Until you reach the source, it’s often hard to fully understand how products are imagined, designed and created. Last week, a group of North American media and folks from SCARPA’s North American arm made the pilgrimage to the small agrarian town of Asolo, Italy, to have a look into how the 75-year-old company stays on top. When we arrived in the front office on that rainy March afternoon, one thing became abundantly clear: it’s a family affair.
Independently owned by the Parisottos, SCARPA has been a family business since 1956, when the Parisottos, who already had their own background in making footwear, bought the company. A bit of trivia, SCARPA stands for Società Calzaturiera Asolana Riunita Pedemontana Anonima, which means Associated Manufacturing Company of the Asolo Mountain Area, tying back to the company’s roots as a co-op of individual artisan boot makers in the 1930s. It’s from this foundation that the Parisottos built a company that leads the way in every discipline of mountain-sports footwear.
We are greeted at once by CEO Sandro Parisotto, his sister Cristina, who is in charge of directing style and color trends, and their cousin Davide, who heads up R&D and production. Ever gracious, they make introductions, and we then embark into the factory for a look into the heart and soul of SCARPA.
At first glance, the factory is noticeably clean – spotless in fact – and surprisingly quiet, and everyone takes notice. Machines a myriad of sizes, shapes and sounds hum along as we gather at the starting line of a shoe’s life. Workers move with purpose across the aisles, a steady stream of activity. Wearing his trademark navy-colored lab coat, Davide is relaxed, as are all the employees who work in the back of the house. An open-air floor plan makes it easy for us to see the progression of a design being made into reality, beginning with a CAD machine that laser etches the “uppers” for a SCARPA approach shoe into a piece of dyed leather.
Slowly we move through the instruments, sewing machines and conveyor equipment, and see a shoe’s evolution progress before our eyes. The machinery, both for shoes and plastic ski boots, is meticulously specialized, and it offers new insight into precision production. Bridging the gap between computerized accuracy and industrial practicality, the SCARPA factory is something to behold. Machines might perform a large chunk of the work, but almost every employee in the factory puts hands on every shoe and boot that is built here, providing the human touch that makes SCARPA products among the very best.
Near the end of our tour, Davide stops beside a man in his 80s, who is inspecting a nearly finished boot for any lingering flaws, making sure they are worthy of the SCARPA name. The man is his uncle, Francesco, Sandro’s dad, and the former CEO of SCARPA. He still works. That’s not all. Around the corner is Davide’s father, Luigi, who also sports a blue lab coat and also comes to work every day. He started bringing Davide to the shop when he was in his teens. That was 40 years ago, and Davide’s mentorship is finally nearing an end.
From an old canvas bag, Davide pulls out a few fully handmade shoes, plus a boot last his father made for the great Italian climber Walter Bonatti some 50 years ago. Luigi takes the last in his hands for a photograph. Rough, hard and calloused, his hands show a lifetime of cobbling, most all of which was by hand.
Luigi doesn’t speak English well, and most of us have no Italian skills, so we do our best to communicate respect for his lifetime in this business. He smiles back, and Davide gives him a pat on the back, a fitting end to our walk through bona-fide Italian history.
SCARPA is one of many world-class manufacturers of shoes and boots in the Asolo region of Italy. What sets them apart is their commitment to their legacy. The Parisottos own their own factory, giving them great control over an entirely vertical operation, and they’ve passed the business down from one generation to the next. They’ve also managed to understand the nuances of mountain culture and sports, which, combined, might just be the secret to producing some of the best specialized mountain-sports footwear in the world.
A few more photos:
Photos 1-4 by Jeff Burke, Photos 5-8 by Crystal Sagan