To begin our day in Florence, we visited the Scuola del Cuoio, which is Italian for Leather School. Built in the walls of an old Florentine monastery, this business was founded to provide a home and a craft for orphans of the second world war. To this day the Scuola still maintains an organizational culture emphasizing tradition, family, and creativity. In the supply chain of leather products, the Scuola del Cuoio acts as a manufacturer of both leather products and leather artisans, since the business is primarily a school. As a manufacturer and supplier, the school’s customers are those who come to the store to purchase leather products, and in regard to their leatherworking education, the customers are young people from around the world hoping to learn the craft.
For the Scuola del Cuoio, the work starts with the supplies they import from all around the world. In the demonstrations we saw on our tour, the craftsmen in the Scuola used wool, gold, and so many different kinds of leather to construct their bags, belts, and coverings. Our guide explained the primary places the school gets its leather from. Goat skin comes from Greece, lambskin and ostrich from South Africa, deer and alligator skins from the United States, and only the best crocodile from Australia. Though the skins come from all over the world, they are all tanned in Italy, a little south of Florence, to guarantee quality. The gold used to put designs into the leather comes from local blacksmiths in Florence. The Scuola clearly is a hub for materials all over the world to be melded together by highly trained artisans.
The manufacturing process in the leather school is divided among individuals who specialize in different products or in different steps of the manufacturing process. For example, the first demonstration we saw was a guilder placing gold designs into a leather-covered coaster. This guilder had been working in the leather school for fifteen years, and was himself a product of the Scuola del Cuoio’s education system. Another elder artisan we met was among the first orphans admitted to the school, and at 85 years old was still covering books for the school. We watched other students from Japan, China, the United States cutting and gluing leather bags together. Some products are customized upon demand from the clients, but much of the products are simply the creative expression of the artisans in the school.
The customers of the leather school come from all around the world to buy high quality, unique, and expensive leather products. Along one wall of the store were pictures of famous people who had visited the Scuola del Cuoio. The ones I recognized were Barbara Bush, Neil Patrick Harris, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The school attracts so many famous people because each product is made patiently by hand, and as a result may acquire a staggering price tag. Our guide showed us an alligator skin handbag worth 16,000 euros. This is one of the most expensive things in the shop, but many of the wallets, coaster, and belts are priced for the common person. We learned that the school opened up a shop for its sister company in New York City, so the business attracts patrons from many other continents. As for the artisans trained in the school, many travel back to their own countries to open their own boutiques or to teach young people in the craft. For either product, the leather or the leatherworkers, the Scuola del Cuoio continues to influence the world.
Addressing the theme of company issues, the school’s organization culture continues to reflect its family-run structure and encourage the creativity of its students. As our guide explained, the school began as a family business and has passed down through the generations of the same family. As a results, the business does not feel rushed or geared toward profits. The school also goes to great lengths to encourage creativity. One of the women in the family that owns the company continues to design her own style bags one-of-a-kind for each person that seeks her bags. Every year, the students in the school design a new original bag. The best design is featured in the school’s showcases and a series of that design is produced by the school. Many students who come to the school from abroad do not return home because they love to work in the school. This is a testament to the familial organizational culture fostered by the Scuola del Cuoio.
The Scuola del Cuoio clearly occupies a manufacturer role in the supply chain of leather products. They import their leather from quality-assured suppliers and manufacture the finished products themselves. They do not supply their bags to other companies, but sell the products in their own shop, making them retailers as well. A notable aspect of the school was its encouragement of creativity in a craft that has been around for thousands of years, despite the traditional nature of leatherworking. For this reason, of the businesses we’ve visited, the Scuola del Cuoio is the business I would most like to be a part of.