5 Questions for Giuseppe Santoni

Giuseppe Santoni is clearly a man on a mission.

The son of Andrea Santoni is currently CEO of the high-end Italian shoe label his father founded in 1975. And now he strives to take the company into a new phase of diversification and internationalization.

The brand has enlarged its offering of informal men’s shoes with more-affordable prices. While formal shoes range between 400 to 600 euros, or $520 to $780 at current exchange, informal styles sell for between 250 and 350 euros, or $325 to $455. Santoni also is expanding its women’s line, which launched about 10 years ago.

“We are living in a period of great growth and expansion, thanks to the huge investments we made on innovative products,” said Santoni, seated at the desk in his Milanese studio, an airy room in the company’s showroom located in a sumptuous, historic building on Via Montenapoleone. “We innovated respecting our high quality standard — that is quite rare. Quality is usually associated with classic, traditional products, while the low-middle segment of the market is full of more fashionable and trendy shoes.”

His efforts appear to be paying off. According to the latest available figures, in 2012, the company generated revenues of 55 million euros, or $72.6 million at current exchange, and aims to post revenues of 60 million euros, or $78 million, in 2013.

Here, Santoni discusses the new goals for the brand, the U.S. market and why he opted for the sustainable way.

Santoni is traditionally considered a men’s brand. Will you be able to obtain the same success in the women’s footwear arena?
In 2012, the women’s line accounted for 35 percent of our total business — a huge jump for the line, which features more ample growth margins compared with men’s footwear because there is more space for expansion. The women’s market is pretty crowded, but we have our own identity and our collection has a very precise DNA — our shoes are very feminine but feature masculine elements. We put the focus on rich materials and customized colors. In addition, we decided to ban “skyscraper” stilettos, opting for mid-low heels, which are very trendy.

What do men look for right now?
Nowadays, men want to be more casual and informal. They don’t wear suits every day anymore, and they dress in a more sporty way. Of course, they still buy formal shoes, but they look for more fanciful and unconventional styles. Men became more attentive to trends, and they take care of their image, as proven by the boom of footwear sales online, which is destined to become pivotal in terms of distribution. In fact, online shopping is extremely convenient for men who usually would have time to do shopping only when stores have already closed.

In February, you opened a flagship store in Milan. What’s your overall retail strategy?
The store on Via Montanapoleone is in a great location, and it guarantees excellent visibility. We took four years to find the space. We currently have 20 stores, but our goal is to increase the number. The Milan store served as a test because it’s the first to feature the new concept designed by Patricia Urquiola. This concept, which includes natural materials, such as wood, brass and [other] decorative elements, will be used also for the stores we will open in London and Paris, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Are you planning to expand in the United States?
In the U.S., I’m seeing an increased interest toward new products, and there we are growing between 8 percent and 10 percent every year. About 15 percent of our exports are directed to the U.S. We plan to open a store in New York in 2015. New York is an important destination for Santoni, and now, through a partnership with a new distributor, we are working to place our collections in key stores in order to give visibility to the brand.

Why have you invested so much into sustainability over the last couple of years?
Being so attentive to the environment helped us to build a very good reputation in the U.S. and northern Europe, which are very sensitive to these themes. In 2011, we built a new factory, which is totally green. Our company has zero impact, which means we generate more energy than we use for our production. The building, which is made with crystal and glass, has walls consisting of two glass layers separated by a gap, which avoids the dispersion of heat in winter and of air conditioning in summer. In addition, we recycle rainwater in bathrooms and certain phases of production. We also don’t treat leather with any chemical products but only with natural colors, and tanning is done with vegetable methods.

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