A century of quality and innovation, from Ferrara to Tradate
The history of the Artioli footwear factory begins with a child. In 1912 Severino Artioli was a small, fatherless child of seven or eight, living in an old converted country villa near Ferrara, in one of several dwellings arranged around a shared courtyard. The little Severino often played alone, and one day a neighbour spotted him on his way to get his bicycle and go back to work after lunch. The man invited Severino to go with him, hoisting the child onto the bar of his bicycle and taking him to his workshop. That neighbour was the town shoemaker, and day by day he began to teach the boy his profession.
At first Severino viewed it as a game, but soon he really began to enjoy it. He learned quickly, thanks to his youth and, most likely, his innate talent. At the age of fifteen he could already make an entire shoe on his own.
Around 1920 one of the first companies to make shoes in Italy using an assembly line system opened in Ferrara. The company was called Zenith, and Artioli went to work there. He was soon put in charge of the sole department, an area in which he was a true expert.
This marked the beginning of a long and eventful career, during which numerous shoe factories in northern Italy, particularly the Veneto region, called upon him to act as their director or consultant.
During the Second World War, Artioli was in Tradate, at the helm of the shoe factory that made army boots, and when the war was over he and two colleagues, Eugenio Stefanotti and Angelo Millefanti, decided to start their own business. They chose the name Star (STefanotti + ARtioli) and opened in Tradate, where Artioli had decided to settle.
The business was a small one, serving prestigious Italian shoe shops. The three partners decided right away to focus on quality and technical innovation.
Stefanotti died in the ’50s, but the company survived and began to grow, to the extent that a new plant became necessary.
At the end of the ’50s Vito Artioli, one of Severino’s four sons, joined the company, and turned out to be a talented draughtsman and model maker. His arrival changed everything: he focused on more innovative styles and attempted to increase sales through exports, gradually conquering part of Europe and the United States. In the mid ’60s Millefanti left the business, and the shoe factory became strictly a family affair.
Over the next few years, quality and innovation permeated the Artioli catalogue, and the map of the company’s customers broadened thanks to a phenomenal instinct for sniffing out emerging markets: the Arab countries and, starting in the ’90s, Russia, eastern Europe and the Far East.
In the meantime, the third generation of the family joined the company: Andrea Artioli came along in 1985, starting out working in the company’s new store in San Francisco and then returning to Tradate. “In actual fact I had always worked there,” Andrea Artioli tells Italian Shoes. “When I was a boy, I didn’t spend my summers on holiday, but in the factory. I enjoyed it. I couldn’t wait for school to get out!”.
Today Artioli shoes appear on the feet of prominent world personalities: political leaders and magnates in the world of finance. “People who are looking for the absolute best buy Artioli shoes. Not all of them, of course. That wouldn’t be a realistic goal. But many of them do,” says Andrea Artioli proudly, pointing out that while technology has by now largely superseded hand-crafting in this field, as far as his footwear is concerned human hands still have a very important role to play.
The shoes that come out of Tradate are handcrafted but, even more than in the past, tradition does not preclude innovation. 200 to 250 new styles are created each season, incredible numbers if we consider their quality. “But this is the way it should be,” Artioli explains. “We are global players, and our customers are very demanding and have very different tastes and lifestyles. Every market is unique, and we have to take this into account.”
Then there’s the matter of comfort, and here it is technology and research that make all the difference.
Following the death of its founder, Severino, in 2004, the company is now in the hands of Vito and Andrea, but the fourth Artioli generation is preparing to take on a key role in the company.
“My son Alberto has started working with us,” says Andrea. “He studied design, and now he’s working on creating sneakers. He’s starting to learn all about the stages in the shoemaking process, one by one, and this will help him continue to come up with new products. But it is already clear that he is made of the right stuff. And sneakers are a part of the market we are focusing on and will continue to focus on strongly.”