Italy is one of the leading countries in the world market of
leatherwear, shoes and other leather
goods and Tuscany is famous for its artisanal crafts and products.
The quality of the handmade leatherware is very high and, generally,
based on a long, local tradition.
Tuscany is particularly known for its leatherworking tradition and
its great experience in the production of high quality leather
handbags, shoes, purses and jackets, as well as wallets, belts and
other leather accessories. A significant part of the branded
leather accessories (Gucci, Armani, Prada etc.) is produced in local
factories in Tuscany and also near Milan, the fashion centre of
Given the diversity of leather products available and the
comparatively high cost of Italian leatherwear, buyers might wonder what makes Italian leather unique, and whether or not it is worth the
price. The primary distinction of Italian leather
goods is the quality of the leather itself and of the design and
workmanship. Leather goods producers in Italy consistently offer very high quality products, in contrast
to the often shoddy production and badly-imitated designs seen from other regions of the world.
Leather is made by subjecting the hide of an animal to a lengthy treatment process. People have been working with leather for thousands of
years and Italy has been famous for leather production for centuries. Florence is particularly famous for its leather, and in Milan, Italy's capital of fashion, Italian leather is used almost exclusively by high fashion houses. Because Italian brands tend to dominate the fashion world, Italian leather has come to be closely associated with quality,
fashion and good taste.
to the associations with chic culture, buyers are willing to pay a
premium for products made with Italian leather, perpetuating the
market and promoting the maintenance of high standards at
facilities which process Italian
Where and how to buy Italian leather goods in Tuscany
There are four broad options for leather goods shopping in Tuscany.
1) In Florence, there are numerous high-end boutiques and
designer shops, for example on via Tournabuoni (Gucci,
Ferregamo etc) - here you are
guaranteed the genuine article, the latest styles and the prices
to match. These prices can be higher than you would pay in your
home country but, on the other hand, if you see a beautiful piece
. . . will you be able to find it back home? Sales on via
Tournabuoni take place in July (and they are good!).
Some but not all leatherwork schools, notably one at Piazza
Santa Croce, offer one-of-a-kind items of absolutely top
quality - the prices are often very high. (Note that the leather
shops in Piazza Santa Croce sell mostly junk to the tour buses.)
A small step down from the high-end boutiques are shops that sell
quality, non-trademarked leatherwear, the best being south of the
Arno in Oltrarno.
Also in Florence, there are leather markets where
stalls, shops and factory outlets are concentrated. The most
famous is San Lorenzo Market, but better quality may be
found at the Mercato del Porcellino. The shops behind the
stalls offer a better range and quality of items than the
stalls even though they often have the same owners. These markets
are for those who really know what they are looking for and who
can recognise style and quality when they see it - or even just
know the difference between vinyl and leather. Over 90% of the
goods sold in San Lorenzo currently are rubbishy Asian imports. There are many
reports of nice-looking items that fell apart a few weeks after
purchase due to bad stitching, for example. Bargaining is necessary at San Lorenzo. There is no guarantee that
what you buy isn't a Chinese knock-off (from China or a Chinese
factory in Tuscany). This applies particularly to jackets, which
are not a Florentine speciality, but in fact a significant
proportion of all goods offered in San Lorenzo market are
"faux" this and that, and often astonishingly shoddy. San
Lorenzo market is currently a pickpockets' paradise.
Anything offered by an itinerant
street vendor will be fake and you can be fined for buying a fake of
a branded item.
3) "Outlets" meaning shops that sell last years' Gucci, Ferregamo, Valentino, Armani, Fendi,
Prada, etc. fashions (e.g. Lo Spaccio, The Mall). These
places are outside Florence and are the subject of very mixed
reports - some find incredible bargains, others spend a day to end
up empty-handed. However, all the items on sale are dramatically
marked down and they are, of course, genuine. Click
for more on Outlet shopping.
Factory shops and showrooms. Some of the factories that
manufacture leather goods also have sales points or even showrooms
attached to the factory. These factories are sometimes in Florence
itself while others are in neighbouring towns. The quality and
prices are usually extremely good. These same factories supply
the fashion houses but they are absolutely prohibited from
selling fashion house designs with or without the house label.
If they try it and are caught, they lose their contract which
basically means they go bust (and a few have). Don't believe
anyone claiming to have access to unlabelled fashion house
designs. On the other hand, they often have very good designs of
their own and the quality of the leather and the workmanship is on
the same level as the high fashion items.
Italian leather goods and leather-working machinery producing areas
There are three major areas of Italy where leatherworking is very important
and, not surprisingly, two of these areas are also centres for the
production of tanning machinery. 50% of the world demand for machinery for footwear and leather goods and 80% of tanning machinery
is produced in Italy.
The first leatherware area is around the town of Santa Croce sull'Arno
across the Arno from San Miniato.
Although in the province of Pisa, this area, along with Empoli, is
tightly bound economically to Florence. Tanning began here in the
mid-19 C, and today 35% of Italian leather production and 98% of
Italian leather soles are produced here, for an overall turnover of almost €2 billion. The
leather-working machinery sector at Santa Croce sull'Arno represents 30% of Italian production.
The district contains around 900 companies with an average size of around 12 employees per business.
This latter point is important. Speciality production by small and
therefore flexible firms is central to the success of the
in exactly the same way as it is to the Italian steel industry
where the ability to do small runs to unusual specifications has
saved the entire sector. This in turn is related historically to
the artisan tradition of Tuscany and elsewhere in Italy.
The second district that has been important historically is that of
Vigevano, in Lombardy. This area has been subject to severe pressure over recent
decades, on the one hand from the market with a shift in consumer interest towards sports
footwear, and on the other
from the price war waged by lower quality goods produced both in areas of Italy in which the sector has recently
developed and in other countries,
especially in Eastern Europe. Vigevano responded by concentrating on shoe production for the top end of the market, but above all by
ever greater specialisation in two sectors: footwear and footwear machines. The former includes the entire production cycle of the preparation and tanning of leather and the manufacturing of shoes, bags and various kinds of leather
accessories. The latter, now quite important, specialises in making machines for tanneries, shoe factories, leather factories,
sole and uppers workshops and for the production of soles in synthetic material,
together with moulds and spare parts.
The Region of Le Marche has the biggest hides, leather and footwear industry in Italy in terms of numbers of companies and
workers. The annual turnover is around €2 billion and more than 50% of the whole Italian leather goods and
shoe production comes from Le Marche. The economy of the Region is based on a widely-spread network of very small, family-run
businesses once again providing the great advantage of flexibility.
The Region’s companies are able both to adapt production to the rapidly changing needs of the global market and,
indeed, to survive periods of economic recession.
Anna Maria Baldini
SEO Tuscany tourism web site promotion
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