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Why "Made in Italy" is Significant in the Beauty Industry

Published April 4, 2024
Published April 4, 2024
Troy Ayala

Italy is internationally renowned for many things: the delicious food, the beautiful cities and beaches, the vast history, the list goes on. The term “Made in Italy” has become synonymous with quality in the minds of consumers worldwide for decades. This is partly due to the reputation it has sustained through establishing itself as a destination for quality manufacturing across all industries including fashion, automotive, and more recently, beauty.

In recent years, many US-based beauty brands have shifted at least some of their manufacturing for many of their cosmetic products to Italian labs and cosmetic factories including rhode, Rare Beauty, Tower 28, and more. But why the sudden change? What is drawing these companies to change the location of their production to Italy specifically? According to Cosmetica Italia, the National Association of Cosmetic Companies, "67 % of the makeup consumed in Europe is produced by Italian companies, globally it reaches 55%." As the third-largest economy in Europe and eighth largest in the world, the exports that Italy is known for are one of the main contributors to their success.

The beauty industry is booming in Italy, as exemplified by the well-attended beauty convention Cosmoprof in Bologna, which recently wrapped up its 55th edition hosting over 248,500 attendees from 150 countries. A recent report from Cosmetica Italia following the event affirmed that pre-Covid levels of growth have been surpassed, confirming that the industry in Italy grew by 13.8% in the fiscal year 2023, with exports alone increasing by 20.2%. As of 2023, the United States is the top international consumer of Italian exports with an increase in consumption of 31.8% from 2022. Makeup alone is up 16% in terms of the amount that is exported and consumed by international markets.

“The Italian beauty industry is one of the most representative sectors of Made in Italy in the world. As a matter of fact, exports now account for 46% of the total turnover, twice the value of 20 years ago.” highlights Benedetto Lavino, President of Cosmetica Italia. According to Cosmetica Italia, "in 2023, the total turnover for the cosmetics industry in Italy exceeded 15.1 billion euro, a growth of 13.8% over 2022. Forecasts for 2024 are also positive, with turnover due to increase to 16.6 billion euro (+9.8% over 2023)."

Lucrezia Del Papa, co-founder and Head of Business Development at Olivella, emphasizes the immense importance of having the brand’s production 100% in Italy. In her words, “‘Made in Italy’ represents a commitment to excellence, a connection to a rich heritage of craftsmanship, and access to a wide range of natural resources. It allows brands to capitalize on Italy's reputation for quality and precision while reaping the benefits of the country's favorable geographical and environmental conditions.”

Chiara Cascella, CEO and founder of the Italian beauty brand espressOh, echoes this sentiment and adds that it is also “very important in terms of sustainability as in this way we manage to keep our carbon footprint minimal as products do not need to travel the world to get from where they are being produced to our warehouse.” This provides a unique advantage for Italian brands in particular as opposed to US brands that have products manufactured in Italy.

“‘Made in Italy’ represents a commitment to excellence, a connection to a rich heritage of craftsmanship, and access to a wide range of natural resources."
By Lucrezia Del Papa, co-founder + Head of Business Development, Olivella

While it seems relatively easy for US brands to capitalize on the benefits of having their cosmetic production done in Italy, there is seldom an equal level of reciprocity between Italian manufacturers and beauty brands themselves in terms of the type of advantages they receive. Del Papa notes that “unlike many American companies backed by substantial venture capital funding, Italian brands, often rooted in family traditions, face limitations in accessing capital for marketing initiatives. This financial disparity can make it challenging for Italian brands to compete with well-funded competitors in capturing consumer attention and penetrating the market effectively.” Cascella confirms that experience and says, “being a bootstrapped business, it is very hard to make investments in such a big market.”

Conversely, this doesn’t stop Italian brands from continuing to emphasize the strong characterization of “Made in Italy” within their marketing communication, as it still proves to be effective to American consumers in particular who are always searching for some element of “la dolce vita” to incorporate into their lives. This is most easily done through marketing campaigns on social media as international audiences tend to be drawn to the essence of Italian quality. For espressOh, Cascella explains that the brand focuses on emphasizing the “Made in Italy” aspect by drawing attention to “the quality of our ingredients and being transparent with our audience. We also emphasize that many of our products contain more milliliters of product than the industry standard (e.g., The ABC Concealer), which speaks to the intentional quality control we have with our labs. Being able to be in direct connection with our manufacturers on a more frequent basis and being able to visit in person is a huge benefit of being based in Italy and having the essence of a true Italian company. Another big thing that we try to focus on in the era of ‘clean’ beauty is that we abide by all of the EU regulations for our production, meaning that the ingredients within our products meet a very strict set of standards that don't exist in other countries, like the US, for example.”

Del Papa notes the success that Olivella has had in inviting international buyers to visit its family farm in the charming Italian countryside and claims it simultaneously positions the brand as one that “prioritizes customer well-being and environmental responsibility.”

Any opportunity that an Italian brand gets to connect with the US market—in particular an opportunity that will allow the “Made in Italy” label to shine through—helps to extend the knowledge and understanding of its significance to an international audience. Both Cascella and Del Papa recount the success of several IRL activations they have done in collaboration with American brands that have a tie in one way or another to Italian culture. Del Papa claims, “by bringing together the best of our organic olive oil and skincare products in settings that exude Italian-American heritage, we create memorable experiences that resonate with customers' desire for authenticity and connection to Italian excellence.”


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