If you’re familiar with re-souL, you’re probably aware of our shoe collections, many of which are specialty handmade products that we’ve imported. We are often asked about how this happens and while it is not as glamorous as you might imagine, we do travel to Italy twice each year, working to select the products that we feature in the shop. This post is the fourth in a five part series in which we’ll try to describe our trip, the places we go and the people with which we do business. (If you haven’t read the first three parts in the ‘re-souL in Italy’ series, you can catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Friday we awoke to another beautiful day in Civitanova Marche. It was windy on the coast but we were grateful for more sunshine. First on the day’s agenda was a much anticipated visit to Calzaturificio Ormeda. Ormeda is the factory which produces Fiorentini + Baker, easily one of our most popular product lines. We took a quick peek at the Ancona coast before we started our drive, taking the SS77 to Montegranaro, then heading up the hill to Monte San Giusto.
While the town of Monte San Giusto is geographically quite small, there was an awful lot going on. Much of the industry is apparel-based and we noticed manufacturing facilities nestled between the residential and the commercial districts. They almost seemed to overlap. We had anticipated Ormeda to be a large, modern, high volume facility and we were pleasantly surprised to find an inconspicuous, humble entrance to an office and small showroom. There we were greeted by Sonia, who serves as the production manager for the factory.
There were the customary greetings and we enjoyed “catching up” with Sonia. While we have sold the Fiorentini + Baker product for 9 years, we have always met with other members of the Fiorentini + Baker team. Though we have always had communications with Sonia, this is the first time we have actually met her. She is pleased to finally meet with us and was happy that we have come to the factory to see the production with our own eyes.
After our greetings, Sonia walked us through the hallway and on to the factory floor. First we saw the supplies of raw materials, leathers and such. These were basically organized on one side of the room and on the other side was the production line and workstations. It was obvious to us that the manufacturing has a clear beginning, middle and end. The production line is efficiently laid out within the confines of the relatively small space.
At its peak, the factory employs 24 people and can actually produce up to 300 pairs of shoes in a day. However at the time of our visit, they were between seasons and there were only a handful of workers. This made it easy for us to get up close to the production line without being in the way. We saw firsthand that the factory was producing “to order” products. There were several groups of roughly a dozen pairs of boots in various stages of production. Each group was the same style and the same color and it was obvious each batch is individually produced. Sonia explained that the individuals working on the line represented the senior production staff. They were clearly skilled in all aspects of shoe manufacturing and it is this core group that produce the smaller orders, one customer (retailer) at a time.
A skilled factory worker operates the machine which sews the upper pattern to the sole of the boot.
There is a certain mystique and prestige about handmade Italian shoes and there are a number of reasons behind the reputation. One of these is about the time, energy and resources that Italians will spend to develop a last. The last is a foot-shaped mold around which a shoe is built. They used to be carved from wood but they are now replicated in plastics. It takes considerable time to develop a last, and then even more time is spent translating the last to a range of sizes. Ultimately, if properly developed, the boots and shoes built on a carefully crafted last will simply fit better.
Many of our customers ask us about the “Eternity Boot” from Fiorentini + Baker and we are obliged to explain that “Eternity” does not reference a particular style but rather it is the last. The Eternity last is used to produce a range of styles in the Fiorentini + Baker line. Notably the 709, 7460, 713, Emm, Eva, Ella and others found at re-souL are all produced from the Eternity last. While there are other lasts used in creating the entire Fiorentini + Baker collection, the Eternity last is their most famous. All of the Fiorentini + Baker products which are “stitched down” constructions (including the Eternity styles) are made at Ormeda factory. Considering that Fiorenitini + Baker has been producing some of the same styles for their entire 10 year history, we think the name “Eternity” is apropos. The Eternity styles are classic, timeless, well constructed and any customer who owns a pair can tell you that the fit is fantastic!
Having completed the factory tour, we returned to the front office with Sonia. We discussed some business details and thanked her for generously allowing our visit. She was gracious and hoped that our relationship will continue, even if we don’t see her again for some time.
Soon after our departure, we stopped at a cafe for another remarkable cup of coffee and some reflection. To think that Deborah Baker created the Fiorentini + Baker product line and the company has grown to worldwide sales over 10 years. There is no advertising for the product, so the quality of construction and fit are the key factors which have built the reputation. It is the Ormeda factory behind all the boot constructions that continue to gain a cult-like following among customers. So much like re-souL, word of mouth perpetuates from one customer to the next and pretty soon, it’s time to make more boots!
We will finish up our ‘re-souL in Italy Series’ with a visit to the the MOMA shoe factory.