Polo Fiorentino: the birth and development of a district, pride of the Made in Italy

July 31, 2012 0 By sonia.massi

In our previous article, we finished analysing in detail what we mean by Polo Fiorentino, why it has become so famous over the years, recognized as the leading district in the production of luxury and high quality leather products, and also clarifying the place where this Polo primarily developed: that is around Florence, in the area stretching from Scandicci and Lastra to Signa and impruneta, extending south to Valle di Sieve.

We then analysed the organizational structure of the Polo, the companies that actively work in this district and all those firms connected to it for the supply of materials, accessories or, simply for logistic reasons.

But how was the Polo Fiorentino born? Who were its main founders? How has this luxury leather district developed over the years? What kind of difficulties has it had to face?

In this article, we’d like to reconstruct the history of the “Polo Fiorentino”, starting from its foundation up to nowadays, in order to better understand which choices and which courses have determined the development and the economic rise of this district of luxury Italian leather, which over time has become the world leader in the sector.

The birth of the first companies in the district dates from the second half of the Nineteenth  Century. Pioneer of this process was Mr. Guccio Gucci who in the 1920’s decided to open a workshop specializing in the leather sector and, in particular, in making travel goods and saddlery, in cooperation with a shop in Florence.

In this workshop, all workmanship was handcrafted and every step of the production process (from the cutting to the skiving, from the montage to the sewing, right up to the finishing) was completed on site, in order to create a really high quality and luxury product. Craftsmen worked on demand, designing and creating “made to order” products, personalized according to the requests of each customer. Then, thanks to specialized training, the craftsmen themselves start gaining valuable skills in working with special materials such as crocodile and lizard leathers, to make any item absolutely exclusive.

However, it was in the 50’s and 60’s that a proper leather Polo starts developing in the surrounds of Florence. Starting from the 50’s in fact, many small workshops based on  artisan production, changed to a more industrialized working process, no longer targeting the end customer, as in the past, but working for another commissioning company with its own brand, its own distribution chain or its own shop. In this way, these workshops could produce a bigger quantity of goods within a very short time, even though it was no longer personalized, so reducing their management costs.

The biggest expansion in the Florentine leather district happened between the 70’s and the 90’s through a strong growth in the number of firms and employees working in the leather sector. Besides the single companies trading in the finished product, there were many new managerial figures, while many foreign brands became interested in the local system, developing production networks, with positive economic effects for all the territory concerned.

In the early nineties, the Polo Fiorentino went through a major crisis involving some firms in particular. In this period, there was a need to streamline the organizational structures, also because of the growing globalization of markets.

Firms tried to find solutions to combat the recession, focussing on the constant strengthening of the products’ added value.

The luxury leather sector started to feature specific brands among its distinctive elements, as well as continuing with its renowned high quality and exclusivity of design. A particular importance was also given to internal organization and to development of supply, logistics and distribution networks.

The success regained by the Polo Fiorentino worldwide in recent years is certainly due to the quality of the materials used, to the sponsoring processes, the distribution of the finished product on the market and to the perfect functionality of the management networks (we should also consider the presence of some big names of Italian fashion and entrepreneurship in the district which certainly adds even more lustre and visibility to it) but these are not its only winning weapons.

What has really transformed the Polo Fiorentino into the centre of the Italian luxury and high quality leather sector, more than the managerial abilities or the targeted economic policies, has been the choice made by many firms to keep every single step of the production process strictly here in Italy, consigning the making of the product to the experienced hands of skilful Italian craftsmen who have been working as artisans for generations. These artisans can’t help but take the utmost care of every single creation, accompanying it through all steps of its “development” with affectionate attention, from the design on paper right up to the finishing process. And it’s this exact choice, more than any other, taken by the companies in the Polo that has consecrated this Florentine district as the world leader for the production of high quality, luxury leather products and accessories, symbol of genuine craftsmanship and of the real Made in Italy tradition.

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