Last summer, while playing my weekly co-ed recreational soccer game, I got an email. It was from a company called Il Bisonte, reaching out because they thought that our philosophy of preserving the way of the artisan would be a good match for their products. While we receive a lot of business solicitations along the lines of “trendy leather bags, very cheap price!”, it’s rare to get a thoughtful email from someone offering products that are in tune with what we are about. I showed the photos of their products to my teammates and received immediate positive feedback, so I hurried home to share the excitement with Daniele, slowly allowing myself to become cautiously optimistic about this brand.
Fast forward 9 months and here we are, proudly carrying a selection of these Florentine leather goods ranging from business card holders to tote bags. With the long-anticipated arrival of the Spring/Summer collection at the end of the month, our catalog will more than double – expanding into categories such as backpacks, weekenders, coin purses and key cases. In the meantime, we have quickly developed an admiration for Il Bisonte’s philosophy of creating high-quality, minimalist leather goods, where the amazing quality of the vegetable-tanned Tuscan vacchetta leather takes center stage. Yes, for me, it’s the leather – it’s always been about the leather. I was pretty much sold the moment I laid eyes on this before and after comparison showing just how gracefully Il Bisonte products age:
I immediately invested in the large Il Bisonte logo tote (shown above) and am looking forward to watching the leather deepen in color and acquire that wonderful patina over the years. If you Google “Il Bisonte”, it’s not hard to find fans worldwide boasting about their “20-yr old handbag” or “30-yr old key case” – and I absolutely love that.
My first interview with Alessandro revolved around finding out more about Maledetti Toscani. Alessandro began by giving me a little bit of his family business’s history and then elaborated on how his family has, since 1848, defended the true made in Italy, which, he defines, is a label that should only be allowed when something is really entirely made in Italy (not somewhere else for the most part) and by a company legally operating in Italy who employs legal Italian workers.
Finding companies that embrace this philosophy has been extremely hard but it is a philosophy that matches ours completely. So we are elated to do business with Maledetti Toscani. The point may seem extremely simple. But it is not simple at all. Companies taking advantage of the fact that they can say something is made in Italy while it is mostly made in China, India, or Bangladesh are allowed to make false claims about their products. Since “Made in Italy” implies a certain type of skilled craftsmanship, environmental concern, and respect for worker rights, being able to apply the label while getting the product made somewhere where these aspects are bypassed means that the consumer is led to perceive something that is extremely far from the truth.
One of the pillars upon which we founded our company is authenticity. Authenticity is the word we use to also mean honesty and integrity. If we allowed anything that is not 100% made in Italy be described as being 100% made in Italy we would be breaking our promise to our customers and to ourselves: we would be straying from our beliefs for the sake of following the easiest road to profits. That is why we recognize that profits will only come for us when we have delighted our customers with integrity: so we treat profits as a byproduct of helping our customers be confident when they buy from Marcopoloni, not as a primary goal. I will talk about that in greater detail later, for now go check out some Maledetti Toscani shoes and watch this genuine video.
At Marcopoloni we are 100 percent committed to offering authentic products. We started the business with that goal and over the last ten years we have seen countless companies say that they offer Made in Italy, experienced, artisanal quality while, in reality, they were cutting corners every step of the way. Some hide behind the requirement that at least 60 percent of the value of the product needs to be Italian to be allowed to put made in Italy on the label; some use inexperienced immigrant labor; some use cheaper leather; some use industrial processes; and many use a combination of all of the above.
While we respect the ability of such businesses to make money, we feel that cutting corners results in a different product and a different experience for the customer. If you think that Parmesan cheese made in Wisconsin is the same as Parmigiano Reggiano made in Parma or Reggio Emilia, please move on elsewhere because you will not find any cheap imitations here.
While at dinner, Alessandro Quadri (one of the owners at Maledetti Toscani) and I decided that it is time for us to go beyond just talking about the difference, we need to show the difference. During the next two days I hope to document as much of it as possible.
A few weeks ago we got a surprise visit from Gianni’s cousin, who happens to live less than an hour away from our office, and he was bearing gifts from Italy! Oh my, what could it be? We opened it right away and it was a gift for our daughter Chiara: a small blue t-shirt from the volleyball team that Gianni sponsors bearing the number 13. If you think that the number 13 is bad luck, you must know that, in Italy, the seat of countless superstitions, it has long been supplanted by the number 17 and has now found a new vocation as a lucky number.
Although this is a simple gift, it does say a lot about Italian people and culture. First, Italians love kids and always think about how to make their day a little brighter. Second, Italians can make you feel like you are part of the family (which comes with all the benefits I have mentioned in other posts and articles) and will not refrain from asking you a very time consuming favor (in this case Mario had to spend a half-day to deliver something to a perfect stranger–but in the end he made a new connection): so we fully expect to be on the hook. Gianni, if you are reading this, when you finally make it to California, I will arrange everything, including the bikes to go coast-to-coast.
At Marcopoloni, we care about products that express the artisan’s genius and creativity. We expect to find that anywhere in the world, but, since I am Italian, Italy has been a major focus for our searches. It helps that amazing leather craftsmanship abounds in Italy.
But I am sure that you are already well aware that the opposite is also true: many Italian companies have taken advantage of the fact that only a percentage of the final product has to actually be made in Italy to get the “Made in Italy” label. That’s unfortunate because, as I have read on many forums about bags, customers no longer associate quality with an Italian product.
When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to travel a lot throughout every corner of Italy and to most Mediterranean countries. It was at that time that I started appreciating leather craftsmanship and the production process of leather goods. What I saw then has grown into my passion and is what I am trying to preserve now. When you you shop for one of our bags from Italy you don’t get a cheap bag that tries to profit from its Italian label. You get a bag that I am pretty sure you will have a chance to like because the artisan who made it put his experience and pride behind it.
When Emi and I got married in Portovenere, Italy, in 2007, we stopped by the leather shop in the picture. I probably do not need to explain that his craftsmanship was amazing. We tried to buy from him later but it was too difficult to communicate from the States. It is my unfulfilled dream to go back on a future anniversary and fill up my suitcases. Because that is our mission: to help you rediscover the soul that was infused into a product at the hands of an inspiring artisan.
As we were about to board our plane to Japan, we stopped by an Italian bakery, which I will leave unnamed, to get some lunch. The bakery advertised that it offered authentic Italian food true to its Italian origins, as the company was started near Milan.
As I was growing up in Milan, I went to this bakery every once and again and it was a good bakery, like any respectable bakery in town–something that I cannot say about the location at San Francisco Airport.
When I saw that they even misspelled the word “pasticceria” on their sign, I started to think about how could these guys make their Authentic Italian claim. The reality is that it is hard to copy what is Authentic Italian and deliver that around the world when you are talking about food that can only be made locally.
At Marcopoloni, we go to great lengths to make sure that what we label “Made in Italy” is truly authentic Italian. Our relationships with our artisans deepen every year and we go and find out about the production and content of the products we offer. Vendors that take advantage of the fact that you can label “made in Italy” something that is 60% made in Italy, don’t make it very far with us.