Summarizing the history of Italian fabric brand Fortuny is difficult in the space of a short article, or even an hourlong podcast. A tale that begins with a brilliant 19th century inventor and winds its way through world wars, counts and countesses, and tragic car crashes on the Triborough Bridge, it’s a subject probably best suited to an epic historical novel—or at least a Netflix series. But suffice it to say, after a very dramatic 70 years in business, in the 1990s the company found itself in the hands of two twentysomething brothers—Mickey and Maury Riad—who had never run a business and had never made fabric.
“Being so young and naive was really something that helped us,” Mickey tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “We didn’t come in with preconceived notions about how it was supposed to be. We just came in, saw a situation that was like, ‘OK, this doesn’t work. How can we make it work?’”
When the Riads took over Fortuny, it was in rough shape. Their turnaround plan was less an act of radical reinvention, more of a thorough tidying up. Before, communication around orders had been hopelessly slow and clunky. Inventory records were kept on paper only. One of the earliest big changes the Riads made was simply buying the company a computer.
But the brothers have been careful not to modernize Fortuny too much, lest it lose its old-school charm. The company’s fabrics are still produced out of the same location it has run for decades, a small factory on an island, Giudecca, adjacent to Venice. Their goal in a nutshell: Preserve the product; modernize the business around it. “We understood you have to wait for things to be made by hand,” says Mickey. “There’s that element of things that can’t be skipped over. But there’s no reason why somebody should have to wait to check stock or wait to get a cutting for approval.”
“Modernizing an old-school business” is an idea the brothers have pursued outside of Fortuny. In 2018, Maury spearheaded the launch of a startup called Fuigo, both a co-working space in Manhattan and a digital project management tool for designers. Though both made waves in the industry, the space shuttered in 2019, and the software wound down shortly after.
Maury attributes the dissolution of Fuigo to a variety of factors, ranging from tough conditions for commercial renters in New York to a failure to secure more investors. But despite the startup’s fate, he’s adamant that the opportunity—uniting designers and vendors in an easily transactable platform—remains a lucrative one.
“The company that does figure this out is going to create an unbelievable amount of shareholder value and be a beacon for our entire industry,” he says. “There are so many incredible mills and makers and artisans all over the world that have incredibly valuable products that I believe can be commercialized to great success, but they don’t have an avenue for distribution. … There’s still a big gaping hole in our industry around standardizing data and centralizing it in one place. If we can do that as an industry, we can shed a lot of our back-office problems, and we can be an industry that’s really focused on the art.”
Homepage image: Maury and Mickey Riad | Courtesy of Fortuny