We started out our only full day in Florence with a visit to the Scuola del Cuoio, or the Florentine Leather School. The Scuola del Cuoio was founded shortly after World War 2 by the friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce, and the Gori and Casini families. It is still a family business today. They wanted to teach the many orphans left from the war a trade so that they would be able to provide for themselves. Leather making artisans were brought in to teach the orphans their craft. This area along the Arno river has historically been a major area for the tanning and leather trade. The tannery the Scuola del Cuoio gets their leather from used to be right along the banks of the Arno in Florence, but as you can imagine the smell that comes from a tannery is awful, so it is now a little out into the countryside away from Florence.
It is very important for the Scuola del Cuoio to not be a factory, but to allow their workers to express their creativity. Students don’t need any experience to join this school, but they only accept 20 students at a time. This school follows the tradition of having master craftsmen work right alongside the students in order to give them the best possible education. To be considered an artisan, a person must be able to do every step of the process, so the students learn everything from cutting the leather to gilding finished products with 22-karat gold leaf, which may be the most difficult part. During our visit, we got to see Francesco, the last gilding master in Florence, gild a leather coaster. This process is so difficult that students must practice with carbon paper for two years before they can use the real materials. Leather must be treated for 24 hours before it can be worked on. Then Francesco brushes on a thin layer of very delicate gold leaf. The tools used for pressing the design into the leather are kept in the fire of candles, and right before he uses them he dips them in water so they don’t burn the gold or the leather. Francesco finishes the design then wipes away the excess gold and its finished. He also can gild initials into the products people buy at their store, but for this a 22-karat gold tape is used because there isn’t time for the product to be treated for 24 hours. The school gets all of their gold from a company in Florence, and they can send back excess gold to have it recycled into gold leaf to minimize waste.
In the supply chain, the Scuola del Cuoio is a producer and seller. They get the leather, gold, and other needed materials from other companies. The entire process of turning the materials into finished products is done within the school itself, and then the products are sold in their own stores throughout the world. They sell directly to downstream customers, and their primary customers are anyone who would like high quality leather products. Their primary products are leather purses, bags, wallets, bracelets, belts and more. The Scuola del Cuoio is, of course, in the leather-product making industry. Their major competitors are other companies that make high quality products out of real leather and companies who make cheap products that may or may not actually be leather, because many people can’t tell the difference between real leather and fake leather. Some challenges that exist for Scuola del Cuoio in this industy are keeping the quality of their products very high, without having to price them higher than people would pay for, especially when the fake ones are cheap. They also have to make sure the leather from endangered animals like the alligator comes from reputable farms and have a label on them.
After we had finished our tour we were allowed to shop for some of their leather products, then headed out on another guided tour. We got to rub the nose of the statue of Piggy for luck and walk across the bridge filled with jewelry shops. Then we went into the palace the Medici family used to live in, which is now a museum. The inside of many of the rooms on the first floor are covered in paintings that make the room seem to go beyond its borders, which was really cool to see. Once the tour was over we had the rest of the day to ourselves. A group of us walked through the Boboli Gardens for an amazing view of Florence and some picture opportunities and later we had a delicious dinner. I picked pasta of course.