Italic Luxury without Label

Italic Luxury without Label

Over the past decade, a new trend in the fashion industry emerged with direct-to-consumer (DTC) pioneers such as Warby Parker eyewear and Casper mattress disrupting traditional retail models. These companies are selling specific goods directly from the manufacturers and bypassing middlemen to keep prices low.  This new wave in retail has a major Los Angeles player, Italic, a “brandless luxury” DTC company that has been selling a wide range of products including handbags, cosmetics, jewelry, clothing, and luxurious sheets. Remarkably, their prices are 50 to 80 percent less than that of similar luxury goods.

Since its debut in 2018, Italic has expanded its product offering from 50 to over 500 items, even launching their own skincare line last year. They have also added new categories such as cookware, luggage and pet products. As a result, their staff has grown from 21 to over 50 full-time employees. In line with their growth, Italic has moved from a small WeWork office, where I first met Italic’s founder and his team, to a spacious 6,700-square-foot warehouse office located in downtown LA’s vibrant arts district. “We’re not replacing designer brands in any category,” says Cai, 29, the CEO/Founder of Italic. “We’re simply offering another option for shoppers, so that they can buy the luxury items they love straight from the source for much less.”

Cai works directly with over 60 manufacturers around the world. This allows consumers to purchase luxury goods from names such as Prada, Gucci, and Cartier, without the added cost of brand markups and marketing. Cai grew up in Chicago, where his parents owned a manufacturing business that supplied auto parts to global brands like BMW, Tesla, and Nissan. Utilizing these connections, Cai and his team have visited over 100 factories in Italy and China to meticulously select manufacturers based on their expertise, work conditions, sustainability practices, and certifications. To ensure exclusivity and avoid copyright infringement, Cai says that Italic’s designs are unique to their company and have not been previously produced for any other brands.

He believes that customers will appreciate the substantial savings Italic offers. For instance, a cashmere throw at Italic costs $145, whereas the same manufacturer supplies Burberry, where it is priced at $590. Similarly, Italic’s olivewood salad bowl sells for $50, whereas William Sonoma’s bowl, made by the same manufacturer, is priced at $150. Cai’s ultimate goal is for customers to recognize the value and savings offered by Italic.

We speak to Cai about his plans for Italic in 2024, the challenges he overcame, and the breakthrough moment that influenced how he works.

What are your goals for Italic in 2024?

JC:  If the past 3 years were all-out expansion, 2024 is the year of simplification. We are focused on reducing the complexity of our product line and investing into a better customer experience and product quality across the entire assortment of fewer, better products.

Initially, you had 50 listings, but now you have more than 500 as your business grew. Please provide the top three best-selling items.

JC:  We’ve come a long way. Our top 3 selling items are our Australian Ultraplush Towels, our Grade A Cashmere Sweaters, and our Australian Sateen Bedding.

How do most of your clients hear about you?

JC: One of the great things about Italic is we receive a lot of great word-of-mouth from our customers, which really drives new customers to our site. We’re also continuing to build up our marketing and social outreach, and we’ve seen great results from that. But as a growing company we want to do that smartly and strategically.

What were some of your toughest challenges in building your company thus far?

JC: One of the biggest challenges you face as a founder comes early on, as you think the only thing that matters is the product. Later on, you think the only thing that matters is marketing and distribution. Eventually, you realize that culture is what matters most. It’s not just a set of values you write down, but rather an operating model that’s codified and shaped mostly by the people you bring into the company. This realization was the breakthrough moment that shaped how I work and its culture (not product or marketing) that not only makes or breaks a business, but also makes or breaks your happiness and satisfaction with your work.

What have you learned about the world of fashion since building your company?

JC: The more I’ve learned about fashion, the more I have come to realize that it is a complex and ever-evolving system of data driven merchandising. But also, that materials and craftsmanship define quality. If there is an absence of high quality, the price truly is meaningless.

When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?

JC: When I’m away from work I enjoy spending time with friends and family. And the perfect weekend would be a mix of that along with playing tennis and fishing, and of course playing video games. It’s the perfect way for me to recharge while having fun.

How are you celebrating the Lunar New Year in 2024? 

JC:  It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to visit my grandparents and extended family in Asia – I used to visit at least once a year. We have a large Asian customer base and I’m looking forward to celebrating with them with some limited releases and fun events.

What is your primary goal for Italic?

JC: At Italic we believe people are happier, healthier, and more fulfilled when they can afford to live well. And with this as a goal we believe it’s our mission to source, develop, and curate the highest quality products at the lowest prices.