Golden Goose focusing on repairs
The kings of our casualattire era, sneakers have long been landfill fodder of cheap fabrication. Golden Goose, a maverick footwear enterprise, would like to propose an alternative: handicraft and repair.
With its flagship in Milan’s upmarket Brera neighborhood newly expanded and redesigned to accommodate workshops for cobblers and embroiderers, the brand best known for introducing $500 artisan-made sneakers is now offering in-store bespoke repairs that can run over $100. But despite the high-end pricing, the model may serve as a blueprint for fashion companies looking to extend the lifetime of their products.
“Artisans are able to produce uniqueness with their hands,” Silvio Campara, Golden Goose’s CEO, recently offered as an explanation of the sneakers’ eye-popping costs as he leaned on a workshop counter at the rear of his brand’s revamped boutique. “And artisanship creates affection.”
It also explains the business incentive to give artisans in their 20s and 30s a starring role at the flagship. In a well-outfitted atelier, a team of cobblers cleans, restitches and resoles shoes amid polishing wheels, leathersewing machines and an ozone sanitizing closet, surrounded by the heady turpentine scent of glue on rubber. In another corner of the store, lined with drawers of rhinestones and rows of ribbon rolls, embroiderers sew patches on jeans and other clothing
and stitch hearts, flowers and other designs onto sneakers — Golden Goose’s first venture into customization.
“Our goal is to renew the dignity of artisans,” Campara said, holding up a half-repaired sneaker with the nailheads of its hand-hammered insole exposed. “It was a difficult task to find 20 young people who wanted to work as cobblers today,” he added, but they were ultimately convinced that as part of Golden Goose’s repair program, “they’re shaping the future of fashion.”
“I’ll be thrilled if other brands try to copy us,” he said.
“Five years ago, sneaker repair didn’t exist,” said Alessandro Pastore, a cobbler who formerly led production for factories making shoes for designer brands. “There isn’t a single luxury boutique that offers this kind of repair service.” He began hammering rubber into place on a stake-mounted sneaker. “We are the first, and we are unique, and it makes us feel truly important.”
The brand, founded in 2000 by Francesca Rinaldo and Alessandro Gallo, applied an old-fashioned approach to manufacturing sneakers: Instead of vulcanizing a rubber sole to encase the shoe’s top portion — the customary quick fix for sneaker production in Asia — Golden Goose looked to the cordwainers of its home territory of Veneto,
a region renowned for formal shoes handcrafted according to tradition, where several luxury fashion houses have established factories to take advantage of local footwear artisanship. Golden Goose devised sneakers with the same individually sewn uppers and hand-hammered soles found in formal shoes, and today it fabricates more than a million pairs of sneakers a year using traditional techniques in eight factories in Veneto and around Italy. “We’re the best,” Campara said, “because we’re Italian. We have the craftsmanship in this country that produces the world’s luxury goods.”
In the Milan boutique, window shelves display pairs of half-rehabbed sneakers. The befores and afters can be difficult to discern without studying the soles, however, as the sneakers themselves — in keeping with Golden Goose’s philosophy of “perfect imperfection” — proudly bear deliberate scuffs, tears, frays and inked-on graffiti.
As for the strategy’s sustainability merits, clients showed up with 38 pairs of sneakers to refurbish on opening day in June. Yet if a wider culture of repair replaces the planned disposability of modern fashion, the way we buy and maintain goods would radically change.
“We’re here to create more long-term value, not just revenues,” Campara said. “You can’t sell if you don’t have any clients.”