Italian Footwear’s American Renaissance

Meghan Cleary

After a period of increased focus on emerging countries like Russia, Brazil, China and Dubai, Italian footwear brands are looking back to the US as a market worth revisiting or expanding into. In fact, Italian footwear exports were up by 13.3% and had increased in value by 24.75% in the US last year alone. “The United States seems to be experiencing a period of rebirth,” observes Cleto Sagripanti, president of the Italian Footwear Manufacturers’ Association (ANCI), “and to that end we still consider the USA to be a strategic target market for us.” Appropriately enough, ANCI held its recent showcase in New York last week, promoting 15 stand-out Italian brands to its loyal American market.

Among our favorites was Capezzani, a sensuous and organic label that blends modern lines with impeccable leathers in earthy tones. Capezzani’s seriously strong platform silhouettes in boots and pumps are poised to give Fiorentini + Baker a run for their money—albeit with a more uptown sensibility.

MugnaiGardenia, a sweet line by Charlotta Bachini, has a patented sacchetto construction that makes exceptionally soft moccasins, ballet flats, boots, driving and touring shoes. With serious flexibility in the toe box and a soft rubber sole on certain designs, this line offers something for everyone: from young urbanites seeking the perfect commuter skimmers to mature consumers looking to retain some everyday shoewear style. Gardenia clearly understands the importance of varied colorways and shapes when it comes to drawing buyers, and its merchandised stories also include bags for retail buyers to stock in-store.

The Italian footwear industry has been an industry leader in environmental awareness. The use of naturally tanned leathers, for instance, is one now-common practice for avoiding the large amounts of toxic mercury and other chemicals that get dumped into the water system. Consistent with this national eco-friendly spirit, Aequa is the first completely biodegradable footwear line. The label’s brightly colored, zippy flats combine spot-on silhouettes and trend-focused accouterments with a refreshing vanilla scent and certified environmental sensitivity. In addition to its use of a new, patented type of biopolymer, which has been officially certified by Italian government authorities and laboratories as being 90% biodegradable within six months when composted (100% biodegradation is usually completed within 9-12 months), Aequa’s dyes are certified under the EU’s stringent biodegradable standards and are completely atoxic, with zero heavy metals.

MugnaiBrothers Massimiliano and Stefano Mugnai bring a spunky sensibility to the Italian footwear market. Having grown up working in their family-owned factory, the brothers’ passion and facility for working with their materials shows in every stitch. Taking design cues from their global customers from Russia to China, the recent collection particularly showcases the width and breadth of what Italian footwear brands are creating right now. Catering to the wide selection of global demands with a broad scope of styles, colorways and influences, the line features bright colors, a range of silhouettes—from towering platforms to ballet flats—and some of the finest finishing and craftsmanship seen in the market.

Meanwhile, MANAS, a brand that has already made significant inroads into the US, is addressing the market need for higher-end Italian shoes with its Lea Foscati collection. Made entirely in Italy, this line combines MANAS’s fashion-forward, youthful and contemporary spirit with luxury materials as well as more sophisticated lines and detailing.

This diversity of labels and designs illustrates the Italian footwear industry’s dedication to global sensibilities as well as regional refinement. “The US is now the third largest market after France and Germany,” explains Fabio Aromatici, ANCI’s general director. “We are focused on bringing the US a larger number of manufacturers working actively on new elements such as environmentally friendly shoes, as well as many other style and material innovations.” A job well done, indeed.