Laura Bicego is the force behind the successful Italian jewelry line, Nanis, based out of Vicenza. Recently Elite Traveler President and Editor-in-Chief, Doug Gollan, caught up with Laura Bicego to talk about how she built her company and what’s next.
ET: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the company?
Laura Bicego: I am second generation in this business, and I built my business because what I love the most is creating pieces of jewelry. My jewelry is more informal, and you can wear it in different ways and on different occasions according to your mood, according to how you feel. The brand, Nanis, is not only jewelry—it’s really the joy of having the piece of jewelry. It’s a philosophy. That’s why we are also starting to do bags and watches; we would like to work with silver.
Obviously it’s hard work, especially nowadays, but we think we will succeed. We are opening boutiques and we hope we’ll get going that way. We would like people to experience the flavor of Nanis in our own shops because that’s very, very important.
Nanis is a young company and we really enjoy working. We have a wonderful staff, and that is part of our success because we are all working for the same goal. We combine newer technology with old craftsmanship. For instance, the engraving finish comes from our traditional craftsmanship; it’s done totally by hand. We also brainstorm with our creative team. I am the designer and my husband as well, and we integrate our ideas. I am much more fashionable, and he’s much more technical.
Then we have three girls who work for us who develop designs from the ideas that we give them. Obviously it’s very important that we have weekly meetings to see if it’s going the way we want. I’m very hands-on. I like to see the physical product. I need to touch it, to wear it, to see how it works.
ET: Tell us a little bit about the history of Nanis and how you got into the business.
Laura Bicego: We started the company in 1990. My husband and I went out and we built our own company. We saw the need to introduce something—a different philosophy in jewelry. We felt at that time—it was a long time ago—that people were starting to get tired of classical jewelry. Most of the time when I design a piece of jewelry, I design it for myself. It has to be something that I would wear. And so we felt this need and started our company. At the beginning we were only three. Now we are almost sixty. So we’ve grown quite a bit, and we also have some other companies that work only for us, so we are around 100 people altogether.
At the beginning we were selling through wholesalers and some of them understood what we wanted to do but some others were like a filter and did not allow us to get out the word about the brand, which is really very important. You can be the best in the world, but if nobody knows, then you won’t sell. So the second step was to get in directly to retail and try to grow with them, to let them speak for us. And to do that we had to train people. We had to create the boxes, the display materials and start communicating about the brand.
ET: Where do you have your own Nanis retail locations today?
Laura Bicego: In Miami, Dubai, Vicenza and two in Cairo.
And we will soon have more shops—in Madrid, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Caracas. We believe a lot in relationships and partnerships. For the shops that we directly manage, it was very helpful for us to know what you need to be successful in a shop. We understood that you need to have big pieces that are astonishing and attract people, but then you need to also have small pieces that you sell every day. And that’s why we did a small collection.
We have three main collections. One is an oval, one is a heart and one is a bead that we evolved in different ways. We tried to make them in smaller sizes and in a classical way and then in a more funky way.
ET: So you mentioned it started with you and your husband and now you have 100 people. How do you break up your time? Where do you spend your time as you oversee a growing global company?
Laura Bicego: We are working very hard and trying to travel a lot, because when you travel you get a lot of ideas, which you then try to evolve. Looking around at what others are doing is very important. You have to be conscious of who you are and what the market demands, while still maintaining your identity, which is sometimes very difficult.
ET: You mentioned travel. Are there any places in particular you like to travel to?
Laura Bicego: The United States. Americans are great teachers as far as business. I got very deep into the different collections that I saw there in the shops, and I saw how organized they were and how they tried to create a team. I’m very fond of the United States style. They are very focused.
I like the fact that Americans have a team concept. In the morning you see sometimes into the [retail jewelry] shops that they are having a meeting, they are discussing how to work better, how to overcome problems.
ET: Do you have a chance to travel for pleasure at all?
Laura Bicego: I love to travel. I love being out for business but I try to have two days or so to enjoy myself. When you are out in the world—and I’ve been traveling all over—you meet people from the places you visit. And when you know people from those places, you really live like they do, not like a tourist. And that’s what I like.
I like being with the local people more than going to see a monument or whatever. I’ll go, but I prefer going in the supermarket to see how the lifestyle is or having dinner with someone in their own house. I like to experience the culture. And I like traveling all over the world. It’s a great distraction for me.
ET: Do you have any hobbies outside of the business?
Laura Bicego: Lots. I have three children first of all, who are everything to me, but also take a lot of energy. I also do a lot of sports, I read, I love music and I love cooking. I have a lot of friends in my house always, almost every night.
ET: Are you a good cook?
Laura Bicego: Yes, I think so! I like to be creative with my cooking.
ET: How old are your children?
Laura Bicego: They are 12, ten and eight.
ET: Are they going to be in the business also?
Laura Bicego: I don’t know; I hope so. I think they have a good chance. I have three but Theo, the oldest one, I think is most attracted to the business. To me the most important thing is that first they study, travel all around the world and try to understand how they want to be, who they want to be. I don’t care if they will be in the business or not, the only thing I care about is that they will be happy doing what they like to do.
ET: You said you grew up in the business?
Laura Bicego: My father and mother have a company.
ET: And did you work at that company?
Laura Bicego: Oh, yes, for many years. And then I decided I wanted my own style so I started my own project. My views were not compatible with my father’s and so I decided to get out.
ET: So now with your children, would you recommend that they come into your business or would you rather see them do something on their own first?
Laura Bicego: I think I would love for them to go out on their own because I think it’s important for them to have their own experiences to bring with them.
ET: On your card it says “export manager.”
Laura Bicego: Yes, yes, yes.
ET: Why not CEO or something like that?
Laura Bicego: Because I don’t want to be seen as someone who is unreachable. I like to be on the inside and part of the action.
ET: Do you not want people to know that you own the business?
Laura Bicego: No, I tell people sometimes, but not always. I prefer them to know me as me. When they know who I am, they’re surprised, though it’s a nice surprise. And if I want, I can tell; if not, I don’t.
ET: What if you hadn’t gotten in the jewelry business, what would you have done?
Laura Bicego: Fashion. I love fashion. I love being creative, and with fashion I think you have a chance to be very creative. I usually go to some of the shows, like the leather shows, and I love seeing what they are doing.
ET: Where do you see Nanis in three or five years?
Laura Bicego: I hope we will be in the best stores, but more than anything I hope the brand will be truly appreciated by those wear it.