The factory is fitted with 3,500 meters of photovoltaic panels, providing nearly 20 percent of the energy used by machinery. Water is supplied by the local infrastructure (the district’s footwear industry doesn’t use a great deal as the leather arrives pre-tanned). Production can reach 1,500 pieces per day, but the factory doesn’t work at the same pace every month: during sampling and sales campaigns, when orders are counted, lulls are the norm and are used for maintenance, repairs, or experimental testing. Unlike industrial production, these machines require skilled handling by a craftsman rather than a simple factory worker, which opens the conversation to the broader question of artisan manufacturing.
One theory understands artisan-made as an article made entirely by hand without the use of machines. Another would use artisan-made to refer to an object made from start to finish by a single expert — with or without machines — insisting on the sequential production of each component rather than serial production followed by assembly, which is common in a factory. The question explores the difference between craftsmanship and manufacturing, where the latter is simply the evolution of the former, obtained by exploiting advanced technological abilities. Manufacturing is production that takes place on complex machinery that can only be used by expert craftsmen, who are the only ones with the necessary savoir-faire.
Leather arrives at the company already tanned, provided by five or six regular suppliers with a few other experimental sources. Their origins are controlled and exotic skins are no longer purchased. Used only for private custom orders, these skins are recuperated from the historic archives [fine leathers are today subject to paperwork required by the forestry authorities, and CITES declarations must be presented at customs, with failure to comply incurring penal sentences – Ed.]. An external laboratory tests and certifies the materials’ resistance, and the artisans know how to check if the adhesive holds with local laboratories carrying out tests in chambers at ninety percent humidity. With nearly the entire production chain in-house, checks are carried out at every stage, unlike supply-based companies, where most checking takes place during assembly.
The prototype is made using plain leather, a smooth calfskin, to determine the style that emerges in a 3D shape from the design. During sample production, the different materials and their reactions are studied, together with variations in different dyes. This is a distinguishing feature at Sergio Rossi, where the prototype is soon replaced by study of the sample. A square-toed shoe, a horizontal strip of metal, no heel: the SR1 model set the trend in 2017 and accounts for fifty percent of today’s turnover (the model is historic and was recently articulated in a version for men). The company has a digital archive that organizes women’s foot sizes into statistical samples, predicting variables around the world. Size 37 is coded: for the human physiognomy this is the perfect foot — the average foot size for all European women (certified by CIMAC, headquartered in Tuscany with a subsidiary in France, constantly curating a database for standard sizes). At Sergio Rossi, a woman with a size 37 foot not only tries on the theoretical samples, but as a footwear expert, she explains to technicians how the fit might be improved at each stage, pointing out where abnormal pressure points might cause problems and where alterations could be made. Having achieved the ideal fit, different lines are then made to suit Asian or American feet, adapting for the local taste and culture.
The factory here employs one hundred and twenty people, where the importance of the district — perhaps more than even the companies themselves — cannot be copied. The district cannot be exported: a worker must be able to train in different areas within the same sector to acquire the necessary experience. If complex stages of production aren’t completed by professionals with at least ten years of experience, quality can’t be guaranteed. Those joining the company start with easy stages — filing soles, removing nails — while their character and aptitude are assessed. Gaining knowledge of the materials over years, workers slowly specialize in a single stage that will then become their specialty, turning them into craftsmen whose manual ability will define their professional value. Those who do not make the grade, are discarded as unsuitable and will move on to other businesses within the district, finding their own niche. It’s a question of timing and of age meeting talent; if a young craftsman in training isn’t ready for a stage at that exact moment, he or she will leave the company and move to another where they’ll meet new contacts and find a fresh start. This is how the district hones its manual skills — with a merry-go-round that’s all about social fabric. There’s a sense of solidarity to it. That’s why the human district that the factories have created, educated and maintained over the years is more important than the factories themselves.
The San Mauro Pascoli district came about in the Fifties, with the craftsmen who sold their objects to the German tourists on the Riviera. The workshops still here today represent brands—there’s Sergio Rossi, obviously, but also Pollini, Giuseppe Zanotti, and Gianvito Rossi. Just a few hundred meters away stands Villa Torlonia, today owned by the town council. It will become the headquarters for CERC, the training center for artisan footwear manufacturers. The local companies, and Sergio Rossi especially, are aware of the local district’s importance in keeping the factories alive. As a shared investment, a specialist school does its job and supports training workers for the different stages involved in making footwear. Sergio Rossi is championing and sponsoring this training. Riccardo Sciutto, CEO at Sergio Rossi, tells us about the history of Villa Torlonia, from the era of the Malatesta family to ownership by the Roman princes, on to the reference of Giovanni Pascoli, after whom the entire town is named, and about the theater at the villa, as grandiose as that in any city.