The importance of the supply chain, a piece of heritage to be safeguarded. The example of the Vigevano district

[On the cover: Round table participants]

Italy boasts a footwear industry concentrated in districts, mainly located in 7 regions, almost self-sufficient microcosms due to the presence of all the companies in the supply chain, from components, to machinery, to the finished product. One of these districts is Vigevano, former capital of footwear in the second half of the last century, now more accurately described as “capital of the footwear supply chain” as it was defined by the president of the Pavia Assolombarda branch, Nicola de Cardenas, in a conference organised by the Association as part of a series of events dedicated to Pavia Capital of Business Culture 2023.

The theme “La filiera della scarpa, la storia, la cultura del saper fare, il futuro” (The shoe supply chain, the history, the culture of know-how, the future) brought together local institutions and entrepreneurs and offered the opportunity to reflect on the strengths – and some weaknesses – of the area and above all to ask ourselves how to make the district attractive to motivate young people working in companies. Of course, the presence in Vigevano of companies that produce for the big fashion brands (one above all, Manolo Blahnik, which in 2019 acquired a shoe factory while also maintaining another production partner in the city) is certainly a source of attraction for young people. As are relaunch plans for the Footwear Museum and the Shoe Style Lab, to render them usable as a hub for already employed or unemployed staff.

In the district, however, there are not only companies that produce footwear, but also those that produce components (soles, materials, etc.) and mechanical workshops which, due to their resilience, are able to adapt every time to the requests for innovation from footwear manufacturers throughout the world. In fact, in the province of Pavia there are around 300 companies in the supply chain, of which around 200 are shoe factories, 70 are mechanical companies, and 50 are material and component companies, as Matteo Pasca of the Ars Sutoria School recalled. However, Vigevano lacks a real dedicated training school, as underlined by Massimo Martinoli of Cesare Martinoli Caimar and vice-president of the Assolombarda group, as well as efficient infrastructures to reach the city from nearby airports, reiterating to the municipal administration a major problem hindering development of the local sector.

On the training front, the president of Assocalzaturifici Giovanna Ceolini recalled that Confindustria Moda, the Federation that brings together 7 associations in the fashion and accessories supply chain, is now taking action thanks to the allocation of 917,000 euros for the ‘Train for Digital’ tender. The important digital training program at a national level is aimed at developing skills for the fashion sector in response to the needs of businesses, which will encourage the entry of over 300 young people aged between 18 and 34 into the world of work. Because in companies there is not only a need for model makers and designers, but also for digital skills. Furthermore, Confindustria Moda and CNOS-FAP, the National Federation of Salesian Professional Training Centres, have signed a three-year partnership agreement to promote professional training in the fashion sector, in light of Censis estimates, according to which in Italy by 2030 1.9 million workers will have retired, of which around 6% are in the fashion and accessories industry.

Another strength of the Vigevano district, Ceolini recalled, is Cimac which carries out tests and certifications of products to ensure their excellence. Furthermore, “the laboratory” – said Ceolini – “can assist and guide the customer along the sustainability path by offering information and personalised solutions for achieving VCS certification, a brand created by Assocalzaturifici, granted to companies that undertake a path of evaluation, measurement and, above all, improved performance regarding the main aspects of corporate sustainability”, thus also introducing the topic of sustainability, which is crucial at this time for all fashion sectors.

But are companies, in addition to their lip service, really open to taking on more young people? A certainty comes from the intervention of Cristina Roditi, chief product officer of Manolo Blahnik: “We want to grow new talents, in an area of excellence where we have been present for 30 years. Perhaps without Vigevano and its production partners the brand would not have existed”.

Flavia Colli Franzone