How to find a shoe producer in Italy
You would think that after years of researching and working with shoe producers in Italy, it would now feel easy and natural to me, but it doesn’t.
Truth be told, production is never easy. No matter if you produce shoes in Italy, make fashion in China or swimwear in Australia. And don’t be fooled into thinking that the bigger and more experienced a company gets, the smoother it runs. Far from it. The bills you need to pay for production mistakes just get bigger.
Ok, I guess there are moments when it does feel easier. People understand what you want. They help you find solutions, you think you figured it out. Then you produce and BANG. Something happens that you absolutely didn’t see coming. Extra cost. Extra time you didn’t plan for. But I think by now I take some kind of comfort in knowing that we’re all in this boat together. It happens to everyone.
It’s always been a secret little dream of mine to create shoes. Here I am sharing my tried and tested ways of how to start a shoe brand. It’s been an interesting, definitely challenging but also extremely entertaining journey. I’m generally someone that loves to share everything I know with my people so one of these days now I thought — why not share how you can find a shoe producer in Italy.
First of all, it’s important that you determine what kind of shoe you want to produce. And by that I mean, do you want to produce ballet flats, classic moccasins, women’s boots, sneakers or jewelled sandals like we do. Secondly you have to decide what kind of quality level you want to achieve. Italy is spread out into several regions that are famous for it’s exquisite shoe-making. This is important to know because it helps you to understand how and where the best shoes and sandals are designed and produced.
Depending on the particular shoe style and the level of quality you want to achieve, you pick your region. Unfortunately if you are just starting out like I did, it’s never easy. Even if you find an amazing factory, you’ll often run into one of these problems: the required production quantities are either extremely high or the factory has no capacity anymore to take on a new brand. But as they say – it’s a numbers game. So keep going even if it seems difficult. No matter where you choose to produce in the end, I am sure you will love to discover how skilled artisans still use skills that have been passed through different generations. Often factories that once worked with Chanel & Co. are now run by the sons and daughters of the family and continue the beautiful family tradition.
Find a shoe producer in Italy
I would generally say that it’s easier to find a suitable shoe producer when you produce a straight-forward product. Men’s slippers, ballerina flats.. pretty much any factory can produce this kind. Aside from the type of shoe it also depends what kind of quality you want to achieve. I wasn’t quite that lucky because ROCCAPINA jewelled sandals are complicated to produce. We work with around 30 different suppliers to produce one of our sandals. More than 40 different steps are involved to create the finished product. The reason is that I wanted to embellish ROCCAPINA sandals the same way luxury brands do this. So we place single Swarovski crystal stones on genuine Italian leather. In reality this is a rather complicated process because brass settings do not easily stay on leather, especially when it is metallic leather like we use. In my case this meant, even if I was able to find a great factory willing to take us on, they weren’t in the business of producing sandals. Then I found a factory for sandals but the quality was too low.
Artisan craftsmanship from low quality to luxury shoemaking
In Europe and Italy we always speak about artisan craftsmanship. It’s important to understand that there are big differences in quality when it comes to shoe manufacturing. The same sandal we can produce for 25, 50, 120 or 160 EUR in Italy. All of these factories are artisan craftsmen. So once you know where you sit and what price level you want to achieve you can look at the regions. In Parabiago, near Milan, many luxury French brands produce their shoes. The level of work that is produced here is top level. The likes of Manolo Blahnik, Chanel and Hermes produce their shoes there. Of equal high-end quality are the shoes produced in the San Mauro Pascoli region. This is the top end of the scale. The finest materials and leathers are used here. These people know how to embellish shoes using delicate production methods. Brands like Christian Louboutin and Valentino produce here. In fact ROCCAPINA works with the same company that embellishes Louboutin shoes. Tuscany is another region I have experimented with. Tuscany is famous for it’s leather production. Brands like Gucci produce their small leather goods here. I have tested a producer here for our sandals but unfortunately the quality was not what I was looking for. And then you have the famous Marche region for example which offers a great deal of good quality factories at a mid-range level. The Marche region is also famous for luxury shoemaking. Unfortunately if you want to work with a good shoe producer here, you have to accept their high minium order quantities (MOQ’s).
PS. Here we provide quick and easy shoe designer business templates that help you save a ton of time and get started quickly.
Now let’s look at some of the options that exist to find a producer in Italy.
How to find a shoe producer in Italy
1. Extensive online research
These days you can find pretty much everything online. But when it comes to finding a producer in Italy you better brush up on your Italian language skills before you start searching. Milan might be the fashion metropole with international guests coming and going but when it comes to small shoe producers in Italy, chances are they only speak Italian. So I suggest you start taking some Italian lessons and attend a school or pick a great Italian online tutor. I have a wonderful teacher who lives and teaches in Florence and she makes learning Italian not just fun but also easy. If you need a name, email me! She offers private lessons on Skype. Fun, easy and affordable.
Then sit down and look for terms such as “azienda produzione scarpe parabiago”, depending on the region you are looking for. There are also footwear and leather industry magazines that might reveal information. I even emailed some kind of mayor of a small town once. When we got there he surprised us with a visit to a special workshop that the house of Chanel set up to educate their own shoemakers. This way they ensure they are trained really well and know what is expected when it comes to quality and craftsmanship of a Chanel shoe. Another time I contacted a leather association in Tuscany to ask for a suitable producer. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. (But be prepared to do it in Italian)
2. Work with a design studio
More established brands often work with local design studios. Even if they have a designer in-house, this is a great way to achieve the desired result. Italy has many of these design studios that focus on shoes, leather goods and bags. The downside to this option is, it costs more money. The upside, it is often easier for a brand, considering you are not always in Italy to ensure your production runs smoothly. The design studio can look after the prototyping, the material research, the pricing and of course choose your production facilities. Depending on the arrangement you have with this company they can also look after your quality assurance and production.
3. Attend courses in shoe-making in Italy
Probably the most common way to find a shoe producer in Italy is to study the art of shoemaking. You can do this by visiting one of the renowned faculties such as Ars Sutoria in Milan or Cercal in the Marche region. They offer both long-term and short-term courses in design and prototyping. By visiting one of these courses you not only get to learn the ins and outs of shoemaking but you are diving into this special, unique world. You learn about supplier relationships, about material research, and prototyping. But you also get to meet many factories. If you’re lucky you even attend some kind of internship where you work at a factory. This way you meet the right people and very likely find a shoe producer in Italy.
4. Visit an Italian trade fair
Trade fairs are facing challenging times. In a time where everything can be consumed digitally, visitor numbers are declining and companies are reducing travel spend for employees to attend fairs and shows globally. Even some of the largest fairs, like the watch fair in Basel had to reduce its exhibition space by one third. Though when it comes to Italy and shoemaking, some fairs are still worth the travel for shoe buyers and industry. So another way to scope out potential suppliers and find an Italian shoe factory is to visit an Italian industry fair. I have attended both, Lineapelle and Micam – both in Milan. Lineapelle offers great options for trend research, leather inspirations and to source shoe suppliers for parts of the shoes, like soles, heels or embellishments. You can find both Italian factories here and international suppliers. Micam on the other hand is a buyers fair predominantly. However it’s also an option to scope out partners since many Italian factories that design their own label, also produce private label or create designs for other shoe brands. Unfortunately many of the booths are closed as they don’t want competitors to see their new shoe designs. So it’s worthwile doing your research online before and setting up appointments with suitable companies.
We offer help researching suitable partners and consulting on how to take your first steps – help you work with Italian shoe factories or with private label shoe manufacturing in Italy. We work with an integrated studio Tecnio that has decades of experience in footwear and bag prototyping and manufacturing – for more information, send us an email
PS. We have put together a FAQ page “Shoes made in Italy” – please read this before emailing us : )
And here we provide quick and easy shoe designer business templates that help you save a ton of time and get started quickly.
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PS. Shop our Elegant Flat Sandals here