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Lessons Learned In a Shoe Factory

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I just came back from my very first trip to shoe factories in Italy. I’ve been to many different types of factories over the years- most of them highly automated and pushing the envelope for cutting-edge technology and maximizing throughput. And then… there’s Italian footwear production.

 Here are the lessons I learned on this incredibly inspirational trip. Italian footwear is:

  • Produced the slow way: methodically, by hand, and cannot be rushed
  • A highly complex and technical craft that requires deep skill and knowhow
  • A business built on a legacy of pride and passion passed from generation to generation

Italian footwear manufacturing takes tremendous talent, artisanship, and passion to make something that is truly beautiful- a piece of art that also functions. This is slow, methodical, and exacting work that produces the perfect leather heel, detailed workmanship, the shoe molded to exacting specifications. Check out this Jimmy Choo beauty:

 

Here’s the factory that produced the Valentino rock stud shoes. These are the shoe “uppers”:

 

 Here the shoes are finished and waiting to be boxed:

 

 Insoles (the interior bottom of the shoe) are being applied by hand:

 

Everyone wears a coat, like a doctor or a lab technician. In one of the factories I visited, the “modelist”, essentially, the “doctor” of shoes in his white lab coat, was working with me to determine if what I wanted to develop was technically possible. The “modelist” clearly has years of training and an understanding of a highly technical and complex craft.    

I met one factory owner in Naples that gleamed with pride talking about how his grandfather starting the business nearly 100 years ago, and how his son, the fourth generation, is apprenticing and will take over the family business. In another factory, in a highly populated area of Naples, the grandfather is still working every day in the factory that he built.

 

I finally discovered what I was searching for… the perfect shoes, the very best quality, made by passionate craftspeople that create something beautiful with their heart and soul. Footwear is my passion, and I feel so fortunate to have met and learned from these amazing artisans who will put their heart and soul into making the very best, distinctive footwear for Bells and Becks.

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