leaders directly. I think it was a time where everyone was worried about our economic futures so it was as if everyone was in an innovation mindset. People were willing to listen to new ideas, to go into a market they hadn’t considered before, to go deeper into online since the stores were closed. From a business standpoint, it opened a window for us to reach out to have these conversations pretty efficiently and openly in a way we might not have been able to do without the pandemic. We also worked with the Italian Trade Commission which is in New York and asked them to make some introductions for us during this time to put us in touch with the right people at the brands and then we started having communication. Some of the brands were already selling in the US, some had no presence at all and only a few had a robust eCommerce business but most did not. They would ship their products to me in Colorado and we would sit on a Zoom call while they talked me through the products and how to use them, we talked about ingredients and we did it all remotely. The most difficult aspects have been the logistics in shipping and the fact that it’s more expensive than it’s ever been.
Tell me about some of the brands you carry.
I think Ortigia Sicilia has the most unique design with the leopards and the palm trees. It’s incredible design – nothing else looks like it. It’s so beautiful you don’t need to wrap it. It’s perfect as a gift for someone. And their fragrances are developed by Lorenzo Villoresi – one of the greatest perfumers in the world. Ortigia hired him to create their range – and the collection is so special and so distinctive.
We also have a brand called Tuttotondo that makes fun bath and bodycare products. We’re launching Tiramisu in the body wash and the body crème soon, which it’s just so warm and yummy for winter. I have the Spritz Veneziano body wash which feels like a cocktail first thing in the morning. Their packaging is very young and fresh with bright colors. They hire a lot of interesting artists to do their design.
What sectors are performing best?
One of the biggest surprises for me since starting this business has been to learn that men are 50% of our customers. In the beginning I would have guessed they would be about 25%. But then when you think about the beauty landscape in the US – the big retailers, the Sephoras and the Ultas – are really not places for men. They don’t have obvious sections; most men don’t feel welcome in the stores and it’s not easy for them to navigate. We are a multi-brand retailer that has many brands and products for men including shaving, cologne, body care, beard care – all in one place, and we found that men really appreciate that. They are looking for better products. Plus I think American men like Italian style too: Italian men are very cool and very accessible, manly and stylish and so American men are drawn to that. Our men’s category has really surprised me in a great way. We’re bringing on at least one more men’s brand in the next month to continue to build it out.
Home fragrance has been an interesting success as well. People were paying more attention to their home during COVID and freshening up their spaces and investing more. I think they are really starting to embrace home fragrance as an element of design as well.
How do you sell fragrance online?
Fragrance is difficult to sell online because no matter how much you can explain it with words people really do need to experience it on their own skin. We’re always trying to find new ways to help people experience fragrance; we do free returns; we pay for shipping. We try to take all the risk out of trying a fragrance until people find the ones they really love. We’re trying to innovate around it, getting better at talking about fragrance, and getting small sample sizes into people’s hands.
Tell me about the product bundles.
It’s interesting because when we launched Mozzafiato we did a big press launch with Women’s Wear Daily and a lot of the beauty press came. So we put together boxes of assorted products for the press. I was talking to a group of businesspeople here in Denver and I explained what I was doing. They told me, Amy, that’s what I want to buy! I want you to choose! So I saw that people wanted these curated bundles to discover the brands, discover the products and then decide what are their favorites. So we set off making different themed bundles and it has been a wonderful way to get people to try brands they might not otherwise choose.
How are people finding you? What role does social media play?
The PR in the first six months was important because we were unknown. We were very grateful to be picked up by Vogue magazine for a Father’s day article, then Travel & Leisure did a wonderful write up on us in an article about Italy and bringing Italy to the US. There was an article in the Robb Report which is a magazine all about men’s luxury. They ran a story that was maybe our most successful press because it brought men to us and they started shopping right away. Aside from that we’re focused on reaching customers where they are through Google, through ad shopping, Facebook, Instagram, through all the social media channels, on building our email list and text messaging. We do find that when people find us and they start buying with us, they do come back and shop with us again.
We’re also working with a few partners, not a big influencer strategy, but a few partners where they are very much aligned with us. I think a lot of our customers, who are over 40, are not so influenced and especially when you know influencers are being paid, it’s just not very persuasive anymore.
And we’re going to start doing live sessions on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to have conversations with people about shopping on the Mozzafiato site. For example you and I would go on together and I would help you shop through our site for yourself or for finding gifts. We’ll talk about products and brands to engage people in a really authentic way.
How big is your team?
We have a very small team, we’re about 4 here in the office, and then we have an outsourced financial and CFO team, an outsourced web development team, an outsourced digital marketing team that does Facebook and Google and a PR team. Our warehouse is in Pennsylvania – which is one flight away from Italy and the most efficient for us at the start.
*Are you optimistic about Q4 and why or why not?
I am optimistic, I think people are starting to feel more confident about the economy, but they may not be ready to be in crowded shopping malls and normal shopping environments. I think people have gotten accustomed to shopping online. I think people are looking for special things that connect them with people and places, that have an authenticity to them, and that’s really our value proposition. As long as we can bring forth the stories and get in front of people then I’m really optimistic about the next few months.
What can we expect from you in 2022?
Just recently we started doing seasonal subscription boxes with a selection of products. There is one for men, two for women at different price points and one for home. So this is a new offering. We are expanding and bringing on one new brand that is purely organic and one legendary men’s barber shop brand out of Milan.
What is Mozzafiato’s mission?
We want to make lifelong customers. Our goal is to be the go-to place when they need more of their essentials, when they need to buy gifts. And so once we acquire that customer we continue to provide value for them….we’re publishing blogs all the time, we have rich content whether it’s how to’s – such as the art of the finding a unique and special hostess gift.
This is a breathtaking plan! All the best to Mozzafiato!
For more information, visit www.mozzafiato.com
Photo credits: thanks to Mozzafiato for all images