Our beautiful boots are made in a small, family run factory in the Marche region of Italy where Tom and I recently spent a couple of days working on some new styles. I thought I’d share some of our trip to give you a taste behind the scenes at CHAPTER 2 and of our journey to creating beautiful shoes (there’s also a little sneak peek of our new styles).
We try to visit our factory and Italian suppliers a couple of times a year because it’s so much easier to discuss developments and build relationships in person. Being in shoe factories is second nature for us and there’s always a familiar and reassuring feeling being surrounded by the machines, the track and the actual process of making shoes.
The main reason for our visit was that one of the owners at our factory is due to give birth to her first child very soon so we wanted to meet the woman who would cover her maternity. In the world of shoe making it's important to build strong personal connections, especially if like us you’re only making a very limited amount of pairs.
Our other mission was to work with a local sole maker to develop something special for our forth coming Made to Order service and to source a few other components that we need to tool up and prepare the workshop ready for bespoke. I’m not going to show you what we created just yet as that’s a story all of it’s own!
I know a work trip to Italy sounds pretty exciting but it’s not as glamorous as you might think. Shoe factories are really messy places, more than a little bit dirty and often tucked away in not very glamorous industrial estates so it’s definitely not the moment to put your best dress on!
I’m going to let you in on a secret, our CHAPTER 2 boots are actually made in a mens factory. They specialise in traditional, quite classic shoes which still require a lot of hand made processes and traditional techniques which most womens shoe factories just can’t do. So we chose these guys for their craftsmanship and their ability to make the type of beautiful shoes we love - the well made classics which will last. It’s run by an Italian family and in the traditional way the factory was started by the father in the 1970’s, his wife also works there alongside their children who now run it. The family dog Russ is usually involved too.
We managed to catch a couple of our new models on the track; the croc emboss Lapwing Boots had just been lasted and the stitched uppers of what will become snake print Wren Boots were waiting for their turn. I’m SO excited about the snake print boots and can’t wait to show you how they turned out. There’s really not long to wait now!
The days are long as we drive from place to place, supplier to supplier to create, develop or discuss all the different elements and components required for each shoe. At most suppliers we work in showrooms which are piled high with examples of their work. It may be heels, soles, or actual shoes. We are constantly surrounded by shoes and working on tables covered with half made bits of shoes.
At the insole makers huge mountains of fibre board off cuts line the entrance as they wait to be recycled. Each different type of fibre sorted and piled high. I love that at most suppliers very little goes to waste with most off cuts and excess materials recycled if they can be.
This next one is my favourite picture from the trip because of the irony of the sign at the entrance to the sole maker and a reminder to never judge a book by it’s cover (or sign) as these guys actually produce the most beautiful quality soles I think I’ve ever seen.
One of our favourite stops is always at the last makers. Half the time we don’t even need to make a new last but it’s here that the conversation always transcends through the small talk of shoes, life, the economy, Brexit and into football chat. The guys who make the lasts follow the Premier League so Tom is in his element being able to test his Italian whilst talking about his other great passion in life - football.
Tom and I both speak enough Italian to get shoes made and hold a conversation. I learnt years ago whilst working on my first design job, picking up words and phrases in shoe and bag factories in Northern Italy, while Tom recently spent a couple of years learning from an Italian lady in Brighton.
Without speaking the language at all it would be really daunting and challenging to make shoes in Italy as a lot of suppliers really don’t speak any English. As it is we've always placed a high value on showing up in person, in being able to work together with our suppliers face to face and to not be afraid of the language.
The last makers have the most enviable view of all. Huge floor to ceiling windows with a panoramic view sweeping across the hills and valleys of the region. Marche is a region of shoe makers; beautiful hills and countryside, each hill with a small town on top and each with it’s own specialism in a different area of shoemaking. For example there is a town or area more known for sandals, one for mens shoes, for kids shoes or for women’s heels the list goes on.
Each time we visit we stay at the same BnB. It's pretty basic but it's familiar which makes it easier. Nestled up a steep track on the side of a hill. (The road is so steep there are various scratch marks in the road at the bottom where cars have scraped their undersides attempting to get out. It's not easy!) The track is lined with olive trees, apricots and a field of sunflowers. After a long hot day of driving and dirty shoe factories it's always a relief to arrive ‘home’. There is a view over the hills and fields and from the balcony we dream about one day buying and rebuilding the abandoned farmhouse in the field opposite.
We often work outside re-designing or correcting shoes and making plans for the day or generally talking shoes. I know a lot of you are waiting for our Saddle Shoe so you’ll be pleased to know it’s now in work with the factory which means we are one step closer to it becoming reality. For any new styles our shoemaker Tom makes the first samples here in England and when we’re happy we hand it over to the factory in Italy for them to make their version. There’s usually a couple of attempts to get the pattern and the fit exactly how we want it but the good thing is it’s now in process over in Italy.
At the end of the day we are both pretty exhausted. The sheer effort, focus and concentration it takes to discuss all the technical issues and developments in another language is exhausting in itself but as the shoemaking region of Marche is right on the coast we usually try to head to the beach for an hour after work if we can. Nothing beats a lounge on the beach, a dip in the ocean and a gelato at sunset after a long day at work.