American Girl Goes to Italy and…. - OZY | A Modern Media Company

American Girl Goes to Italy and….

American Girl Goes to Italy and….

By Rachel Levin

Hilary Belle Walker


Italy’s first buy-sell-trade retail fashion store: a good excuse to clean out your closet and take a trip.

By Rachel Levin

Hilary Belle Walker thought she was breaking up with her Italian boyfriend. So, after 12 years living in Milan, she shipped herself — and all of her clothes — back home to San Francisco, California. As a fashion-focused copy writer and contributing editor to Vogue Italia, she had amassed quite a closet: six pairs of nine-inch heels, a magenta sweater with mink lining, and size “zero-zero-zero” winter wool jackets — all of which she knew she’d never need in the warmer, frumpier Bay Area. So she lugged her loot over to Haight Street’s Crossroads Trading Company, wowed the saleswoman, and left with a small bundle of cash.


Bags by Fratelli Rossetti and python from Orciani

Source Bivio

And then it dawned on her: Why doesn’t Italy have a Buy-Sell-Trade fashion retail store? “When you’re an American living in a foreign country, you’re constantly thinking about what’s missing, conveniences the country doesn’t have, but really should,” says Walker. “Like, Netflix. Why doesn’t Italy have a Netflix?”

When you’re an American living in a foreign country, you’re constantly thinking about what’s missing…

A few months later, when the Italian boyfriend wooed her back (of course), the always well-dressed Walker brought her brilliant idea with her. She found an affordable commercial space in Milan’s buzzing Ticinese neighborhood — a gorgeous old building from the 1600s, with Roman columns and vaulted ceilings and exposed brick. The previous tenant had sunk money into renovations only to close 11 months later. “It was the sort of store that sold, like, uncomfortable, futuristic-looking arm chairs and art installations of bananas for $7,900,” says Walker. “Not exactly what Italians are clamoring for these days.”   

It’s obvious what Italians are clamoring for: Bivio. In the weeks leading up to the spring opening, locals would look longingly through the window — at never-worn Prada shoes, silk dresses from Marni & Alberta Ferretti, leather motorcycle jackets.

By 10:50 a.m. on May 10th, people were outside waiting for the doors to open.

“We had a fucking amazing first day,” says Walker. “And it’s been like that ever since.” Less than a year in, Bivio is going gangbusters. Average weekly sales are around $10,000; and anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 pieces fly off the shelves every month. They do about 100 pairs of a shoes month. For 970 square feet of actual selling space, that’s not too shabby.

The appeal is simple: a contemporary mix of Prada and Zara, Gucci and H&M, all priced to sell. Quickly. “I buy stuff that I know will be in and out of here in 10 days,” says Walker, who uses Milan’s fashion-focused industry to Bivio’s advantage. “A woman came in with a barely-worn $1,300 black silk Balcenciaga jumpsuit. But because this is Milan, where everyone works in the fashion industry, I know she didn’t pay $1,300 for it in the first place!” So Walker prices it at $178, the seller gets 50 percent in store credit or 33 percent in cash, and everybody wins. 

“Why is this working so well — and so fast? Because Italians have really nice clothes. And the economy is fucking bad.”

Her rapidly growing clientele (many already self-proclaimed regulars), includes an all-ages mix of industry-types and design students from the fashion institutes, in-the-know tourists, stylish moms who’ve worked at Milan’s showrooms for years— and men looking for fashionable footwear. ”A transgender brought in a pair of heels, and since they were a size 11 we put them in the men’s section, and another guy bought them,” says Walker. ”For a city that seems so conservative and buttoned up, Bivio is attracting a wide range of people who like to come in— and go a little bit crazy.”

Adds Walker, ”The other day, a stylist picked up a vintage Dries Van Noten coat, in camel cashmere with a mink collar, in perfect condition for about $65 and couldn’t stop laughing.”

Everyone comes by scooter or Metro, seeking good deals on high-end items — or lugging a suitcase of stuff they haven’t worn in two years, and leave with a store credit or check for anywhere from $5 to $520. And the items Walker snubs.

“Why is this working so well — and so fast? Because Italians have really nice clothes. And the economy is fucking bad.”

“I’m super selective. I look for the desirability of a piece, not the label,” explains Walker. “Everyone loves the mash-up of price point and brands. No one should ever wear head-to-toe Armani, or head-to-toe anything, really.”

These days, most Italians can’t afford to anyway. “The economic crisis is forcing a lot of people — even wealthy people — to rethink their consumption habits,” says Walker. “Bivio is offering an alternative. We opened at the best possible time.” 

It’s similar in concept to Milan-based Private Griffe, an online luxury consignment site that launched last July, which allows Italians to open their own virtual “boutique” and resell their rarely worn items. The company has so far amassed 1,000 sellers and 300 buyers and averages approximately $50,000 a month in sales; they plan to launch a men’s section, as well. But Private Griffe’s prices are much more expensive, and, of course, it isn’t an actual place  where women can just pop into during lunch hour, try stuff on, chitchat, and walk out with, say, a new $11 scarf. “Milan obviously has a lot of high-end stores, but nothing like this,” says Walker, who has spied Private Griffe’s founder browsing Bivio’s racks. 

Walker is blown away by Bivio’s insta-success — and her own business acumen. She hopes to eventually open more Bivios around Italy. “I mean, it’s kind of crazy,” she laughs. “I’ve always been a writer. Not an entrepreneur. I would have never done something like this in America. N-E-V-E-R. But I’ve made my own way in the fashion industry. Bivio is totally me.

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