In 1960 Guerino Foieni, an employee in the Cedrati tannery, decided to open his own business. At the beginning, the family was called upon to work in the factory, but Guerino was determined to become an entrepreneur rather than a factory worker elsewhere. Thus, the “Conceria Guerino” was born, with the collaboration of his children, Giacomo and Giovanna.
Today, the company is guided by the third generation, Alessandro Foieni with his wife Nicla and his sister Magda. Together they continue to run the company with the spirit of a family and under the watchful eye of Giacomo, who visits the company every day to offer his 60 years of experience.
Well known by the best shoe manufacturers and the world’s leading brands for the production of high quality linings (goat, sheepskin, chrome-free and laminated) for luxury footwear, the Guerino tannery operates in its headquarters of Robecchetto con Induno (in the province of Milan) and produces more than 6 million square feet of leather per year.
Alessandro, who are your main customers?
“The high-end sector. We work with the twelve best brands in the world and we aim for the highest quality and excellent service, while focusing on traceability and sustainability. Our “stylistic code” is an extraordinary capacity for customisation”.
What are the real challenges of the lining industry?
“Firstly, to provide excellent and constant quality, and not just quantities. Secondly, speed. Fashion is increasingly faster and the development, industrialisation and production times are shorter, while the controls, tests and certifications have increased, and this takes time.
We have chosen to organise ourselves with a continuous warehouse stocked with colour bases prepared in advance, which we then finish according to the customers’ specifications thanks to a colour refinement technology, in a single day. This makes us faster on average than our competitors. Last June, we started a project to double the spaces of the company: we will have new machinery and barrels for an even larger warehouse to meet the challenges of chrome-free production in Italy”.
Is the lining industry declining as much as leather for uppers?
“Our production has doubled over the last 3 years. The only problem today is that the market is very concentrated and we all depend heavily on a limited number of customers. A positive situation because it allows us to create strong partnerships, but potentially risky for others”.
Is it difficult working with big brands?
“In principle, no. There aren’t many of us in the company, but we are all highly trained professionals, able to assist the customer with any need. As happens to everyone, we find ourselves negotiating prices and sometimes we have the feeling that our interlocutors do not place the right value on everything that happens “behind the scenes.” The lining is a critical component where quality means healthiness, workability and aesthetics. Large, highly structured organisations have a traditional separation between the style office and production and we are in the middle. Consequently, it is our job to find the solutions to meet the demands of both”.
Is there a secret for continuing to be appreciated by the most important brands?
“To identify yourself with a well-defined product and be recognised as specialists for that type of article. We have chosen to focus on sheepskin and goat skins of the highest quality. We select the finest raw materials, paying more in order to obtain only the best and we collaborate with our suppliers to ensure that we get a high quality product. Our items can even cost up to € 30. We prefer being recognised as an expensive supplier, of an exclusive product, rather than be confused with others. And we also want to be recognised as a reliable partner”.
The world seems invaded by sneakers. Do you think this trend is a threat to those who produce quality linings?
“No, quite the contrary. It has stimulated us to think about new articles. Today our proposals include sheepskin linings with competitive prices designed for this market segment. This type of lining offers extraordinary breathability compared to other materials. We have also worked on colour chemistry to obtain a softer grain and opaque shades, requested by sneakers, using finer molecules that further promote the evaporation of sweat from the foot”.
Going back to the classic product, what are the main trends?
“Natural products are the most popular right now. Style offices prefer it. This is a great opportunity for us because leather with little coverage must be of superior quality. In addition, shoe factories today are looking for leather that is easy to cut. Some say that this is a sign of less expertise within companies, but certainly it is an advantage for those like us who focus on high quality”.
A recurring theme in the leather world is traceability. How do you deal with it?
“The leather supply chain today is a long one and there are only a few very large groups of operators who are fully integrated upstream of the supply chain. Companies of our size must bear in mind that sheep and goat skins arrive in Italy already tanned and it is difficult for us to have total visibility right up to the breeding. In Africa, where we buy the sheepskin skins, we have created a strong collaboration with a large group that allows us to have direct control over many processing stages. But even in this case we are not able to have visibility of the breeding and slaughtering because our supplier in turn buys the raw material as per tradition from a very fractional fabric of very small breeders. Only one source offers us complete traceability of the goats, from the slaughterhouse to wet-blue tanning, but the amount produced is not enough to meet the request. For this reason, we have started a collaboration in India with a company in Kolkata, where we have brought machinery and good practices to improve the quality of the product and follow the processing from the skin. Ultimately, a lot is being done to improve the quality of the product, but a lot still needs to be done on complete traceability”.