My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
Shanghai continually presents itself as a city of opportunity; where a passion can lead to a new career that delivers immense success. This story is undoubtedly true for Isabella Castelli. While initially a lawyer in Milan, a move to Shanghai allowed her entrepreneurial spirit to shine. After frequently receiving compliments on her choice of footwear, Isabella had an idea; develop direct partnerships with the artisans in Italy and launch the Isa Castelli brand of shoes and bags in Shanghai. As her business continues to grow, each season brings new designs that will entice us to go back for just ‘one’ more.
What is your career background, was it always design?
On the contrary, I have a completely different background. I am originally from Milan, Italy and I graduated in Law. After my graduation, I passed the bar exam and became a lawyer in Milan, where I worked for 10 years.
When did you launch Isa Castelli and what was the inspiration?
In 2010 I moved to Shanghai with my husband and young daughter. Our second daughter was born in 2011, so I spent the first few years concentrating on motherhood. I also studied Mandarin at Donghua University. I have always been passionate about fashion, and in 2016 I decided to launch my own business in this exciting industry. At first, I imported sandals from an artisan we knew back in Italy, and later I expanded into shoes and bags.
What influences your designs and what’s new for the upcoming season?
Current fashion trends influence my designs, along with a general sense of style that I feel comes naturally to me. While we have classic pieces, I do bring something new to every season. The inspiration comes from visiting Milan and the attending the seasonal fashion shows. I am excited about launching a sneaker range in the upcoming season, so stay tuned for that!
You deal with many artisans from Italy to produce your product lines, can you tell me how you manage these relationships?
All Isa Castelli products are 100 percent made in Italy, so all factories are from my country. I visit them twice a year to arrange the new collections; once in winter and once in summer. During these trips, I choose styles, materials and determine all the details with our partner factories.
You have two young daughters, does running your own business provide the flexibility you need to balance work and home?
Indeed, it is not easy balancing a new business with the complexities of two growing daughters. Thanks to my husband and the support he provides, I can successfully manage being the mother I desire, with the business side of my life.
What does your family do to relax in Shanghai; how do you take time out?
Having a showroom means I need to be available for my clients all the time, which includes weekends. But, I always find the time I need to be with my family too.
Who do you turn to for business advice, and what are the best words of wisdom you’ve received?
My husband also has a business of his own, so we share advice, and he provides the logistics support I need for Isa Castelli. The best guidance I have received is, “Grow the business one step at a time and build a solid foundation,” which is what we are doing now.
Can you tell me about your showroom and how our Urban Family community can purchase your products.
Yes, I recently opened a showroom at 228 Anfu Lu; a very well-known location for the expat community. It’s opposite Baker & Spice. The best way to purchase our products is by making an appointment via WeChat (scan the code below). You can then arrange bespoke service that’s difficult to find in a regular shop. We recently launched our Isa Castelli website where our sandals can be purchased and shipped worldwide.
For more My Shanghai series, click here.