Though Made in Brazil, Shoes Keep Their Italian Sole

A relocated shoe company learns to take a little from the old, and a little from the new.
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When Italian-based shoe company Due Farina relocated to Brazil and found a factory with an honest agent, the business was in South America to stay.

While sales hadn't worked well out in Italy, Due Farina wanted to keep the Italian concept of la bella figura (the beautiful figure) in the design of its shoes while using the benefits of its new locale. It sounds straightforward enough, but doing so proved more of challenge than co-owner Marina Rosin had anticipated. As far as manufacturing goes, she found, Brazil and Italy are literally and figuratively oceans apart.

Holding Onto La Dolce Vita

"We didn't want to loose the cache of a company that has its roots in Italy," says Rosin. Italian brands like Gucci and Prada instantly evoke style and quality as opposed to less exclusive shoe brands like

Nike

(NKE) - Get Report

or

Kenneth Cole

(KCP)

.

While the company still maintains small-scale production in Italy, Brazilian production brings in most of the revenue. To keep customers focused on Italy, Rosin created a small collection of Italian-made samples that emphasized the Due Farina aesthetic and functioned as a way to maintain a strong press presence. "We wanted to be branded and well-identified to

both existing and potential customers," says Rosin.

Factory-Inspired Design

Shortly after, Rosin started a second line in Brazil called "Le Due," meaning the second. She wanted to keep an Italian look and level of quality for the line, but soon discovered the Brazilian factories had a different design plan.

An important hurdle was accepting what Brazilian factories can and can't do, says Rosin. She was trying to make her shoes look Italian, but wasn't accepting that most Brazilian factories simply couldn't produce the same quality finish or provide the same details. "I was trying to force certain things

in terms of design instead of letting go," says Rosin.

"We have scars on our hands from cutting ourselves," she says, from working overtime at the factory assembling shoes. Last fall, Rosin and her business partners finished the season's line themselves because the factory couldn't make the deadline. "It was 105 degrees and we brought beer and ice cream for the workers so they would stay late on a Saturday," she says.

Rosin eventually had to accept that Brazil isn't known for its finesse in luxury-shoe manufacturing. To avoid the same long learning process, she advises getting a solid sense of what materials your factory works with up front, and then making the best of any limitations.

The Road Ahead

After repeated instruction to manufacturers on what a properly finished shoe should look like, a lot of DIY work and some design compromises, Due Farina gradually moved through five factories, which increased in size and production ability as the company more strongly established itself.

Things are looking bright for the future as well.

For last spring's collection, Due Farina's manufacturer was able to finish the shoes without Rosin's handiwork. At the bigger factory, says Rosin, "They're completely capable of finishing the job themselves." Her lesson learned about design compromise is evident in Due Farina's new chunky heels and the larger details of the Brazilian-produced shoes. And now that the company has gotten the Brazilian hang of things, Due Farina is boldly venturing into handbags.