What led friends Fabiana Rigamonti and Marina Rosin-Levine to become professional shoe designers? “Easy,” says Fabiana, “we both love shoes. We just never expected that they’d become our full-time careers.”
Indeed, Fabiana and Marina had other pursuits in mind when they met as students at Parsons School of Design. But as they experimented with their innovative designs, the idea of getting a foothold in footwear business became increasingly appealing.
Calling their brand Due Farina, a fusion of their names and collaborative creative spirit, Fabiana and Marina began making shoes by hand in a tiny East Village apartment. When their design caught the attention of an editor at a top fashion magazine in 2005, Fabiana and Marina knew Due Farina was on the verge of taking an important step. They just wanted to be sure it was the right one.
“We saw the need to discipline our business,” explains Marina, whose husband Leon joined in to help with marketing. “Our business plan was vague, and it was essential that we hone in our niche to minimize competition. We didn’t have the resources to go up against the big shoe companies.”
Today, Due Farina is based in a large live-work loft in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The line is now sold in major stores and specialty stores around the world, and regularly gets all-important publicity thanks to the designers’ good relationships with influential accessory fashion editors.
“Our sales have reached the seven-digit mark and continue to grow,” Marina says. “We’ve also attracted the interest of large shoe companies. Harry has referred us to other SCORE mentors who are helping us with negotiations.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Fabiana says that Due Farina will retain its small business perspective. “The only way to keep going is by keeping our look unique,” she says. “Harry’s knowledge of the industry has been so important for us to keep our designs distinctive, yet marketable.”
Fabiana and Marina had heard about SCORE, and contacted them for assistance. They were referred to New York City SCORE mentor and fellow “shoe dog” Harry Dannenberg, who had more than 30 years of experience in shoe production and design for many leading apparel companies.
Harry first helped Fabiana and Marina identify the true strengths of their style. “His critiques were tough love sometimes, but he helped us build the line based on the aggressive aspects of our design,” Marina says.
He also helped develop the business plan and strategy, set price points and find the best locations to produce the shoes.
“We initially began with a factory in Italy, which still does our high-end designs,” says Fabiana. “Harry suggested we work with some factories in Brazil, which has lost a lot of business to China. He guided us as we did our own sourcing there.” Due Farina has subsequently begun working with Chinese factories as well.
Perhaps most important, Dannenberg has helped Due Farina stay focused on its goals. “We’re not dwelling on extraneous things, but rather on what needs to be done at each step,” Marina says. “He also referred us to other SCORE mentors when we needed help with other issues, such as accounting and evaluating venture capital partnerships.”
“We love Harry, he’s like family,” Marina adds. “And the good thing about SCORE is that you get better advice because it’s free. Consultants you pay for will often just tell you what you want to know. Harry also tells us what we need to know. That’s made all the difference.”