Italisa Disrupts Italian Handbag Market with Geurilla Marketing

Silicon 66, September 18th, 2017

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Scotland, mid-19th century. An intruder has been spotted at night on the grounds of Lammermoor Castle, home of Enrico Ashton. Normanno, the captain of the guard, sends Enrico’s men off in search of the stranger. Enrico arrives, troubled. His family’s fortunes are in danger, and only the arranged marriage of his sister, Lucia, with Lord Arturo can save them.

When the Santa Fe Opera House debuted the opening night of the tragic opera “Lucia Di Lammermoore” in July, Italian designer Vera Tucci also debuted a unique handbag designed specifically for the tale of heartbreak and tragedy.

The “Lucia” bag, sold at the opera house gallery, tells a story too. Tucci created Italisan, a Santa Fe-based company that creates unique, Italian-made limited-edition handbags, with the goal of shaking up the entire handbag fashion industry. Creating a specific bag for the Santa Fe Opera House debut of “Lucia” was one way that Tucci is disrupting how fashion is typically marketed.

“Our purpose is to create handbags with a story worth being told. They are not just ‘bags,’ they are a connection, an inspiring element of a community and a distinctive feature of a city,” Tucci explained.

“It was natural for us to start from Santa Fe. So we asked ourselves, ‘what is that element that makes Santa Fe unique and known worldwide that also represents a connection between Italy and the US?’ The answer was the opera.”

Tucci leveraged personal relationships with one of the company’s strategic partners to connect with the opera’s head of marketing. By sharing the story behind the Lucia bag and its operatic design, Tucci was able to share her vision for the artistic touch of the clutch and how the opera was the right fit for the company’s launch.​

Within three weeks, the deal was done.

Italisan could have adopted a business model to mass produce handbags and offer numerous Italian-made items, but that wasn’t good enough for Tucci. She wanted to do things differently, making Italisan synonymous with not only quality and exclusivity, but affordability as well.

Instead of relying on the tired, traditional online marketing system, Tucci brought leather handbags directly to the women of the America…in person. She wants them to see, smell and feel the bags, some of which are made in batches of only 50 or less.

Italisan is part of a new breed of fashion startup that has a better and more competitive way of reaching consumers, disrupting a long-held, tired, status quo approach. For Italisan, that way means limited edition releases, limited offerings and face-to-face interactions with consumers.

CLUTCHING POSSIBILITIES When the deal with the Santa Fe Opera House was approved, Tucci wondered how she could put this unique connection and partnership into the design of a bag.

“We thought this specific clutch had a strong southwestern style. It was prototyped in a coral shade that resembles Santa Fe sunsets, and it’s classy, elegant and unique, like the ladies who go to the opera,” she said. “The opera ‘Lucia’ is written by the Italian author Donnizzetti, and ‘Lucia’ is a story of passion, love, madness, strong emotions… like our clutch.”

The opening night of “Lucia” turned out to be a success for Italisan’s debut as well. Tucci said opera connoisseurs not only appreciated the art behind the bag’s design, but also have the right mindset to recognize that the clutch was art.

“When you go to Santa Fe Opera house, you can feel this vibe and excitement all around. It’s a very magic place, and that puts women in the right mood for shopping,” Tucci said. “I wore my personal Lucia in coral that night, and it was appreciated. But ​the first feedback from customers came when we decided—with the Opera’s support—to partner with the Opera gift shop and display our Lucia there.”

Within two hours of placing her product in the gift shop, Tucci received an email that the first bag was sold.

“This incredible lady came in, pointed at the corner were our bags were displayed and chose the white one. No questions asked,” Tucci said. “She was so in love that she left her bag at the shop so that she could wear the Lucia right away. That is the kind of love at first sight that we want to bring to our customers.”

ITALIAN REVOLUTION Italy and the United States have a deep connection that goes beyond Italian immigrants finding America as their second home, creating the “Little Italy” neighborhoods across the country.

For Tucci, America’s love of Italian food, wine, culture, art and fashion is about beauty and quality. Tucci was born in the southern part of Italy in Naples, and while she started her own Information Technology company at age 24, she wanted to bring the essence of true Italian artistry to the U.S.

She founded Italisan in September 2016 in Santa Fe with the idea of offering a multi-item catalogue of different Italian-made items in different industries. The approach to marketing was mostly online, but after a few months, Tucci knew she needed to change her model.

“One category we offered was handbags,” she said. “We took feedback from our customers and reshaped the company to focus exclusively on handbags. Before, we were distributing different items from Italian artists, but we decided to invest more on our own brand. That’s when we went from being a distributor to a fashion company.”

In January, Italisan made the shift, relying on the feedback from customers. Whenever the subject of handbags arose, women responded in a big way.

“Handbags mean something to a woman,” Tucci said. “It’s not just about fashion or vanity, but who you are as a woman. You wear a handbag all the time. You use it. Women were really engaged when we talked about handbags.”

As Italisan introduced their line of exclusive Italian handbags, it looked to other new, fashion startups that were disrupting the traditional market. The company developed a model based on cutting out the middleman and working directly with artists and manufacturers. The result is a more focused product line of higher-quality products that are released in limited quantity at a reduced priced.

“First, we started a direct relationship with the artisans [in Italy], so we work directly with the designers. We will launch limited-edition handbags for limited timeframes,” Tucci said. “Our first launch had 42 items, which we launched in Santa Fe. That means only 42 women can have this bag.”

The next step is to bring the product to other markets like Los Angeles and Dallas, again offering only limited numbers of specialty handbags for a limited time over the course of the next two years. Italisan will travel to the different cities, bringing what Tucci calls an “experience” to consumers in those markets.

“It’s part of our disruptive strategy,” she said. “The challenge is that many startups rely entirely on social media to reach consumers, but it doesn’t create the direct relations you need. We are mixing online social media marketing with high-touch moments with customers.”

Italisan became a portfolio company of New Mexico’s startup accelerator HD3 (High Desert Discovery District) in 2017. It is currently raising a $500,000.00 angel round, and Tucci said she hopes female “angels” will become involved.

“We are pursuing a strong female angel group that can bring their networks and connections with them to help advance the brand,” she said. “They can bring support that goes beyond financial.”

ART AND FASHION ​The Lucia Clutch was a handbag with no straps and no handles, but was longer than other clutches. Designed as a “one piece,” the clutch was both a bag and a wallet, featuring six credit card and license holders in the main pocket.

“The artisan who created it, started from a wooden mold that was hand carved with a rose design,” Tucci said. “The raw leather was pressed on the mold, in a whole piece. This technique basically creates a unique design in every bag. They are not cookie-cutter bags.”

By partnering with the Santa Fe Opera House for the launch, Tucci said she made an impact that traditional marketing would have failed to do.

“People loved the design, and they loved the fact that every bag was different, even though it was the same design,” said Tucci. “We generated a lot of awareness about what Italisan means, which is value and uniqueness. The fact that we are approaching the market directly allows us to share the value of margins with consumers. You have a bag that is high-quality, exclusive, but still affordable because we don’t deal with agents, distributors or retailers.”

For more information on Italisan, visit