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Interview: Magnus Ericson of Italigente

Posted in Feature by Hannes Rebas

Magnus Ericson, the passionate shoe entrepreneur behind Italigente and Kavat

Magnus Ericson, the passionate shoe entrepreneur behind Italigente and Kavat

Please tell us about your background within the shoe industry.

I am quite old and have spent practically all my life in the footwear business. I have worked in stores, retail, factories and all over the place, and in many different countries. I started at Bata, which back then had the best school for young people who wanted to work in footwear. We learned about all different constructions and leathers. We learned how to make shoes fast and how to make shoes slow.

I started my own company and worked a lot in Asia. I was there at a time when there were mainly rice fields and bicycles around. When I left, there were airports and speed trains. Then I went back to Europe and started a small project in Italy: Italigente. Italigente is kind of a love story. It was an idea about bringing back craftsmanship and quality.

At that time, in 2005, I had just come back from Asia and I was burnt out. I had lost the pride, the joy and the meaning of shoe life. When you work with shoes and there is a fight over every penny and it’s about big quantities, you kind of lose trace of the product. As a response to that, when I went back, I sold the business, got some money and had time to reflect over my next move. I went back to Italy because for me, out of all the countries I had been working in, whether in Europe, South America or Asia, the best shoes were always made in Italy.

Our factory is based in the Marche region, which is the centre of shoemaking nowadays in Italy. We got a lot of inspiration from the city of Milan, but all the production has always been done in a workshop in Marche, together with the Marini family who have become very good friends. Along the sub-suppliers, where we cut the leathers and do the stitching, we have all become like like a big family and it’s a small scale production, not a big money making machine.

We have made no more than 10,000 pairs of shoes in these years, and we know that people are very happy with them. Apart from my main business Kavat, which Italigente is part of, I feel that Italigente is something to be proud of, and that is also what we always communicate. We also make the footwear for Swedish men’s fashion brand Oscar Jacobson – our concepts are very much alike, with timeless, classic design, so it is a good match.

How are Italigente’s shoes constructed?

We are mainly using the Blake Rapid construction, which is a stitch-through construction with a welt stitch. It is a very good construction method when it comes to comfort and fitting. I have worked in England and the US, where many people had the idea that real shoes should be Goodyear welted. My feet are quite wide and I have bought several pairs that just became monuments in my wardrobe. I never used them, because my feet hurt and it was always easier to choose a pair of comfortable shoes.

When I got to know the Blake Rapid construction and I could actually start making lasts for my own feet, I felt that this construction method is unbeatable when it comes to comfort and style. There are of course different opinions, but this is mine. People will always argue about which construction method is better.

If you make a hand welted shoe like the best bespoke makers do, or a Norvegese, such constructions are of course very good and comfortable. But if you want to make something that is affordable and luxurious, then the Blake Rapid construction is great. It is flexible and very easy to repair, and creates a product that you can wear for a very long time.

It is even easier to repair than a Goodyear welted shoe. It’s about leather to leather. For me, it’s a more natural product. But I do not want to go into conflict. Some people like German cars, others like British cars, still others like Italian cars. Blake Rapid, for me, is the best. I know that there are lots of people out there who are starting to experience the Blake Rapid construction and discovering that it has some great qualities.

Italians always try to improve and that’s part of Italian culture. No matter if they are in the wine business or the shoe business, they aim to do something better than their neighbour and better than everyone else. At the time when the Blake Rapid construction was developed, it was a way to put up a challenge to the traditional industrial Goodyear construction method.

Do you have any favourite shoe type?

The first shoe I made myself was a sneaker. It was at Bata’s factory in Sarrebourg, France – a big factory with 2500 employees. I had to work with every type of machine for a year and learn the process. We were working in the factory in the morning from 7 am to lunch, and during the afternoon we had lessons in finance, tanning, production logistics and so on. At that time Bata was producing for Adidas. We were actually making the Adidas Stan Smith, which is one of my favourite sneakers.

I love shoes and I have a favourite shoe for every occasion. Last weekend I wore espadrilles, which was very nice because it reflected the summery mood and weather. Today, I am wearing a pair of old, Vibram soled, Blake Rapid constructed dress casual shoes. I like them very much. Italigente’s new Bologna constructed moccasin loafer is a super shoe. Variety in footwear is like salt and pepper, you can’t live without it.

Magnus showing his old rubber soled companions

Magnus showing his old rubber soled companions

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into the shoe business?

At the time when I started there was no Internet. It was very difficult to find facts about shoes and leathers and tanning. I was very fortunate to become a Bata student. Today there is a ton of information on the Internet, but you have to work hard and learn and be curious. You can never learn enough. I have been in the industry for more than 40 years and there’s always something left to learn. In our offices, we never throw away a sample – we keep all of them. Maybe they are not right this season, but after five years you see an old sample which someone put love into and there’s something there.

Be patient and spend lots of time looking at shoes. There’s always some detail that can be improved. Shoemaking is not a profession, it’s a passion and a lifestyle. When I travel or see people at a restaurant, I always look at their feet. Some would think it’s a sickness, but for me it’s normal – and maybe it is for most shoe people. It’s not only about business; it’s an interest and a hobby.

Any final words for our readers?

Always try on shoes carefully and never buy shoes that don’t fit. Salesmen often stress that fit will improve with wear, but that is only true to a certain extent. Try to find a shoe that immediately makes you feel that ’this is my size, this is my shoe.’ Don’t bargain with yourself when it comes to shoes. Shoes are too important for your well being, so I don’t like it when people walk in bad shoes. It’s just not worth it.

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