10 Questions for Cesare Casadei

It’s been a family affair at Casadei for the past 50 years.

And that isn’t expected to change as the Italian company’s creative director, Cesare Casadei, eyes the global market and plans for expansion with new wholesale accounts and branded stores in the U.S.

“In past years, [we’ve been approached by firms] wanting to acquire us,” Casadei said of the company his parents, Quinto and Flora Casadei, founded in 1958 outside Bologna. “But we want to keep it in the family and enjoy the progress and growth we work so hard for.”

Since its inception, Casadei — known for its gem-embellished stilettos and towering platform pumps priced between $395 and $2,000 — has found success across Western Europe, Russia and the Middle East and is sold in more than 500 doors worldwide. The brand, which has recruited Georgina Goodman as a freelance designer, also operates 13 namesake shops across Italy and in Paris, Moscow and Dubai and plans to open a Middle East flagship in the coming year.

Now, Cesare Casadei, who took the helm of the company in 1994, is looking to the American market as he builds the company into a truly international brand. While it has had a presence in the U.S. before, Casadei last year made a concentrated push, picking up 50 new accounts.

And though plans for a shop on New York’s Madison Avenue have been put on hold due to the unstable economy, Casadei still intends to open the brand’s first U.S. door within the next five years. “It’s a big job, [but] important,” he said, noting the brand already has offices and a showroom in New York. “It’s in the Casadei DNA to be a worldwide brand, and the U.S. is one of the biggest markets.”

1. How has being born into a footwear family influenced the way you approach the business?

CC: I [basically] lived in the factory [growing up, and] my aim is to preserve the Casadei message my father carefully crafted. We continue to maintain the integrity of our original design, but we also strive to test new commercial strategies aimed at gradually expanding distribution, increasing global brand awareness and bringing the company to a new level.

2. As a second-generation Italian shoemaker, do you see yourself ever moving production outside Italy?

CC: We wouldn’t make our shoes in China or another country. We’re 100 percent made-in-Italy, and we want to keep the quality. We choose materials that cost more than others, but we try [to build] relationships with our partners to keep the prices steady and provide top quality.

3. What kind of concessions have you had to make to keep production in Italy?

CC: It is becoming more of a challenge to maintain the quality and integrity of our product while simultaneously keeping the product at a reasonable price. In order to meet this challenge, we are reevaluating our resource structure and exploring new resource partnerships in order to keep prices down and better our production costs.

4. Where do you see “Made in Italy” in the long term?

CC: Companies that believe in quality and craftsmanship will continue to make products in Italy. There will always be a demand for luxury and unprecedented excellence that brands would be hard pressed to create anywhere else. Factories, [however], will have to modify the way their systems work, or outsource materials from new vendors to maintain more competitive prices to evolve in these changing times.

5. What are the challenges of designing in this shaky economic climate?

CC: It’s scary, but it’s also a [good] challenge. There’s an opportunity to approach [business] in ways you never thought of doing before, like using younger suppliers. [I also] have to be more focused. Before this economic situation, it was very easy [to design] because people were buying whatever [they wanted]. Now, if your shoes aren’t [high quality], they won’t sell, no matter the price.

6. Why has Casadei decided to increase its presence in the U.S.?

CC: Casadei’s main focus for the next three years is to regain market share in the U.S. and strengthen brand awareness. We have focused on this because the U.S. is one of the biggest and most important business centers globally. It’s also an opportune moment because retailers are [adjusting] their business models [by dropping lines and bringing in new labels to fill in the gaps], giving us the opportunity to have a presence on their floors.

7. Are you approaching the American market differently because of the poor economy?

CC: We haven’t. We are simply focusing our efforts on building strong, solid relationships with our retailers prior to opening a flagship store. [However], the economy has made us reevaluate our price structure and breadth of product. We are focusing more on creating a healthy assortment of day-to-night heels, as well as heavily embellished designs, so there is a wide assortment of product for every taste and budget.

8. How do celebrities influence your brand, especially in the U.S.?

CC: Celebrities help validate a brand. U.S. consumers look to them to see what they are wearing and want to emulate that. Purchasing the same shoe injects a certain amount of glamour into the woman’s wardrobe. The more celebrities who wear Casadei [means] greater brand awareness and consumer interest.

9. Are your children interested in taking over Casadei when you retire?

CC: At the moment, no, but I was like that, too, so I don’t push. Shoes are very technical, so if you are not in love with the job, it’s not worth it. I would love my children [ages 21 and 18] to continue the [business], but I want it to be their choice.

10. With that said, where will Casadei be in 50 years?

CC: We have big plans for growth and progress, [but] I see it as still being a family business. It’s not just my father and me, but also two cousins, and there are [about 30] other relatives involved in the production. It’s really rooted as a family business.

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