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Story #26Peter NappiNashville, TN

Keep it simple. Follow your dreams. Don’t go in debt. Don’t put your family at risk.

The story of Peter Nappi, the Nashville-based premium leather footwear company, is a story about family. The first chapter was written in 1904, when an immigrant from southern Italy came to America in pursuit of a new life. His name was Peter Nappi, and he brought with him a family tradition of shoemaking that dated back more than a century. His grandson, Phillip Nappi, who founded the brand more than a hundred years later, never knew his grandfather. In fact, growing up in Mississippi, Phillip never even knew he came from a family of shoemakers. The family trade was simply in his blood.

“For me, it started a long time ago,” recalled Nappi during a recent Nashville entrepreneurs’ forum. “When I was in college, I started working in shoe stores, and for some reason I was drawn to that. After college, I got involved with another business, but I never stopped thinking about footwear. In 2008, we got out of the business we were in and decided we wanted to make that dream a reality.”

Because of his Italian heritage, Nappi knew he wanted to learn shoemaking by returning to his roots. So with the support of his wife, the family moved to Florence, where he learned the craft. It was during that time that his wife, Dana, started looking into Phillip’s family history. When she learned that Phillip’s grandfather, Peter – who he had never even met – had himself been a shoemaker, a brand was born. The couple returned to Nashville in 2011 and launched the Peter Nappi brand.

Located in a former meatpacking plant in the historic industrial area of Nashville, everything about the Peter Nappi experience bleeds authenticity, character, and an acute devotion to timeless style. The space serves as both a design studio and retail space. The attention to detail and thoughtfully casual aesthetic have made Peter Nappi a favorite among Nashville locals and style conscious shoppers from around the globe.

While over 80 percent of sales currently come from the retail space, Phillip and Dana Nappi have big plans for 2015. Continued growth provides good reason to be optimistic, and plans are in the works for an expansion that would capitalize on wholesale opportunities. While the family legacy of Peter Nappi dates back more than a hundred years, there are still many more chapters yet to be written.

Photos by Ed Kashi

  • The entrance to Peter Nappi, an Italian styled shoemaker and leather goods emporium in Nashville, Tenn.

  • An employee takes the shoe inventory for the day.

  • The studio attracts Nashville’s most fashion-conscious customers, and draws significant out-of-town interest as well.

  • Shoes on display inside Peter Nappi, the Nashville-based premium leather footwear company.

  • A customer evaluates the potential in a pair of Peter Nappi boots.

  • Customers trying on shoes inside the Phillip Nappi store. The studio is located in the Germantown district of Nashville, Tenn.

  • Shoes designed by Phillip Nappi for the brand Peter Nappi. Phillip and his wife Dana founded Peter Nappi in 2011, naming it after Phillip’s grandfather.

  • Phillip Nappi at work inside his design studio.

  • Phillip Nappi works on the tongue of one of the boots he’s designed. Designed in Nashville and handmade in Tuscany, Peter Nappi premium leather footwear and goods are a “distinctive blend of Italian heritage and American personality.”

  • Phillip Nappi has always been interested in shoes, but when he moved to Italy to study the craft, he discovered that it was truly in his blood. While Phillip was studying, his wife Dana looked into the Nappi family history. She traced her husband’s lineage back to Phillip’s grandfather, Peter Nappi, who had immigrated to the United States, listing his occupation as “shoemaker.”

  • Phillip Nappi, center, discusses an order with staff. Phillip grew up in Mississippi, and it wasn’t until he began to pursue his passion that he discovered the history of his family trade.

  • Phillip and Dana Nappi, founders of Peter Nappi, the premium leather footwear company based in Nashville, Tenn.

Q & A

After trying on a few pair of beautiful shoes ourselves, we sat down with Phillip to talk shop.

Can you describe to me what you make and what you sell?

Well, we make Italian footwear, but what we’re offering is an experience. It goes beyond the product that we’re offering. It’s an experience of us being accessible, being approachable. We have a saying here – an Italian saying – it’s called “Ti voglio bene.” The literal translation is that, I want you to be well. It’s a form of saying, “I love you,” but more of a brotherly love. And that’s what we’re offering is that experience, and that feeling.

What is the biggest challenge being a small business owner?

Managing the growth is the biggest challenge in a small business. Because every day is different. Every day there’s new experiences, new systems, new technology, new things that you uncover that you didn’t know and you’ve got to figure out how to staff and put the resources to it.

 Can you ever go back to not being a business owner?

No, I cannot ever go back to not being a business owner. My grandfather was; my father was. I’ve dabbled in and out of businesses since I was 20 years old. I don’t think I’m a very good employee.

 And what’s your dream personally? And for the business?

The dream personally is to have peace [laughs]. The dream for the business is to be a household name for footwear in the U.S.

 Do you have a personal philosophy you bring to the business?

You get busy with the business, and next thing you know you turn around two or three years later and you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” And so we’ve been taking a step back in the last six months and saying, all right, “why are we doing it?” Because money’s not going to make you happy. Following your passions and your dreams and giving are [going to make you happy]. And so the other word that we’ve been working on and tying into the brand is “serving.” You know, we serve the people that work with us on our team. We serve our vendors, we serve our clients. We serve our community. And I think that’s the mentality that we have to keep if we’re going to be successful.

What’s your advice to someone who might be thinking of starting their own business?

Keep it simple. Follow your dreams. Don’t go in debt. Don’t put your family at risk.

Business Details

Proprietor: Phillip Nappi
1308 Adams St. Nashville, TN 37208
PH: 615-248-331 / Website
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