September 15, 2017 2 Comments

Phillip Nappi, co-owner of Peter Nappi, was inspired by his family and heritage to create authentic, timeless Italian shoes with character and flair.  Together with his wife and partner, he has opened two store fronts, a Studio and a shop in Nashville, TN, and an online store showcasing their hand-crafted products.


How did you end up in the shoe business?

Actually, I had always thought I would try to get into the restaurant business, because that’s what my dad did. He was this 5’5 Italian guy, very reminiscent of the ratpack era. He owned restaurants and bars and wore a suit every day and played golf at the Italian country club...there were always a lot of Cadillacs around.

So when I knew I was ready to start my own business, I was looking in the paper and I remember I saw Atlanta Bread Company was being advertised, but right underneath it said:

Garbage Company For Sale
Two 1980-1984 Model Trucks,
42 dumpsters: $75000.



I showed up, talked to them, he told me what it entailed and I said, “I want to buy it.” The owner was like, “You don’t know anything about this business” and I said, “I’ll figure it out.”  He said, “You go home and think about it for two weeks, and if you still want it at the end of two weeks I’ll sell it to you.” Two weeks went by and I told him I wanted to buy it and he sold it to me and took me out, showed me how to drive the truck, and showed me where all the dumpsters were. Waste Management owned all of the landfills at that time, and I thought there’s got to be a better way to do this. So we started recycling, just doing it rogue in my little front yard.

But the whole time running the recycling business, I was always thinking about boots and shoes. 

I wore boots every day to work and all my guys wore boots every day. I was getting them to wear boots, beat them up, bury them in water or in the dirt. I just had this visual of this distressed, beat up but still dependable boot. Then this idea just kind of evolved, everything became a lot more visual for me about what I wanted it to look like.

In 2008, Waste Management called and wanted to buy the company. When we sold the company, it was a blessing and a curse because I knew I could go do anything now, but also who am I? I just sold my business, that was really who I was. But I still knew I really want to learn how to make shoes, so we went to Italy to try to find somebody to teach me.  We thought, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll come back.” But as soon as we got there, doors started opening. First we met somebody who owned a bunch of tanneries, and then met somebody who made shoes and met somebody that was willing to work with me and things just started clicking. I also started researching things about my grandfather and completely uncovered all this information that my family had been making shoes for generations - we traced it as far back as the 1850s. My grandfather immigrated to the US in 1904, made shoes in New York and then moved to Ohio where he and his brother made shoes for decades. I had no idea. It was a shock, it was a surprise. It was also a little bit like, “Okay, we really have to do this now.” 


What was the most difficult part in starting Peter Nappi?

I have to say of all the things I’ve been through, these last eight years have probably been the hardest years of my life. It had a lot to do with trying to rediscover myself, and getting into an industry that we knew nothing about. There’s a fickleness about [the fashion industry]; when I was making a little money in the garbage business, I used to wear Prada shoes and Ferragamo. We would go to New York and go in those stores, and it was so awful!  Everyone looks at you like you’ll steal something, and it didn’t feel good. So when we started working on this brand I knew it’s wouldn’t ever be that way. You know, come in, have a beer, or bourbon, or cappuccino. Sit down and hang out!

We got accepted by most in the beginning, but it just wasn’t right, it just didn’t feel right and we struggled with that. I hate the idea of fashion. I don’t like that superficiality of it, the shallowness of it. To be accepted because of what you’re wearing? That should have nothing to do with it. It should be who you are as a person. What values you represent, what’s important to you. I want to be here, to be in my workshop with the leather, working with it, cutting it, sewing it and creating something. I just really want to be a shoemaker. But when you’re looking so long at your product, you start to think you need to change. You need to evolve. As soon as we thought that, we lost a little bit of who we were.

After struggling with that, and hiring a lot of team members that just didn’t work out, and making some bad decisions, we just got over all the crap. We’re just gonna do what we do. Peter Nappi was our vision, our idea; everything was from our heart and from our passion. I started listening to my intuition.  I have a history of being so optimistic, thinking that if I can work hard enough I can figure it out.  I never want to let anybody down so I just keep trying. I’ve probably made some decisions (well, I know I have) because I didn’t want to say “No”. Even when I knew in my gut, “This is not a good fit, this is not gonna work,” I would say yes, but sure enough it wasn’t a good fit. I’ve definitely learned how to say, “No”.



What values do you carry, from your parents or others, that shape your business?

One of the blessings I have is persistence. When I was starting the recycling business, we grew too fast and I had no money. I was on the struggle bus, just trying to make payroll and not paying myself. At one point my attorney said I should file for bankruptcy, but I just wasn’t gonna do it. It was quitting, and I wasn’t going to quit. This is when I met Dana; I think it was like one of our first dates, and I'm sitting at a table with her and I was like I don’t know really what I'm gonna do. This is what I'm up against. I was just being honest with her, and she looked across at me and said, “You’re gonna make it. Something about you tells me you’re gonna make it.” So then I sold my house and I moved into an apartment, and slowly but surely we started climbing out of it.

I think I got that persistence from my childhood. When I was 10, my Dad passed away pretty suddenly of a heart attack. He was young, only 56. Then my Mom for some unknown reason decided she wanted to move back to Mississippi, and about 8 months after we got there and 16 months after my Dad died my Mom passed away. I was always the underdog and I would always fight for things. If I was going to be successful, then I was going to have to fight for it.

I believe in looking on the bright side of things, too. People still sometimes say, “I’m so sorry that you lost your parents,” and I think, “Don’t be sorry for me.” There’s a lot of people whose parents are still alive who didn’t have what I had. Even in such a brief time, they were awesome. I just focus on knowing that they were amazing people. My parents took me all over; they always let me do my thing, but I always had to be respectful, to take the high road, and to never feel embarrassed. They both had a great sense of humor too. Their life was just very simple, they had fun and enjoyed friends and family and they didn’t get caught up in the race.

At the recycling company we used this saying; “It serves us to serve you.” We had it on all of our trucks. We were gonna outwork and out-serve everybody. The same thing goes on here, we just want to make people happy.  

With all of this though, my most important job is raising my daughter. You know, how can I be a benefit to the world? By making a good citizen. That’s the best thing I can do, the best thing I can offer, not how much money I can make. I need to take care of her, and I need to be a good husband, which means being humble. Sometimes.


2 Responses


September 27, 2018

Live in Louisville KY but from TN. Absolutely love your story, shoes/belts etc., store front, people you hire, and building in general! Would love a condo living space like that! But the product you make….just spactacular.

James Burke
James Burke

January 04, 2018

I’m sure glad you stuck with it Phillip! Single best product my wife and I have come across in YEARS. And now, we’re addicted. And what a staff in Kaitlin and Overton – finally made it to Nashville to tour the studio after Christmas! Thank you x1000

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