No Business Like Shoe Business
Regarded as one of Britain’s best men’s shoemakers, over the past 12 years, Tony Gaziano and his partner Dean Girling have built their eponymous business, Gaziano & Girling, from humble beginnings in a backyard workshop into a thriving manufacturer of fine handcrafted footwear. We spoke with Gaziano about his path from rudderless college drop-out to shoemaking maestro and artisanal entrepreneur.
What made you decide to become a shoemaker? When did the passion for the craft take hold?
Tony Gaziano: I went to college to be an architect. That was what I really wanted to do at the time. But after about six months, it didn’t appeal to me anymore. There wasn’t enough creativity in it, so I stopped going to college, much to my parents’ displeasure. And my father said, go out and get a job. I found one at (shoemaker) Joseph Cheaney in Northamptonshire as a junior designer. I wasn’t into shoes at that time, but I wanted to get into something in fashion and design. When I went there, I thought I was going to be drawing pictures all day. But I had a very oldfashioned boss and he said: ‘No son, get on the factory floor — you can’t design anything until you learn how to make it.’ I did that for about 18 months and was quite pissed off with it, to be honest. It grew on me though, and then all of a sudden it was almost like a button got switched on, and I stood there and thought, I enjoy this. So it wasn’t a conscious choice from the beginning. It was something I got involved in and discovered through working in that environment that it was something that I enjoyed doing and wanted to pursue.
Did you find you felt a particular satisfaction at the end of a working day, being able to look at physical objects you’d created with your own two hands?
Yeah, absolutely. I still get the same feeling and that is the reason why I’m still in the job. At specific times during the day a picture comes in your mind of something that you want to create and it’s a great thing to be able to realise a mental image into a physical product. And the journey of doing that builds a lot of adrenaline in me. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of excitement and if it finishes and it looks the way that I wanted it to, when it’s done, I’ll probably look at that shoe for the next month, 24 hours a day. I’ll become obsessed with it. I really do get a buzz out of that journey of creation.