There's a new player in the increasingly popular direct-to-consumer e-commerce game. Doing what Everlane did for basics and The Arrivals for outerwear, M.Gemi — launching Tuesday — promises high-end, Italian-made women's shoes for a fraction of what they might cost at a department store.
M.Gemi offers classic shoe styles in frequently updated colors and fabrications. New styles will be introduced to the site every week, with no single shoe living on the site for more than 12 weeks.
Like other direct-to-consumer companies, the founder of M.Gemi has more experience in business than design. Ben Fischman launched flash sales site Rue La La in 2008 and stepped down from his role as CEO in 2013. Last year, he founded Launch, which he describes not as an incubator or a venture capital firm, but rather, a "venture builder."
"We develop ideas we think are needed in the consumer marketplace and then start those businesses ourselves and build teams to do so," he explains. M.Gemi is the first and only business Launch is currently focused on. It recently raised $14 million in Series A funding to get off the ground, bringing on shoe merchant Maria Gangemi, who previously worked with Fischman at Rue La La as its co-founder and chief merchant.
So why women's shoes? For one, Fischman wanted a business that would create an emotional connection with the client — a category shoppers are "absolutely obsessed with." And while footwear may seem like a pretty crowded space, Fischman points out that it's difficult to find a pair of Italian shoes under $500, since few besides luxury companies still make shoes there. (It's worth pointing out that J.Crew, not a luxury company by any stretch, also makes many of its shoes there.)
Fischman and his team went to Italy and spent nearly a year establishing a supply chain, forging synergistic partnerships with local, family-owned factories. He says that, for the factories, M.Gemi's plan to release new shoe styles every week was "a welcome new opportunity" — most of the companies the factories partner with produce only four collections per year, so they work in massive spikes followed by long lulls. "What we provide theses facilities is constant production," Fischman says.
Style-wise, M.Gemi isn't reinventing the wheel by any means. Just about every basic shoe shape you might find in a department store today is represented, from a single sole pump to a heeled mule to a driving shoe. The company's mission clearly isn't to shock and excite with design; it's to provide shoes that are of the same quality as a premium luxury brand for less money. Still, many of the styles feel current and appealing. Right now, shoes are priced between $100-$300; for fall, more expensive boot styles will be introduced.
Fischman hopes this the competitive pricing will encourage shoppers to buy more impulsively. "When you’re buying a $1,400 shoe, it makes you think and it frequently stops you," he says. "Our product, from a price point, removes much of the barrier. I think you’re going to see our customers buying a lot of shoes from us."