Italy’s Shoe-Making History
Riccardo Freccia Bestetti Shoes
Today, elegantly designed Italian shoes are often associated with metropolitan areas like Milan and Naples. However, the country’s historical shoe-making hub is firmly rooted in the Fermo-Macerata district in Sant’Elpidio a Mare towards the east.
For many centuries, Italy’s approach to shoe-making was considerably more rustic. While England’s Northamptonshire was a growing industrial centre, most Italian shoes were made by local village craftsmen.
Historically, Fermo towns such as Sant’Elpidio a Mare, Monte San Giusto, Montegranaro, and Monte Urano, were domestically reputed for their “ciocie” slippers.
Meanwhile, leather tanning was and is still currently a major activity in Italy. With easy access to affordable goat, pork and horse leather, these were particularly affordable choices for the domestic market.
Although popular during the 1700s, the modern shoe as we recognise it today started to emerge during the turn of the 19th Century. With evolving tastes, the horse leather ciocia faded into obscurity in favour of full leather shoes.
Nevertheless, Italian shoe-making remained a relatively rural and domestic craft that didn’t gain its international recognition until the following century.
Italian Shoes In The 20th Century
Enzo Bonafè Factory
By the end of the First World War, Italian shoes began to garner their contemporary reputation. This was largely thanks to pioneers like Salvatore Ferragamo and Guccio Gucci who travelled to the USA to make their craft known to the American market.
Over time, Italian shoes grew in demand and became recognised as an expression of quality craftsmanship. Consequently, a great number of humble Italian manufacturers evolved into the designer brands that we recognise today.
However, it wasn’t until following the Second World War that Italian shoe-making became an accessible commodity. With young men returning from war and abandoning their agricultural background in favour of the city, a workforce began to establish that allowed for industrialisation.
Edhèn Milano Workshop
Consequently, the Italian shoe-making industry flourished and many shoemakers began turning to more industrialised processes. What began as small family-run workshops grew into larger factories with Goodyear and Blake machinery.
That said, the shoe-making districts were originally organised somewhat differently to England and France.
Instead of brands making entire shoes in a single factory, some complex processes were outsourced to specialising workshops. In the 1970s, the result was often a network of firms in close proximity that formed a complex supply chain.
Nevertheless, the pride of the Italian shoemaker should not be overlooked. Despite the temptation for fast growth, the heritage brands retained their loyalty to their roots by only crafting quality shoes.
In order to protect the industry from international outsourcing, the Italian government introduced strict certification. By 2009, the system IT01 ensured that only products totally made in the country could be labelled as made in Italy.
Today’s Italian Shoe-Making Industry
Stefano Bemer Wooden Lasts
Today, Italy is the leading shoe manufacturing country in the European Union and the tenth worldwide. In terms of value for leather shoes, it is second only to China.
In 2018, the Italian shoe-making industry consists of approximately 4,500 companies, which employ over 75,000 people. Meanwhile, the country produces a yearly turnover of around 14.3 billion euros.
However, the majority of this impressive number companies produce footwear for international designer brands while only 3% are headquartered in Italy.
Spread over 23 provinces, there is no central hub like the United Kingdom. Instead, factories are scattered across the Marches, Tuscandy, Lombardy as well as a number of others.
Nevertheless, modern day Italy has a much greater concentration in the north of the country. As for the historical Fermo-Macerata district today, it represents a comparatively small amount of production with a greater emphasis on quality over volume.
In recent years, the Italian shoe-making industry has experienced only a slight yearly growth of 0.7%. Similarly, a disproportionately high number of business were forced to close in 2015. Given that 85% of Italian production is exported, there have been growing concerns of the market stagnation.
Fortunately, the impending crisis has largely resulted in a greater focus on quality and an investment in innovation in order to overcome the challenges ahead.
Why Buy Italian Shoes?
Hand-stitched Ferragamo Sole
Overall, Italy’s reputation for elegant yet high-quality shoes is well-earned. Indeed, the country produces a plethora of shoes, which aren’t all of equal quality. Nevertheless, the brands that stand out from the crowd do so for good reason.
Italian shoes have developed their own unique identity over the years with the design standing notably at the forefront. Compared to either British or French footwear, Italian shoes have their own distinctiveness that can be almost immediately identified.
While some brands have curbed this eccentricity for more formal and accessible styles, they still re