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Why Italy’s Footwear Sector is Better Prepared to Take on the US Market

The Italian footwear industry wants to be known in the U.S. for the three C’s—craftsmanship, creativity and comfort.

The Italian Trade Agency, in partnership with the Italian Footwear Manufacturers’ Association (Assocalzaturifici) and AIMPES (the Italian Leather Manufacturers’ Association), presented 20 footwear and handbag companies in New York City Tuesday with the goal of maximizing their commercial and business opportunities in the U.S.

The exhibition is part of the 2017 plan for the promotion of “Made in Italy” products in the U.S market, which represents the third largest marketplace in the leather industry and the fourth largest in the shoe industry.

After several difficult seasons that saw attendance to Italy’s main footwear event, Micam, drop and exports decline, Assocalzaturifici Vice President Salina Ferretti said the country’s shoe industry is stronger and better organized to work with the U.S. market.

“We’re much better prepared than before. We know the challenges and what American retailers need,” she said.

Known for its shoemaking heritage, the Italian shoe industry is at a unique crossroads that combines tradition and innovation—particularly in comfort.

After all, the average Italian woman is no different than the U.S. woman—she wants comfort in her everyday footwear, Daniele Masciotra, president of Grunland, a comfort footwear brand established in 1949, explained.

While the Italian footwear industry remains a force in fashion and serves up its shoemaking wizardry to high-end designers with a penchant for high heels, Masciotra believes opportunity lies in the comfort footwear category.

Grunland’s footwear features shock-absorbing insoles made of elastic and resistant polyurethane Poron. The open microcells work like a spring, softening an absorbing impact for all-day comfort. Grunland also boasts Re-Soft, an insole technology made of two layers of breathable polyurethane foam. The first layer helps distribute body weight over the foot, while the second layer snaps back to its original shape after each use, ensuring feet are accurately supported with every wear.

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The brand offers women’s leather pumps, flats and boots, as well as a range of natural cork latex sandals with cushioned insoles that support feet and help encourage better blood circulation in the legs. Masciotra says the athleisure line made of leather runners and slip-ons are gaining momentum and offer the company new opportunities to play with stretch materials and ornamentation.

After 120 years of producing footwear, Sabatini Calzature has evolved its offering to include athleisure styles. The company, which produces comfort shoe brand, Sabatini, and orthotic shoe brand, Hergos, have responded to consumer demand for athleisure with Italian flair with runners and slip-ons.

Shoes in both collections are designed with removable insoles and constructions that have no friction points inside. “When these two things come together, you have comfort,” said Federico Sabatini, Sabatini Calzature director general.

The brands cater to two different clienteles, but Sabatini says the concept is the same. “Shoes need to fit well and stay well during the wearer’s journey,” he explained.

It’s a concept that works in the 35 countries Sabatini and Hergos are currently sold in and is an idea that Sabatini believes will translate well across the Atlantic. In fact, Sabatini said the “Made in Italy” footwear will actually be cheaper in the U.S. than it is in Italy because the company wants to build its volume business.

“There’s a lot more volume in the U.S.,” Sabatini said. “It’s impossible to have volume business in Italy because its mostly little shops.”

Meanwhile, the company wants to build its knowledge of the U.S. market and launch with independent retailers with two or three stores. “We want to speak to people, rather than enterprises,” Sabatini said.

Vittoria Mengoni Venezia offers a customization service well-suited for independents. The brand, which specializes in handstitched driving mocs and loafers, offers retailers the opportunity to swap out materials and colors from its vast vault of Italian leathers and suedes.

It’s an invaluable service as retailers chase after the Gucci loafer trend and look for ways to put their own stamp on the classic silhouette. Backless loafers with hardware ornamentation are among the brand’s current bestsellers.

Men’s footwear brand Dis Shoes takes custom footwear a step further with its direct-to-consumer platform. “Customization is not a trend, its reality,” said Dis CEO Andrea Carpineti.

The brand offers consumers the opportunity to customize 50 models through its website, handpicking the color, materials, eyelets, laces, lining and soles. The company creates and ships the 100 percent “Made in Italy” shoe in 10 business days.

In the future, Carpineti said he wants to launch Dis shop-in-shops in the U.S—small workshop-like spaces that allows consumers to handle the materials and play with color combinations.

Voile Blanche’s use of fancy leathers and fur treatments help sell themselves. The forward-thinking casual lifestyle brand is known for its elevated athletic aesthetic. For Fall ’18, the brand experiments with color combinations for men and feminine details on aggressive silhouettes for women. Highlights include pink hybrid sneaker boots with fur accents, metallic purple foil to retro runners, laminate charms on laces and voluminous ’80s-inspired outsoles to sneakers.

Colorful fur, fringe-like feathers, crystals and buckle toe ornaments are among some of the most popular fashion elements from Italian women’s footwear brands. Le Babe brought its collection of block heel pumps and boots dressed up with sequin fabrications and velvet bows.

Women’s “casual chic” footwear brand, Jeannot, aims to grow its business in the U.S. through the independent channel. “We want to work with independents because they make the trends,” said Elisabetta Porta, Jeannot market development manager.

And then there’s Roberta Cenci, a women’s footwear brand that drums to its own beat and serves as a reminder that Italy is the nucleus of fashion footwear.

The high-end collection spans metallic leather stilettos adorned with fragile yet durable zodiac ornaments made from nylon plastic and laser cut leather stiletto booties sliced with feather-like precision. The dress brand dabbles in athleisure with a leather sneaker boot with a knitted mesh shaft. The concept was based on the idea of turning a sneaker inside out.