Italian luxury sunglass maker eyes opening up to outside investors

MILAN - Italia Independent, a maker of colourful fashion sunglasses co-founded by former Fiat brand manager Lapo Elkann, is considering opening up to outside investors in 2013 as it targets foreign markets, its chief executive said.

The Turin-based 'lifestyle' company also known for its denim-clad Smeg fridges and Gucci-branded Fiat 500 models is a small but growing player in a luxury eyewear market dominated by Italy's Luxottica.



Italia Independent expects revenues of 18 million euros ($24 million) in 2013, up six-fold since 2010.

"I am tired of negotiating debts with banks and getting peanuts. There are alternative ways to attract investments that can help companies come out of the credit crisis," Chief Executive Andrea Tessitore told Reuters in an interview.

Tessitore, who gave up a career as a lawyer in New York to launch Italia Independent with long-time friend Elkann and other partners in 2007, said he was considering listing a minority stake on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) reserved for small businesses.

He said he had also been approached by private equity funds.

Italian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Italy's economy, but they have seen bank funding dry up amid the euro zone debt crisis, which has also weighed on stock markets and discouraged initial share offerings.

Stock exchange groups are therefore trying to attract cash-stricken businesses to alternative platforms.

AIM is the London Stock Exchange Group's platform for smaller, growing companies. Since its launch in 1995, over 3,000 companies have raised more than £60 billion of capital on AIM.

Tessitore said Italy's private sector, with many family-owned companies, should embrace a culture of growth over ownership control.

"We need to be bold but not only when we create fashion," Tessitore said.

Italia Independent, known for its "I-I" logo, made a splash in 2007 by launching hand-made sunglasses in carbon fibre at a whopping retail price of around 1,000 euros a pair.

The company, owned by a holding group which also includes advertising agency Independent Ideas, is now offering sunglasses for a retail price of around 150 euros.

Models come in innovative colours and materials, including a special thermo-sensitive technique that turns dark frames into camouflage prints when you walk in the sun.

The company is seeking to expand in Europe, the U.S. and Asia.

Accessories including sunglasses, shoes and bags are the fastest-growing category in the luxury industry as they are often more affordable than clothes. They also offer companies higher margins than clothes.

Tessitore said he expected pre-tax profits to grow by almost a third to 1.7 million euros next year. ($1 = 0.7628 euros)

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