A story that began in the ‘70s in the “shoe capital”: Vigevano

BEGINNINGS

It’s the ‘60s, and Italy’s economic boom is in full swing. In the Vigevano area, business activity revolves predominantly around the shoemaking industry, which has a long tradition in the area. In this period the town, known as “the shoe capital” from the 19th century onwards, is home to dozens of shoe companies that export all over the world, and even serves as the backdrop for a trilogy of novels that cause quite a stir at the time. The author, Lucio Mastronardi, draws a ferocious and grotesquely comic picture of the Lombardy province during the boom period.

A film version of the most famous book in the trilogy, The Teacher from Vigevano, was made by film director Elio Petri in 1963, with Alberto Sordi in the leading role. Since part of the story takes place in a shoe factory, Petri goes to Vigevano to scout for locations but is stonewalled by practically every company there. One shoemakers, however, decide to offer his availability: Erideno Pizzetti former founder with Adriano Pedalà of the Pupa shoe factory, for years the first Italian company for the production of children’s shoes.Adriano Pedalà, Italy’s leading manufacturer of children’s shoes for many years.

When Pedalà and Pizzetti decide to split up and go their separate ways, the latter opens another shoe factory, Maci, which in fact appears in The Teacher from Vigevano as the location for the interior factory scenes, and in 1966 launches a line of children’s footwear. He decides to give it a childish, onomatopoeic name: PèPè. A name he decides to take with him when, in 1970, he embarks on a new entrepreneurial venture.

This is when the story of the Calzaturificio PèPè begins. It is a small artisan firm and production is centered on crib booties and baby slippers. Its only client at first is the well-known German brand Elefanten, but gradually, thanks partly to fairs such as Micam, Pizzetti starts to become known and to acquire new clients.

GROWTH

In 1979, Erideno’s son, Dario Pizzetti, joins the company. Dario literally grew up in his father’s firms, so is already well-acquainted with the world of shoemaking. He has just finished his studies and his arrival coincides with the most flourishing period in the history of the Vigevano shoe industry. «Every possible type of shoe was made in the town and surrounding area. There were big companies, small companies, artisan firms… It was the classic situation in which there was literally someone making shoes in every backyard» Dario Pizzetti tells Italian Shoes. And adds: «over the years the scenario has changed enormously and has followed the industry’s evolution. Today, there are far fewer shoe manufacturers left, but the excellent standard has been maintained – in fact, it has probably risen».

In the ’90s, Dario Pizzetti had the idea of gradually expanding PèPè’s production to include all types of children’s shoes, ideally complementing the original project of his father, Erideno.

QUALITY

Today, the “jewels” of PèPè’s production line remain the baby booties and slippers that have been a staple part of the firm’s collections right from the onset. They are made using a slip-lasting construction technique known as Fondamerica (or California), a process that involves numerous steps and requires the utmost skill and precision. The sole — in leather or rubber materials — is sewn directly onto the upper.

Some of its models are inspired by those of the past. One of the company’s main strengths is its ability to revisit and update tradition, both as regards its product lines and — in particular — the materials used, with a certain aptitude for experimenting with unusual and original ideas.

From the outset, PèPè’s products have been aimed particularly at the overseas market: around 70% of the company’s output is exported. Its main markets at present are the USA, South Korea, Japan and, more recently, China.

At the present moment, the company has a workforce of about 15 people but it also outsources work it cannot do itself to a number of small outside workshops. Every millimetre of PèPè’s shoes is 100% Made in Italy.

THE FUTURE

«We are going through a period of epochal change as far as shopping habits and buying patterns are concerned», concludes Pizzetti.
After some initial doubt due to the very nature of the product — children’s shoes, more than any other kind of footwear, need to be tried on — the shoe firm has only recently opened up to e-commerce and, up to now, has only used external platforms. At the present moment, however, it is in the process of launching its own e-commerce site.

The strategy is that of diversification: traditional shops, particularly in the new markets, are flanked by online sales and brand collaborations. The aim is to keep various different options open, so that the company can stay on its feet even in the face of difficulties.

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