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NERA fuses Italian craftsmanship and sneakerhead culture

By Kristopher Fraser

26 Jul 2022

Fashion

Image: BFA

Nera is a luxury sneaker brand on a mission to bring the worlds of Italian luxury and modern streetwear together. The brand’s sneakers are hand-stitched and painted using traditional Italian craftsmanship techniques. Nera’s business model is to release products in highly limited drops and never reproduce anything. Only 500 pairs of each style are ever made.

Best friend duo James Yip and Lucas DiPietrantonio founded the brand, but the other artisan behind the brand is creative director Stefano Jacobson, a former real estate brokerage analyst. Yip and DiPietrantonio came up with the idea for NERA footwear four years ago. The brand recently went through a complete re-branding. Automobiles and motor sports served as the original inspiration behind Nera, due to Italy’s connection with both of those industries.

Nera aims to bring Italian craftsmanship to sneaker culture

Under the re-branding, Nera has shifted its focus more toward Italian craftsmanship and iconic moments in design culture, specifically in Italy. “We want to tap into that feeling of ‘they don’t make things like they used to’,” said Jacobson to FashionUnited. “We want to tap into those sentimental feelings of quality products. The whole point of Nera is to bring back that generational Italian craftsmanship customers are used to.”

Although the brand focuses on Italian craftsmanship, their target market is the U.S. given the prevalence of “sneakerhead” culture here. Jacobson describes the brand as “contemporary and in the streetwear scene.” In terms of cities, the brand’s biggest inspiration is New York.

“People in New York really seem to embrace European culture and design very positively,” Jacobson said to FashionUnited. “When customers see that ‘seal of approval’ of the Made in Italy trademark, they immediately recognize it as quality or something desirable. People love to learn more and dive deeper into the trove that is Italian craftsmanship, culture, and design.”

As part of their retail strategy, Nera opened their first SoHo pop-up shop called Nera Mercato, designed by Alimentari Flâneur. Historic markets in Florence inspired the shoe’s design. “Our first pop-up was not only an experience to get our brand name out there, but it also tested what our physical store footprint would look like,” Jacobson said to FashionUnited. “The feedback we’ve got about the store has been great. The store has been a success, and it gave us an idea of how to shape future stores.”

Currently, Nera’s focus is on opening more pop-up shops before they commit to a long-term store lease. They are hoping to focus on various big cities and essentially treat their pop-ups like a touring attraction of “where to next.” New York and Los Angeles are currently Nera’s top markets, and the brand has their sights set on Miami and Chicago as their next two target cities.

Nera’s business is primarily direct-to-consumer, but they are exploring retail partnerships with a focus on luxury retailers. Aside from expanding their retail presence, the brand wants to focus on creating more in-person experiences through pop-ups and events. Jacobson also plans to expand Nera’s offerings, but products will still be in limited quantity drops. Jacobson recently designed a few pieces of ready-to-wear that were well received by consumers as well, so they might potentially explore expanding beyond sneakers too.

The sneakerheads have a new brand to keep their eye on, and between their approach to tightly edited capsule collections and Italian craftsmanship, it’s just a matter of time before Nera becomes a must-have. Re-branding has given Nera a new lease on life and a growing customer base.

Image: BFA
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Stefano Jacobson