5 Questions for Giuseppe Zanotti

Giuseppe Zanotti yearns for a summer vacation on an island near Sicily, but first, the business of selling shoes beckons.

Fresh off such projects as creating a gold-plate-necklace-belt hybrid for Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” music video and making wedding shoes for Anja Rubik — the face of his fall ’11 campaign — Zanotti is looking forward to presenting his latest collection at FFANY this week.

“First, I must meet the buyers and see the approval in their eyes,” said the Italian designer, “and then perhaps it’s off to Stromboli.”

Speaking to Footwear News in a mix of English and his native tongue, Zanotti said his company would not be where it is today — 2010 revenues totaled roughly 71 million euros (or $103 million at current exchange) — without a lot of hard work.

“When you have talent, you work slowly but consistently, and if you deliver your shoes on time, clients will always come back,” he said. “[I don’t believe in having to] sacrifice your [work ethic] for the opportunity to make money and be rich. We are an independent company with great success, but the only problem is that we work so much.”

Zanotti has spent most of 2011 expanding into Asia, in markets such as China and Hong Kong. Here, the designer discusses how far he’s come and what else is in store.

This last year has been a busy one for you. How do you balance everything?
GZ: I think of my job as a vinyl record: Side A is when I need to sell sandals, Side B is when I have to remember that while I was born to make luxury shoes, not everybody has the opportunity to buy them. In my work, it’s very nice to have relationships not just for business. But I’m not a star. I need to feel normal. If I spend half my time meeting famous people, I can’t do my work and will put my business at a big risk.

How much more do you want to grow your business?
GZ: I’m not driven by whether it grows or not. When I started this business [15 years ago], I had nine staff [members] and my only objective was to design shoes. I didn’t come [with backing] from a family business; I was just a designer with enough money for buying leather and accessories and paying the rent. I wanted to have a shoe collection that was different from the Japanese style that was in vogue at the time — very minimal, all heavy and black. The business just grew like a global virus. I never imagined I would create a global company that has 500 staff [members] and 64 boutiques around the world today. I still don’t have enough capacity [to meet real demand] every season. If I did, I would have grown 10 times more by now.

You launched jewelry at the end of 2010. Why did you decide to diversify?
GZ: I’ve never heard of any woman putting any jewel — real or fake — in the garbage. Jewelry is something a woman can give to her daughter, and it’s something that really lasts forever, more so than a shoe. My core business is still shoes, but I [haven’t forgotten that] 13 years ago the first shoe I created [for my own collection] was a flat sandal with jewels on the top. The bejeweled fishbone sandal is still one of my best sellers every summer. I like experimenting with jewelry and had a lot of fun conceptualizing pieces for Beyoncé.

With 85 percent of the world’s shoes made in China today, why does Italian manufacturing continue to be so important to your brand?
GZ: I have been frustrated because I can’t outsource to Chinese companies. To produce my shoes I need to be in Italy. Only the artisans here know how these kinds of shoes are born. I have tried to find this know-how in other parts of the world, but it’s not easy to outsource the expertise, especially when you do custom designs for people like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. I’m like an old couturier, making things su misura [Italian for “made-to-measure”], and my company can produce maybe 150,000 shoes per season.

Can you envision a day when you would stop designing shoes?
GZ: If I stop making shoes, it means I’ll stop my career, and it will be time to sell my company to somebody and move someplace [to live amid] nature. But I’ll still design other things I love, like glasses and furniture. Maybe I will start to produce loafers for myself. But I can’t [be] without my passion because I received this gift when I was 5 years old. This is the life of people who love their work and love the challenge of whatever they do.

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