In Person: The Ars Sutoria Mission

Joe Moore may be retiring in 2014, but he is thinking way beyond that.

Frustrated with the lack of hands-on, practical knowledge among many of today’s shoe designers and buyers, the president and CEO of FFANY set out to offer educational courses to the industry that are based in New York but accessible from everywhere.

To do that, last year FFANY partnered with Ars Sutoria, the Milan-based school otherwise known as the International Technical Institute of Art of Footwear & Leather Goods. The move was spurred by Moore’s interest in enhancing the skills of professionals new to the industry. As he lamented, “Their real knowledge of how footwear is manufactured is very limited. When I was a buyer at Neiman Marcus 40 years ago, there were more than 20 shoe factories in Manhattan and I had the luxury of learning about shoemaking and different leathers. We participated in the creation of our footwear. Not now.”

The program, modeled after Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s alignment with Ars Sutoria in Boston, spans five full days and costs $2,500 to attend.

The course is targeted at product developers, product managers, designers, merchandisers and line builders. It covers such topics as the fundamentals of shoemaking, materials and components, and pattern-making.

Participants have come from companies such as Jimlar Corp., Brown Shoe Co., Camuto Group, Deer Stags, Michael Kors, Nina, E.S. Originals, Rockport and H.H. Brown. FFANY also has given scholarships to designers at Nine West and sent Rachel Fishbein, winner of the 2011 FN Shoe Star competition, to Italy for the full, 13-week course.

Industry insiders familiar with the program were quick to express support for it.

Mark DeZao, EVP of Easy Spirit Design at The Jones Group Inc., said associates from his firm found the program helped “hone and develop the skills that go into the process of making footwear. The Ars Sutoria concept is great for the industry and a good starting point for people looking to gain firsthand experience and be immersed in the footwear product-development process.”

And to participants such as Jake Schwartz, associate brand manager of Rachel Zoe Footwear at Jimlar Corp., the program’s value is in its video presentations of factory processes, which aren’t normally accessible except through an actual factory visit.

“This exposure to the technical aspects of shoemaking is truly crucial for someone like me [who’s] on the production side of the business. [It has] helped me understand what can and cannot be achieved in production,” Schwartz said.

According to Moore, the 20-person classes have twice been booked solid, spurring him to develop an e-learning course and begin to think about opening a workshop in the city where participants have a dedicated space for hands-on tutorials, such as making samples and cutting leathers.

His aim is for schools, such as the Fashion Institute of Technology, to put his course on their curriculum so that students can pay to use those facilities as part of their tuition.

“I’m sure the demand that I think is there, is there,” Moore said. “Everyone I speak to about it is encouraging me to do it.”

Moore envisions the e-learning program as a way to reach more people while being less cost-intensive. And because hiring instructors from Italy doesn’t come cheap, he’s looking for corporate sponsorship from footwear firms.

Even retailers could take advantage of the proposed program, according to Moore. For example, he said, “stores can show at morning meetings what’s a last, what’s a toe box — to everyone from the buyer or merchandise manager down to salespeople on the floor. If the salespeople know what they’re selling, the customer goes away happier and more educated about shoes. The ultimate goal always is to have women buy more shoes.”

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