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Giuseppe Santoni explains why shoes make your feet hurt (and why his don’t)

Words by Rob Chilton

The embodiment of craft and corporate, Santoni talks about team spirit, foot biomechanics and why he ditched production lines

Peeping out from Giuseppe Santoni’s suit jacket – he only ever wears blue suits – is a pair of bright orange braces. He smiles and shrugs, “It’s the Santoni trademark colour.” The charismatic boss of the luxury shoe company is a fascinating combination of craft and corporate. Equally at home on the factory floor discussing leather or in the boardroom dissecting spreadsheets, Santoni’s fingerprints are all over the family business started by his father in Le Marche, Italy’s shoemaking hub.

Santoni stopped in Dubai on business (although it sounds like his wife wanted a sunshine break too) and spoke with EDGAR. Respected for their expert craftsmanship, rich colours and exquisite designs, Santoni shoes are also known for their comfort, which is where we began our conversation with the CEO as he sipped a cup of Moroccan mint tea.

Santoni wants open minds in his business

How important is comfort when you make a shoe?

Comfort is the base. All your body weight stays in your shoes so if they hurt, you know about it. When we stand, our weight goes straight here [points to the mid-point on the inside of the foot]. If you don’t give the right support here, all the weight of the body goes on the heel or the ball of the foot – that hurts. If you can’t spread the weight of the body across the foot it’s uncomfortable.

So how do you do it?

The secret to making a shoe comfortable is to put support here in the shank [the section of the sole that connects the front and rear of the shoe]. We put a piece of steel inside the sole to give you support.

That sounds like a traditional piece of shoemaking.

We are shoe people, we know how to make shoes. You know, about 95 per cent of shoe brands don’t produce shoes any more. They order their shoes from factories and ship them and resell them. I can give you dozens of examples but that’s not my style.

Because it’s cheaper?

Of course. Shoe production is very expensive and very complicated, there’s a lot of work involved.

Santoni’s 700 staff have an average age of 37 and produce around 2,000 pairs of shoes every day from its 30,000 square metre factory in Le Marche.

How difficult is it to manage a large staff?

It’s complicated! We don’t have a long production line like that Charlie Chaplin movie [Modern Times]. We did a study and found that it’s difficult to control a group of more than 15 people. Instead, we use a lean manufacturing system, invented by Toyota in the 1960s.

How does it work?

Basically, it’s groups of 10 to 15 people who specialise in one part of the production – these groups are called islands, we have about 55 islands. This system creates team spirit and friendly competition. Every night each team declares their output, mistakes, wastage, production per person and so on.

Santoni store at The Dubai Mall

Who’s in each team?

The maestro is in charge and is the brain and the hand. We have three types of person: the worker uses the hand, the artisan uses the hand and the head, the artist uses the hand, head and heart. You need a mixture of people, smart, young and old, fresh energy and open minds.

Why is it important to have open minds in your workforce?

Three years ago we hired a new manager for our made-to-measure department. He used to be an IT engineer but he wasn’t happy and wanted to work with his hands. He opened a small shoe repair shop and then came to Santoni. He’s about 32 and is much happier now.

Why did you hire him?

He was in love with shoes, crazy for shoes! We have incredibly experienced people but they want to do only what they know, they are not curious to try something new. I need people who are curious to try new things and new ideas.

But above all, you need people who are excellent at their jobs, right?

Quality shoes need quality people. I’m proud of my people, they work as if it’s their company. Imagine two like car mechanics, one works for Skoda and one works for Ferrari, it’s a different kind of pride. People know, ‘If I work for Santoni, I must be good.’

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