On the plane last week, the man that I sat next to told me that all of Italy is beautiful, but Florence will be my favorite city. Even though we have two more locations left to visit, as of right now he was right! The beautiful architecture, breathtaking scenery, and amazing gelato are just some of the things that make Florence great.
To begin our day, we visited Scuola del Cuoio, or the Florentine Leather School. It was opened after WWII by 2 brothers who were friars. Their goal was to teach poor, orphaned boys a craft so that they could make a living as artisans. Today, the school is still run by their family.
Their business model is simple, yet unique: custom leather products from skilled artisans. Real artisans know every phase of the process and work with their hands, minds and hearts. By training their employees, the leather school offers this service to customers. All products are unique because artisans can create what they want. In this way, Scuola del Cuoio is a workshop; not a factory. Since everything is hand made, the school is very anti-global in a global world.
One of the artisans that we met was a guilder. Guilders decorate the leather products with pure gold. The man that we saw is one of the only ones of his kind left in Florence, so he is training someone to continue the work. To show us the process, he inscribed a coaster with gold designs, as seen in the picture below. The gold that he uses is from an antique company in Florence that is one of the best in Europe. The most exciting thing is that if you purchase something from the gift shop, the artisan will print your initials on it in gold for free as a thank you for being a customer! Now I have a bag that no one else in the world can have because it is hand made and has my initials on the inside.
In addition to offering custom designs, Scuola del Cuoio offers unique leathers. For example, they have ostrich, snake, and alligator. Because these are so obscure, the skins must be purchased outside of Italy. Deer skin is from Virginia, crocodile is from Egypt, and alligator is from Louisiana. For alligator skin, documentation must be provided to the customer to prove that the animal was farmed and not wild because it is endangered. However, all leathers are tanned locally in a factory between Florence and Pisa, and Scuola del Cuoio buys skins exclusively from this tannery. Therefore, the tannery that supplies the leather and antique company that supplies the gold to the school are the upstream suppliers.
On the downstream side of Scuola del Cuoio’s chain, their primary customers are the end user. They sell online, in the school in Florence, and in a store in New York City. Since the products are custom made, they are not sold in department stores or wholesalers. Therefore, the leather school acts as their own manufacturer and distributer since they are responsible for making and selling their products.
Scuola del Cuoio also makes a considerable effort to be sustainable. For example, leather is treated with all natural products such as olive oil, milk and egg white 24 hours before being crafted. Also, any leftover leather is given to a specific artisan in the school to reuse for smaller pieces like wallets and bracelets. Finally, they send the cotton that they use to wipe the leather down with to a company so that all the excess gold can be extracted and used.
One of the most interesting things that I learned during today’s visit is how the global climate is changing the leather industry. The profession of being an artisan is less sought after as the number of jobs in technology are rising. Therefore, the leather school currently has a problem with recruiting enough artisans. This is why they only have one guilder under the age of 80. The United States is the same way. Less people are entering the blue collar job field and instead are going to college for white collar work. Hopefully, there are enough people interested in being artisans that the Scuola del Cuoio is able to continue their shop for many years to come.
After our tour and buying lots of gifts for my family at the gift shop, we visited the Boboli Gardens. The gardens offer 3 miles of greenery and statues. While we did not have enough time to walk the entire path, we saw an amazing view of Florence and a rooftop garden with pink flowers. Then, I had gelato before and after dinner!! Needless to say, this was another successful day in Italy. Tomorrow we move to Verona, and I am excited for the opportunity to see another city in the most beautiful country in the world!