Alumni-Owned Happiness Brand Collabs With Retailers To Improve Digital Experience
Michael Scarpellini moved to LA from Italy and met his wife Eiman Hamza in 2006 while they were both students at FIDM—he in Merchandise Product Development and she in Merchandising & Marketing. A year after graduation, they started a company together from their apartment in Hollywood. Happiness Brand is now headquartered in Emilia Romagna, the region in Italy most affected by COVID-19. We caught up with Michael to learn more about his company and how he’s staying inspired during this challenging time.
Where are you based in Italy? I am originally from Rimini, a city 50 miles from Bologna and 150 miles from Milan. Our company headquarters are in Emilia Romagna the region which is the most affected by COVID-19 which has several cases and one of the strictest lockdowns in place. Just think that since the beginning of March we had police blocks to stop people walking in parks, beaches and generally going out without a legal permit.
What is the mood and the spirit in Italy right now? The feeling is truly a mix between let's make the best out of this time, with the deep inside feeling of the unknown future which sometimes comes up in our thoughts.
This fear is mainly for entrepreneurs and business owners, not because I am one of them, but really because none of us was ready for this and we truly don't know how to manage the monthly heavy costs and activate the full complicated fashion industry process.
Tell us more about your brand, Happiness: We started the brand in 2007 fresh off the last year of FIDM. My wife Eiman (also a student at FIDM) and I decided to start our t-shirt collection from our small apartment in Hollywood.
Initially we were selling tees for $10 to friends and family members, until we decided to take this idea to the real world of fashion and presenting our collection during Milan Fashion Week in 2008. Since then has been growing from a single product line to a full collection for the whole family.
Our core business is wholesale and our bestsellers are now our Happiness logo sweatpants.
We have a strong community of more than 500 small retailers that daily are improving their digital experience and collaborating with us. We support them by giving them as much as we can, fulfilling reorders for them, drop shipping and giving them space on our Instagram account to promote their stores.
What are you doing to stay inspired during these challenging times? I wake up very early around 3:00 a.m. New York time and connect with our team in Japan and then Europe. I am truly working on an international time schedule —3:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. New York time which includes most countries that we operate in.
Seriously every employee is safe, between roles still in need, unemployment checks, workers insurance—everyone is safe even without a job for at least one year from now. So, I really don't spend too much time talking about that and ensuring them regarding this topic.
I spend time understanding their needs and figuring out the best way for our brand, Happiness, to be relevant in these times. I am truly inspired, and all the creative team managed by my wife, Eiman, is inspired as well. How can't you be inspired in these times? You have the time and tons of feelings, meaning you truly can be creating and not just solving problems.
How are you showing up for your community, your career, and yourself right now? We collaborated with the Red Cross, giving one of our shipping trucks for food delivery to the elderly and we have connected our e-shop to a couple of fundraising platforms to help the communities.
We are always trying to do our best for the people that we work with and our community. We do a lot and we never really promote it just because we would do things even without a brand, helping is part of who we are in our business and outside.
Tell us your industry story--your path to FIDM, and some of the highlights of your career so far? I was a student in Milan at IULM (Public Relations and Advertising) when I decided to join an exchange program at UCSD in San Diego. I was 19 and the only thing I knew is that I wanted to make something more practical and doable out of my studies, so after I finished my degree at IULM I was looking for something that could activate my needs and I found out about FIDM.
Since then I moved to Los Angeles and I started my evolution into the person I am today thanks to this decision. Sounds like I am saying because this is a FIDM interview, but truly FIDM gave me a clear focus on my career, a great experience in one of the best cities in the world and a family (I met Eiman at FIDM).
I understand you are starting an online fashion course. Can you tell us more about that? One year ago, I met this young entrepreneur (Tommaso Tosi) in London who was telling me about his experience in online courses. I knew about MasterClass and I had just finished my Corporate Finance course at NYU and happen to be one of those clicks. I am always open to listen because my best projects and deals happen in the most random environments, never at formal meetings. I mean you need formal meetings but usually things don't start that way for me. So, I decided to join this project called Titans Academy, and be one of the first ambassadors for my origin country, Italy. Since then it has been a lot of learning and the project will soon be international. Nothing to do with ''competing'' with schools, but mainly a lot to do with don't waste your time at home; if you have a minute, choose to spend time learning and listening from various people that did something in their life to get inspired and to always think outside the box listening to ''Titans'' in industries different from yours.
What is one of your favorite memories of your FIDM experience? I remember in my patternmaking class with Nick Verreos going up to him and telling him, ''My grandmother has been sewing since she was six years old, I’m sure I’ll do good,'' and a week later failing the class. I learned an important lesson that I am still applying to today’s hiring process, never trust people that were in the room, always trust people based on what they have done for real.
What are you most looking forward to once the pandemic is over? I am looking forward to sending my son back to school. Seriously homeschooling your child while you need to get things done is wild. Eiman is amazing in that, but that means that for me it's more work because being amazing at that means putting 100% effort and it takes both parents.
Besides school, I am looking forward to living every day to the max and to enjoy nature and the freedom of walking and running without taking things for granted.
Keep up with Michael Scarpellini, Eiman Hamza, and Happiness Brand on Instagram @michaelscarpellini @eimanhamza @happinessbrand.