The Riviera del Brenta footwear cluster

The Riviera del Brenta footwear cluster originated in the 1960s (Italy) and rapidly grew as a typical Marshallian district. The area was already well-known for its artisanal specialization in shoe production, but the first industrial firm, Voltan, was created in 1898. Such firm was the first to introduce the automated machinery of the assembling line (manovia) in the production of women and men shoes. Voltan learned to use such machineries in the United States, where the entrepreneur had emigrated because of the poverty existing in Riviera del Brenta, as well as in the whole Region of Veneto. Voltan can be considered the anchor firm of the district. Throughout the years, many of its skilled technicians and qualified workers have created a number of spin-offs.

Initially, the district produced medium-quality shoes for the national market. The big development of the district occurred after WW ii, and especially during the 1970s. Gradually, the district started to produce high-quality shoes for women (Belussi and Scarpel, 2002).

nowadays, the riviera del Brenta shoe production accounts for about 15% of the total amount of italian sales of the sector. it produces about 20 million pairs yearly of which 90% are exported. At the end of the 1990s, after decades of development, the crisis arrived when the Chinese competition and the shrinking of the market for middle-quality shoes bitted the cluster. Considering only shoe producers, the number of firms decreased from 500 in 2000 to about 200 in 2015, and the local employment levels diminished from 8,000 to about 7,000 workers (clearly the average size of the firms grew over time). The craft abilities of the local firms were no longer sufficient to guarantee their survival. A process of hierarchal concentration initiated.

When MNEs started to enter the cluster, acquiring some of the local firms, they worked as gatekeepers of knowledge, bringing knowledge about fashion trends and design into the cluster, moving the cluster from a typical Marshallian district towards a hub-and-spoke model. Consequently, local firms began to produce fit-to-the-market luxury shoes, such as Rossimoda. At the same time, only in few cases very labour-intensive tasks were outsourced to low-cost foreign firms, mainly located in Eastern European countries. Many firms in the district have now been acquired by foreign MNEs, as in the case of: Rossimoda, acquired by Monique and Arcad (now Manufacture de Souliers Louis Vuitton - LVMH); Guardi by Armani; Lamos by Prada; and Iris by Gibo. Also, Dior is going to expand its investments in the area with a Greenfield investment, as well as Frangois-Henri Pinault with Kering, and Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, and Gucci entered the cluster with the brand Bottega Veneta. Two important local firms remained independent and built an aggressive brand policy: the Ballin group (a medium-sized firm) and the Calzaturificio Rene Caovilla (luxury brands, specialized in women shoes for haute-couture, well known among US actresses). Recently, the local association of entrepreneurs launched Restart, a project oriented to the “rejuvenation” of the local production, and Ci Divertiamo, a start-up company founded by Giuseppe Baiardo, which is oriented to scouting new talents and promoting the creation of new firms by local young stylists.

Even if the entry of global fashion multinationals (such as Armani, Kering-Gucci, Puma, Prada, LVMH-Louis Vuitton,) downgraded some firms, limiting their commercial capabilities (Amighini and Rabellotti, 2006), it did not penalize the overall innovative capability of the cluster, which still very much relies on the role played by the local Politecnico Calzaturi- ero (secondary school providing vocational training), specialized in innovation and training activities. Such entry has undoubtedly changed the structure of the local district, imposing a process of concentration led by foreign MNEs. Many small subcontractors, which did not start to work for the MNEs, have closed their activities. However, the cluster as a whole is still alive and has maintained a satisfactory level of activity. The interviewed entrepreneurs think that the entry of MNEs saved the Riviera del Brenta cluster, creating a fully place- anchored value chain. However, the “side effects” of loosing market autonomy must be still better evaluated. Contrary to Buciuni and Pisano (2015), we think that the effects of global knowledge integrators on the success of clusters will be fully understood only in the medium to long term. It is still too early to say that this district has overcome the crisis.

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