Becoming an entrepeneur at the age of 56: an extraordinary story of the Venetian ex-jeweller, who started his business from the inspiration of elegance’s basics, with a well-defined idea and a new brand that is becoming more and more popular.
The restatement of elegance and with the emphasis on handmade. These are simple concepts, revealed by holding a purse or touching the leather of a belt of Michele De Fina. This tall Man, with a serious appearance, but a gentle and open soul inside, has actually an interesting story that we can name as a “ Second Youth”: his company takes his name, Michele De Fina – Venezia, and he also designs and follows every step of the realization of handbags and other accessories for men and women. Near the San Marco Church, his shop is located at Calle della Canonica: a little corner where high quality and lovers of handmade goods can find a pleasant surprise.
First of all, tell us about you.
“I am from Venice and I started to work in San Marco Square, as a jeweller, in 1979, holding an important position in the shop’s management. When I started at that time, the economy and the tourism were better than nowadays”.
Through your words we can see your nostalgia for the past: what is the main cause? The economic crisis of Italy in general, or in particular of your own homeland?
“I think of Venice in particular: to me San Marco represents the centre of the World! We felt the first change just after the 11th of September 2001. From that time started the fear, disorientation, insecurity and finally the retreat of businessmen. The current crisis made the situation worse, letting the City decay in both handmade and trade sides, which were historical excellences. Meanwhile, also the tourism in Venice has changed, more focused on the mass and the fast-consumption, like a fast-food. My project also started from the desire of going against this cultural and economic impoverishment of my City, that I deeply love.
So, new ideas to oppose today’s difficulties, right?
“In this State, businessmen preferred making money rather than have an high quality product, and so did Venice. We must bring back our traditions, first of all the handmade and the design, and try to support our products, not for a local rivalry, but to show that we are proud of our History”.
It’s not so simple, because today’s young people have chosen different directions.
“Before the 70’s, young men used to start their career as an apprentice, learning their job every day at work. Nowadays, this is considered an old custom and people think that you can just buy the experience with a short training course. I personally don’t think this method can work and I would like to re-establish the policy of handing down a job from one generation to another and let young people learn directly from their work, to have the possibility of feeling fulfilled”.
Tell us about how your business started.
“My adventure started on 12th of June 2014: after thirty- five years of work as an employee, I opened my shop in Calle della Canonica. Ironically, the economic crisis made my dream come true. In the jewelery store there was no more working stability and also, from my point of view, I was no longer satisfied. Anyway, it wasn’t a sudden decision: three years previously, in 2011, I designed my first handbag and I started to think about this kind of business. I’ve always loved painting and designing new objects, especially vases and jewellery. As the crisis got worse, I felt I had to start my project, even with some worries: making this big change at the age of 56 is not that easy. Moreover, I developed my project while I was still working in the Jeweller. In my few breaks I used to design, choose the materials, meet the manufacturers and set up the shop. It was a laborious time, but also exciting at the same time”.
How much does the Brand count in your products’ concept?
“The idea is to make the product recognisable in its style, accommodating and rigorous at the same time, that you can find in both leather goods and in accessories. To me, the concept
of the logo owns to the past. We must introduce something that you can recognise beyond fashion’s code: in other words, I think people are tired of going outside “branded” and so feeling too conformed with the mass, and we are looking for something exclusive. Something rare, that people discover and recognise in an accurate and unique place, that they can find only there. Let’s be honest: I don’t think to be an innovator, but simply a man who believes in his ideas, sure that there’s a market niche for the ones who are looking for this kind of taste’s experience.”
If Gucci stands for Florence, can we say that… De Fina stands for Venice?
“Why not? After all, in Venice there is any brand, except for the great Roberta Di Camerino. Joking aside, I’m really looking to the future. I started this business at 56 years old and I have 20 years to develop my project, hoping to make it real. My desire is to make something long-lasting, for my daughter and my grandchildren”.
By talking with you, it seems that you have never worked in a Jeweller and, actually, you are establishing yourself as an entrepeneur.
“Maybe I can describe myself as a dreamer that keeps his feet on the ground. I’ve always worked a lot: I know what “earning a salary” means. I only regret I haven’t enjoyed today’s achievements in the past, but, however, I consider myself very lucky, as my dreams came true. Luck and lucky meetings are very important: like the meeting with the director of my shop, Louis Philippe Fernandes, an international professional who believed in my project.”
What’s in the future of “De Fina – Venezia”?
“I want to reinforce my line, keep improving the quality of the products and the collaboration with the artisan of our hinterland. Also, I’d like to open a new shop. But my biggest dream is, one day, to contribute to a school that teaches young people the art of the leather industry, in Venice. It’s a tradition that could be a European excellence, a source of work and satisfaction for many people. I keep being touched by the handmade work of ours artisans and I don’t want this art to be lost forever”