Made in Italy means what to you?
To me, it makes me think of a product made with years, if not generations, of craftsmanship, handed down through families that guarantees a quality mostly unmatched anywhere else in the world. To be honest, I think of a mature Italian person in an old workshop that has dust and magic in the corners, making something amazing.
So what is Conscious Luxury and why is it important. It begins with the question of, "Who made this? and who owns this brand" The idea of an old craftsperson making something is disappearing. That can't be you may say, I see hundreds, if not thousands of products with the prestigious Made in Italy stamp or sticker. So what gives?
Today, many arts, including the art of shoe making, are vanishing throughout Italy. Without a change in manufacturing due to a substantial change in consumer behavior, it will possibly vanish within the next generation. For example, in Porto Sant'Elpidio, in 1980 there were over 100 small family shoe factories and today there are less than 15.
Our quest to find the best Italian small family shoemakers began in Italy when we stumbled across a problem. One we did not expect to find.
A factory we serendipitously came across in our first search for the best old world factories… The two main shoemakers, husband and wife, had a lovely daughter in her thirties who translated for us. Her English is leagues ahead of our Italian. Excited to be in a place of old world craftsmanship and heritage passed down from generation to generation, I ask the thirty-something daughter what she does in the shop…
“I don’t work in the shoe factory.”
”….why?” (It had started as a simple conversation.)
“It is no longer fashionable to be a shoe maker…”
I laughed half-heartedly. “Really?” She said “Yes, well, I guess it is more than that… You can’t make a living as a shoemaker any longer, you can’t support yourself, make any money, so my parents say, do something else, anything else.”
My brain and heart were trying to catch up. Why? We still buy many “Made in Italy” items in America, and pay dearly for them…
Now after months of working with a handful of the world’s best shoe craftspeople in Marche, Italia, we are beginning to understand.
Thirty years ago or so, one of the main shoe making regions of Italy, Marche, was bustling with small family-owned shoe factories with between five and twenty craftspeople in each. Great Italian designers and designers from other parts of the world would dole out certain style of shoes to each factory, season by season. The small family factories would make the amazing designer shoes we see in the United States and across the world as the “top of the line” of design and quality craftsmanship, only achieved by generations of experience, passed down parent to child over a period of years. Then slowly, not too many decades ago, the fashion world began to change. Not all, but many of the worlds most renowned designers began to sell their companies. Whether it was for financial strain or retirement, the fashion world began to lose a key ingredient. While some great Italian fashion houses are still Italian owned today, many are owned by a small number of conglomerates,that focus on quarterly earnings, not the longevity of an art.
So began the squeeze on the small family shoe factories. They were forced to take less and less for the same quality shoe, while consumers paid more and more for the same product. Then the cost savings became even more creative. Today, there are a handful of Italian and European design houses that still respectfully work with a few lucky small factories. But this is not the majority.
In some cases high end companies are producing shoes in other countries, such as Romania, and Made in Italy means made elsewhere for less and "finished" in Italy.
For other companies it means made in Italy by imported workers for very minimal wages.
For even other companies it means made in Italy in a big factory full of experienced Italian artisans who were formally entrepreneurs, but could not afford to keep their family
factories open with the downward price pressure. And many times, it means that the majority of the final price you pay for shoes goes to overhead, marketing budgets and profits for companies and share holders outside of Italy. While Italian made products command the some of the highest prices, ironically the lion's share of the profits are never reaching Italy to sustain and improve the shoe industry and Italian economy.
Our goal is to do our small part to change the model for our partners and customers.
We created our seasonal collection to build a model that aligns the value we place
on luxury Italian shoes with the craftsmanship that goes into creating the product.
We do this by increasing the amount that the family shoe factories are paid for each
pair in our collection and lowering the markup. We are effectively redistributing the
price of each shoe to compensate the small family factories in a way that allows
them to stay in business and flourish instead of struggling. We found that our
dream of working with small family factories to create custom and bespoke shoes
would be nearly impossible if most of the families were unable to sustain their
businesses for much longer. If we can help in some small way to sustain this
important family heritage of craftsmanship, along with our customers who care
about who they are buying from, we can all share the joy of creating something
Join us in asking, Who made my shoes or clothes. Become conscious of the important responsibility we as consumers have in how we buy. Does the brand support sustainable practices to ensure quality craftsmanship and art to remain something future generations of Italians can take part in. Because at the end of the day, I want the idea of a mature Italian person in an old workshop that has dust and magic in the corners, making something amazing to remain in my lifetime and be something my children can enjoy.