Close to the obscure industrial town of Corridonia, Italy (about halfway down the boot), you can’t miss the gleaming white Santoni shoe factory – a futuristic facility where some 700 artisans ply their craft.
 
Not one pair of boots, loafers, dress shoes or sneakers is allowed to leave the nest before it’s inspected on a microscopic level for any discernable flaw. Founder Andrea Santoni was a man who preferred everything done under the one roof as a means of technique transfer and quality control.
 
At Calexico Man, we’ve tried and tested our fair share of quality kicks, so we know what we’re talking about when we confirm that Santoni shoes are next level. Hand-sewn soles. Carefully selected skins. Artfully applied patinas.




“All our suppliers, everyone with whom we collaborate, everyone who works for us, must be crazy about quality, like us, and crazy about details, like us,” Santoni CEO Giuseppe Santoni told The Rake in a wide-ranging interview in 2017.

 

“Even with something like our new line of sneakers, what we do is find our own niche,” he says. “They’re unlined, so your feet touch the main structure, and they’re completely made using natural materials. The sole is natural latex — we just put the milky white gum that comes out of rubber trees into a mould and heat it with fire. There’s nothing fake or chemical-based — even the tanning is vegetable-based only.”

 

Giuseppe’s leather-cutter father, Andrea, and his mother, Rosa, founded the business in 1975 (he was seven at the time) with the modest intention of providing a respectable living for their family by creating exquisite shoes for an appreciative clientele. As these things do when the product is superior, word got out and Santoni took on a life of its own.

 

 

 

“I was there the first day [my father] started the company. It was the summertime in 1975, and he had just two workers — one of them is still with us … The factory back then was the garage of our family home. It was my playground,” recalls Giuseppe.

 

In his early 50s, Giuseppe has already been Santoni’s CEO for more than 30 years. His first order of business at age 21 was to decide which international markets were right for Santoni’s celebrated product, based on his childhood immersion in all facets of cordwaining.

 

“I’d already had 10 years’ experience in shoemaking, so when I spoke to customers, I knew what I was talking about,” he says. The brand has since morphed from cottage industry to global powerhouse, with devoted clients the world over.

 

When asked what sets the brand apart, Giuseppe says there are a few things that come to mind – most notably maintaining an equal focus on design and quality.

 

  

 

1. Nothing Sacrificed, Everything Gained

“Most companies, the more they put into design, the less they offer quality; the more quality they have, the less they offer with design. We occupy an area in the market where there is both — and there is no one else here. It’s a difficult place to be because you must invest money in both areas. Most of the big groups who pretend to do quality don’t — they do marketing,” he says.

 

“If you don’t have the background and just admire the future without any base on which to build something, you slip,” he says. “And, if you have the heritage but don’t keep an eye on the future, you also slip.”

 

2. Eco-Friendly Processes & Policies

 

Another key point of difference is Santoni’s commitment to sustainability. “We use recyclable material, we’ve reduced the amount of plastic used in construction, and we have a vast tank under the building that collects rainwater,” he explains. “The roof is covered in solar panels, so we produce our shoes entirely with power from the sunlight. In fact, we produce more power than we need and sell the rest to our neighbours.”

 

3. A Humanist Approach To Hiring & Training

“Keeping the production local helps this community and its economy,” he says. “We try to keep the tradition and the skills of the people alive, so we’ve created an academy within the company where we teach young people how to do the jobs within the building. It’s about conserving ancient artisanal skills and traditions.

 

“The department that applies the patinas is [composed] entirely of young people from the local art school,” he says. “They’re highly skilled painters — we want the sensitivity and skills of people who have actually studied art for this job.

 

“The human touch is paramount — and that relates not just to the hand, but to the head and the heart,” he says. “Everyone calls me ‘Giuseppe’ — never mind Mr. Santoni. I’ve known most of the people here for at least 20 years.”

 

 

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