The annual convention organized by the Italian shoe industry association in Milan last month around the “made in Italy” theme was different from any of its previous sessions. The speeches were deliberately factual, short, stimulating and often entertaining. And for the first time in the history of Anci, young fashion students from various countries were invited on the scene to give their opinion of what Italian shoe design stands for.

The convention was the first one to have been held under the chairmanship of Anci's young new president, Cleto Sagripanti, who also runs his family company, Manas. The general conclusion was that the perception of Italian style is high all over the world, but that the “made in Italy” label cannot be used forever as a ploy to charge a higher price without some genuine quality behind it. It was felt that a certain passion, an entrepreneurial spirit of initiative and a high degree of determination are needed to keep the image alive and to transmit it to the younger generations.

Young people must be encouraged to move into the shoe business by showing how craftsmen work in the better companies, by impressing them with the dignity of the profession, by telling the story of a product and by explaining the DNA of a great brand, eventually through the internet. Instead of hiding under the “made in Italy” umbrella, they should be encouraged to build up their own individual brands for the customers of tomorrow, as the Prada and Ferragamo families have done in the past, with large doses fantasy, innovation and passion.

Noting that famous Italian designers such as Giorgio Armani and Valentino Garavani have failed to groom their successors, participants in the convention proposed that shoe companies should organize contents among students to find the new talents for the future. They should offer them internships and train them under the guidance of a “master.”

An example of this process from a totally different sector was given by Valentina Vezzali, the 37-year-old Italian Olympic fencing champion from the Marche region. She said she would not have succeeded without coaching from her “master” and without competing with older and more experienced athletes.

Pointing to an unemployment rate of up to 30 percent among youngsters up to the age of 24, speakers at the convention urged Italian government authorities to provide new incentives for the hiring of apprentices, as in Germany. They said that young people should be encouraged to fight for their jobs. If they inherit the business from their parents, they should have the courage to look at the market differently, if necessary, and to change the business model, like launching a completely different line.

The most recent survey conducted by Anci among its industry members showed that their production levels are up for 51 percent of them, and stable for another 26 percent of the sample, thanks largely to exports that rose by 15.2 percent in value during the first seven months of this year.

However, Sagripanti pointed out that there cannot be any growth without employment. He called on the state to reduce taxes permanently for apprentices and for entrepreneurs who invest in their own companies. He also proposed special credit schemes to support collective initiatives by groups of companies.