Traditional Shoemaking Shines in Italy despite Crisis
By: FFE EU News Staff
Professionals and students from all parts of the globe are on a pilgrimage to Florence, Italy to look for an alternative way to beat the economic crisis. The Italian traditional art of shoemaking and repair is seeing a small revival thanks in part to enthusiasts who are willing to undergo apprenticeship from master craftsmen.
Angelo Imperatrice, 75, is a master shoe craftsman and cobbler who learned his trade when he was 11. Today, he teaches up to 8 students at a time at the Accademia Riaci. The course has a long waiting list, and has seen 100 graduates so far.
Imperatrice says that masters his age still have a lot to teach about their craft, but some are unwilling because of bureaucratic hassle and illiteracy. However, though the craft may have dwindled through the years, Imperatrice has high hopes that the art of shoemaking will continue to bring success to young apprentices. “They could become the next Salvatore Ferragamo,” he says, referring to the famous Hollywood shoe designer.
Bukola Ansafa, a Liverpool University MBA holder and 30-year-old mother hailing from Nigeria, is one of those who have taken to apprenticeship under Imperatrice. She hopes to add a “Made in Italy” touch to her own company of bags and shoes in Lagos. Although the eight-week course on shoemaking costs €5,100, a lot have seen how lucrative the business is. Freshly trained shoemakers can immediately start their own shops for €4,000 to €5,000. Some of Imperatrice’s students also go on to sell their shoes for €3,000 a pair.
Promising as the business may be, not a lot of students found it easy to choose apprenticeship. Dana Alseif turned her back on private banking and risked the ire of her family to pursue her passion for classic men’s shoes at Riaci. Some students remain optimistic about their chosen path. Mashizan Masjun, a former television producer in Singapore, believes that he and fellow students from Japan to South America will make a difference in the preservation of the traditional art.
The only Italian student in the course, Daniele Ortolani, observes that a lot of people are considering returning to the old trade. Ortolani, 31, has been working as a cobbler for 8 years before choosing to learn shoemaking specifically for those with orthopaedic conditions. Ortolani dreams of joining the greats someday, a wish similarly supported by Imperatrice. He believes Ortolani will become the next Stefano Berner, a famous Tuscan cobbler whose apprentice included Hollywood actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
While Ortolani’s fears about the fading tradition are mirrored by the students, he remains hopeful that the art will survive.