Day 6Today we had the opportunity to visit the Scuola del Cuoio of Firenze (The Florentine Leather School). This is an incredible place because it is artisanship in its purest form.
The school was founded after World War II. There were many orphaned boys that friars in Florence desired to help. They decided to take them into their monastery, but they wanted to teach them a valuable trade the young boys could make a living off of. The friars sought the help of two brother-in-laws who were leather artisans to teach the young boys the trade. It takes a few years to become a skilled artisan, but the orphans began to master the trade. Their work was so well done the brother-in-laws moved their shop permanently to the monastery which became a school to continue to teach the trade of leather artisanship. Not only did they decide to continue the school, but they wanted to sell the work as well. A shop was to do just this.
Currently, the Scuola del Cuoio both continues to teach artisans and sell the work of hired artisans. This is not the traditional commercialized business; however, they take pride in their ability to allow artisans to express themselves through their work. They do not mass produce products, they are a workshop. The artisans create whatever they want with high quality leather. They create leather handbags, wallets, belts, accessories, clothing, and so much more. The Middle Age technique is not as common a career today as it was years ago. The challenge they currently face is the fact that many are not interested in the tradition of leather making, yet it is so intriguing.
Scuola del Cuoio sells directly to customers through their store and online. Clients can also come to the artisans with specific requests. They do not distribute to other retailers to sell or make products for other companies. They are different from factories simply because the artisans can express their individuality. This therefore leads to a very creative, open, and informal organization. Typically, business work with large machinery maybe producing thousands of bags per day, while Scuola del Cuoio takes their time and treats their products as art.
The Scuola del Cuoio has many suppliers, which supply them with most of their materials such as animal skins, material to reinforce leather, and gold. They use skins from all around the world; however, all the skins are tanned in Italy. This provides their clients with authentic Italian leather. Scuola del Cuoio works mostly with cow leathers, it uses goat, lamb, deer, as well as exotic animal leathers (ostrich, alligator, python). They must follow rules with exotic skins, such as proper tagging and identity cards to prevent bags from being confiscated. There is a wide price range difference between the skins, leading to a lot of fake leather producers.
Not only do they need leather, the Scuola del Cuoio decorates some of the leather in gold. They get this gold from an antique company in Florence. The process of decorating the leather in gold involves natural pretreatment. The artisan (only one artisan in Florence is currently capable of decorating the leather in this manner) uses a combination of milk, olive oil, and egg white. He uses tools that are decades old to create special, unique designs for each of his products. The gold, which is 22 carat pure gold, is handled with a special horse hair tool. Once the gold is on the leather, cotton removes the excess gold. The cotton is sent to the same gold company to extract these bits for reuse.
To make bags that are reinforced, have unique shapes, or different textures, materials such as foam, salpa, or texon are needed. These all come from local suppliers.
All of these parts come together to create an authentic leather crafted product. This entire process for a special request can take up to 2 months for an artisan to complete. The Scuola del Cuoio does not want to be a factory, they enjoy taking their time. I admire the work these artisans do. It is becoming a long lost tradition in a world of commercialization and modernization. They focus on their product and the process over profit. The have a simple supply chain that starts with component suppliers that supply them with their basic materials. The artisans create their masterpieces and then sell directly to the customer.
Not does the Scuola del Cuoio sell the work of artisans, they create them as well. They hope to continue the tradition of leather artisanship and offer classes to anyone willing and committed to learn. Just as they create their products from start to finish in their school, they teach future artisans the art from beginning to end. The company values tradition and quality.