Italy is a country rich in culture and craftsmanship traditions handed down from father to son, which have resisted the passage of centuries. A heritage that still has enormous potential, including economic ones, and that continues to distinguish us in the world for its uniqueness, capable of creating new trends while being faithful to itself, such as in the case of fashion creations made of vegetable-tanned leather.
A great craft story that embodies many others. Like that of Cristiano Gualtieri, an artisan shoe factory in Santa Maria Vico, in the province of Caserta – which has always been the hub of shoe-making tradition for the whole of southern Italy.
“We are a family of craftsmen. For three generations we have believed in the value of our country’s excellence. With the birth of our shoe factory in 1995 and the creation of the “Cristiano Gualtieri” brand in 2006, my father and I have carried on the dream of my grandfather, who has always been a craftsman in the shoe industry.”
Attilio tells us the story of the family business: together with his father Vincenzo and 10 workers, they represent the beating heart of Gualtieri. No industry, no technology. Here, every shoe takes us back to the productions of the past, where hands and excellent raw materials were all needed for a quality shoe.
The Gualtieri brand has always been synonymous with Made in Italy. The leathers come from the best tanneries in Tuscany and Marche: “Over the years, we have received many proposals to import materials from abroad, at clearly lower costs. Or even requests to relocate production. But we never gave in. We wanted 100% Italian shoes, able to express the excellence of our country in every detail. And nothing could have stopped us.”
Vegetable-tanned leather is the raw material that best represents Italian craftsmanship. And Cristiano Gualtieri has made it one of his strong points.
“We use vegetable-tanned leather for both the upper and the inside of the shoe,” continues Attilio, “especially for the lining, which we work carefully to make it thinner and more comfortable. Using vegetable-tanned leather ensures freshness and breathability, which is one of the reasons why we don’t use other materials. Most of the shoes on the market have textile linings, which hinder perspiration and cause unpleasant odours. The quality of the materials is therefore very important, especially for certain footwear models, such as trainers: you expect comfort and freshness from this type of shoe, but only vegetable-tanned leather can offer that.
This is why the Gualtieri brand presents two sporty lines, designed to meet all needs: Sneakers and Sport City (the bestseller), with machine-stitched leather toe cap, shock-absorbing sole and vegetable-tanned leather insole.
But there’s more to it than comfort and breathability: vegetable-tanned leather guarantees resistance and durability.
“Leather that has undergone a vegetable tanning process is particularly fibrous. In the ‘pull test’ – in which we test for strength and quality – it doesn’t crumble or show unsightly creases. Buying footwear in vegetable-tanned leather means not only buying a product that preserves the well-being of our feet, but that also lasts over time, ensuring a quality fit, regardless of the repeated stresses.”
Moreover, the uniqueness of an artisanal product has nothing in common with modern industrial processes: the creation of a true artisanal shoe involves around 40-50 steps, which makes large-scale production impossible without using complex industrial machinery.
And Gualtieri doesn’t accept this: “Our production is limited because we want to preserve the craftsmanship of our shoes. Mass production would deprive us of the craftsmanship and love we put into creating each shoe. Our motto is therefore ” less is more”. We work with retailers all over Italy and since we opened our e-commerce, we have also attracted interest abroad, especially in France and in Eastern European countries such as Croatia.”
Attilio also describes their typical customer, in the 35-40 age group, but admits to seeing strong interest from senior users: “Our customer prefers a comfortable, high-quality product with a casual style and, above all, one that lasts. Although many prefer us over industrial and international brands, few people know about vegetable tanning and its health and environmental benefits. This is due to the huge confusion about the topic – especially online – and the fact that many companies call themselves ‘green’ just because they use recycled material.”
Consumer awareness, according to Attilio, is the aspect that needs to be improved if we are to achieve sustainable fashion in the future: “Synthetic materials are cheap,” continues Attilio, “simply because the consumer is not well informed: what does recycled material mean? Recycled from what and with which energy waste? What waste materials are produced and how are they disposed of? These are the questions we should all ask ourselves before buying a product, especially if it is footwear. Unfortunately, there are so many – perhaps too many – products on offer these days, and I understand that the choice is far from easy. Raising consumer awareness – as we at Gualtieri try to do every day – would give a further boost to craft businesses like ours.
We are not the only ones who believe that Made in Italy and craftsmanship can bring even more prestige to our country, especially in terms of commitment to environmental protection. And we will never stop doing so!”
For information and purchase: