Sandro Barbera & SonsThe winner of Artigiano del Cuore contest, 1st edition
Sandro Barbera & Sons is the winner of the Artigiano del cuore contest, for the section entitled Vestirsi e Ornarsi (Chothing and Ornaments).
We have met Sandro’s son, Andrea, who is now continuing the family business with his brother Stefano: a sound, cutting-edge company, resting on a great family tradition. Everybody in Biella knows and loves their shoes, which are successfully sold worldwide.
Congratulations on your victory! What were your feelings throughout this experience?
Heartfelt thanks, we must say, from my family. We went through the contest with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement and, undeniably, some anxiety: it was a dream coming true! It was a team win, thanks to our parents and all the people who showed their affection, trust and a keen appreciation for our products.
When was your business established ? What did growing up in a bottega mean for you?
Ours is a family business, it was established 50 years ago thanks to my parents’ expertise in the shoe industry and their passion for Italian handmade objects. They were deeply rooted in the savoir-faire characterising Biella’s territory to this day, which is deeply rooted in me and my brother Stefano as well. We followed in their steps as the natural consequence of having been reared in the bottega. That was always a magic place for us, where we could create things with our hands, play together, meet new people and see a glint of wonderment in our clients’ eyes. I owe a lot to my parents — especially my father — who were able to pass on their passion and their trade secrets to us through a full-blown family apprenticeship. Also, master shoemakers often visited our workshop exchanging their expertise with us, playing a relevant role in our training and offering us an excellent opportunity for growth.
What made the Barberas’ business a success? How come you are so appreciated?
Of course, being able to combine craftsmanship and current trends and offer a handmade, fully customisable product at a competitive price did make a difference; being located in one of the most relevant fashion districts worldwide allowed us to collaborate with internationally well-known brands: all this enhanced our visibility and allowed us to reach results we might not have been able to achieve on our own.
Also, my parents’ innate ability to establish good relationships with their clients and win their long-lasting confidence was a vital asset which they passed on to us. Nowadays, some clients have even become very good friends.
Besides, we are now supported by an experienced web agency, who are helping us to be present in the digital world and to reach the goals we have set for us.
How do your ideas for your shoes come up? Is there a model you are particularly fond of?
Our models are mostly based on our ongoing research activity, but also on a daily contact with the designers we are collaborating with, with our clients (our primary source of inspiration) and with the sales persons of leading fashion houses, who take part in trade fairs and events and can interpret new trends. Also, we are so lucky to be living in a country where beauty is in the very air we are breathing, and which was, and still is, the birthplace of many artists, designers, and fashion companies: in this environment, it is easy to feel inspired.
Our catalogue includes a shoe model we are particularly fond of, which we only produce in two pieces: the “Biella”, the very first version of the hand-dyed brogue tricolour shoe , our crown jewel. It made us known worldwide, and the model has since been in our collection as our most representative shoe.
New technologies and new media are now challenging today’s craftsmen. How can you keep up with the times?
In the last few years, we have been collaborating with an agency specialising in web-based communication, which supported us in promoting and strengthening our online and offline image. They not only encouraged and helped us to be present on the social networks, e-commerce and e-mail marketing, but collaborated in organising events and establishing new collaborations.
We firmly believe in innovation as an ongoing process. Our parents taught us to be open to novelties and never rule out anything in advance, and this frame of mind does make a difference in the Internet age.
The whole town of Biella supported you in this competition. What is your relationship with the territory and the community you are living in, and how does that influence your work?
I am happy to say we have a wonderful relationship and a deep bond with our territory and with the community we are living in. Our success in the Artigiano del Cuore contest wonderfully confirmed this! On this occasion, as in many others, the support of the people around us has been an essential element, and their display of affection deeply moved me. I wouldn’t be able to imagine our business anywhere except Biella.
What’s your advice to a 15-year-old boy who wants to become an artisan, specifically a shoemaker?
Being a shoemaker, like being an artisan in general, means having a passion and an unconditonal love for your trade, two basic preconditions to help you give your best and accept the effort, the renunciations and sacrifice it demands.
If you feel such calling in your heart, then I can say the shoemaker’s trade is the most beautiful ever in the world (I am biased, I know!). It may not be an easy profession but, as on every uphill road, the closer you get to the summit, the bigger the rewards and satisfaction.