Saturday, August 13, 2022 | Muharram 14, 1444 H
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Don’t Toss Those Old Sneakers

The kings of our casual-attire era, sneakers have long been landfill fodder of cheap fabrication. Golden Goose, a maverick footwear enterprise, would like to propose an alternative: handicraft and repair.

With its flagship in Milan’s upmarket Brera neighborhood newly expanded and redesigned to accommodate workshops for cobblers and embroiderers, the brand best known for introducing $500 artisan-made sneakers is now offering in-store bespoke repairs that can run over $100. But despite the high-end pricing, the model may serve as a blueprint for fashion companies looking to extend the lifetime of their products.

“Artisans are able to produce uniqueness with their hands,” Silvio Campara, Golden Goose’s CEO, recently offered as an explanation of the sneakers’ eye-popping costs as he leaned on a workshop counter at the rear of his brand’s revamped boutique. “And artisanship creates affection.”

It also explains the business incentive to give artisans in their 20s and 30s a starring role at the flagship. In a well-outfitted atelier, a team of cobblers cleans, restitches and resoles shoes — especially sneakers — amid polishing wheels, leather-sewing machines and an ozone sanitizing closet, surrounded by the heady turpentine scent of glue on rubber. In another corner of the store, lined with drawers of rhinestones and rows of ribbon rolls, embroiderers sew patches on jeans and other clothing and stitch hearts, flowers and other whimsical designs onto sneakers — Golden Goose’s first venture into customization.

“Our goal is to renew the dignity of artisans,” Campara said, holding up a half-repaired sneaker with the nailheads of its hand-hammered insole exposed. “It was a difficult task to find 20 young people who wanted to work as cobblers today,” he added, but they were ultimately convinced that as part of Golden Goose’s repair program, “they’re shaping the future of fashion.”

“I’ll be thrilled if other brands try to copy us,” he said.

Buoyant and self-assured, Campara sported ripped white jeans spangled all over with pearls and rhinestones while showing off Golden Goose’s renovated flagship last month. He has a habit of winking when he’s bragging, as when he proclaimed, “We’re way ahead.” (Wink.) “Everyone else is outdated.”

The cobblers behind him, in denim jumpsuits with their official title — “Dream Maker” — patched in capitals across their back, removed sneakers from a specialized oven that heats the rubber so the foxing, the strip that wraps some sneaker styles, can be peeled away and replaced along with the outsole.

“Five years ago, sneaker repair didn’t exist,” said Alessandro Pastore, a cobbler who formerly led production for factories making shoes for brands including Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. “There isn’t a single luxury boutique that offers this kind of repair service.” He began hammering rubber into place on a stake-mounted sneaker. “We are the first, and we are unique, and it makes us feel truly important.” (At that, Campara high-fived him from across the counter.)

The brand, founded in 2000 by Francesca Rinaldo and Alessandro Gallo, applied an old-fashioned approach to manufacturing sneakers: Instead of vulcanizing a rubber sole to encase the shoe’s top portion — the customary quick fix for sneaker production in Asia — Golden Goose looked to the cordwainers of its home territory of Veneto, a region renowned for formal shoes handcrafted according to tradition, where several luxury fashion houses have established factories to take advantage of local footwear artisanship. Golden Goose devised sneakers with the same individually sewn uppers and hand-hammered soles found in formal shoes, and today it fabricates more than a million pairs of sneakers a year using traditional techniques in eight factories in Veneto and around Italy. “We’re the best,” Campara said with another wink, “because we’re Italian. We have the craftsmanship in this country that produces the world’s luxury goods.”

In the Milan boutique, window shelves display pairs of half-rehabbed sneakers. The befores and afters can be difficult to discern without studying the soles, however, as the sneakers themselves — in keeping with Golden Goose’s philosophy of “perfect imperfection” — proudly bear deliberate scuffs, tears, frays and inked-on graffiti. At the laundering station in the cobblers’ workshop, dozens of jars indicate the range of shades needed in white paint alone, from snow to smoggy, to match the effects of wear. A price board of artisan sneaker services advertises the apparently popular “Lived-In Treatment.” The cost: 70 euros, about the same in dollars.--NYT

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