Life at Italian sports shoe manufacturer Gaerne is not without its little disagreements.
In the tradition of small and medium sized enterprises in the north of the country, business is very much a family affair: Marta Gazzola works on the company’s PR, her sister Gianna is the firm’s accountant and brother Gianni takes care of logistics.
“Arguments are normal, in a family,” laughs Marta. “We are alive, we are not robots! And we work things out, like every family and every business.”
Keeping a steady hand on the tiller is their father and the company’s founder Ernesto, now aged 84. A continued presence at their headquarters, he still strolls the corridors in the factory and keeps a watchful eye on his business, despite having turned his creativity to something else in recent years.
“Around 10 years ago he bought some land in front of the offices and he planted olive trees. Now, once a year he does a production of 50 litres of oil, and he gives them bottles as Christmas presents,” Marta explains.
“One board member says he is using it like fine fragrance, it’s so good, he keeps it for special occasion. He doesn’t want to finish it.”
Those same craftsman’s hands began making hiking boots in 1960, soon expanding into motorcycling boots before the first Gaerne cycling shoes came along in the 1980s, espoused by the likes of Sean Kelly. If you’re wondering, Gaerne is a contraction of GA-zzola ERNE-sto.
The home of the company is Montebelluna, an epicentre of sports shoe manufacture in Italy thanks to the presence of designers and subsidiary industries like plastic injection moulding.
The factory itself is located in the little town of Maser, just a few hundred metres down the road from their more famous neighbours: Sidi, a company founded by Dino Signori. If you haven’t worked it out, that’s SI-gnori DI-no. Go figure.
Marta Gazzola pre-empts the question that must have been asked 100 times before: given Sidi and Gaerne have so much in common, what makes this matching pair of companies stand apart?
“I prefer that the consumer notices the difference between Gaerne and Sidi,” she says tactfully, no doubt aware of the commercial and social sensibilities in this small corner of Veneto.
“There aren’t a lot of companies still producing shoes in Italy; Northwave and Diadora are no longer producing in Italy for example. Sidi produces some of its shoes in Italy; you need to look at the label.”
He doesn’t travel by helicopter or have a boat or anything
Gaerne have resisted the trend for simple lace-up shoes or ultra-lightweight offerings, opting instead to focus on products made entirely in Italy and designed to endure. One pair of the company’s newest flagship shoes, the G.Stilo+, has 109 component parts.
“When there is G or Gaerne on the shoes, my father says, ‘it’s my name on the shoes, so I want every consumer to be proud of my product’.”
Surviving the financial crash and subsequent recession to post growing turnover, that endurance in the cycling market gives Gaerne a position of luxury to stitch together the business in the mould of their choosing. Ernesto and his family make shoes that they want to make, where and how they want to make them.
“He doesn’t travel by helicopter or have a boat or anything, he’s a simple person, but he has always told me, ‘Marta, once I have money to have a good life I want to look after the 50 families that work here, so that they can keep working here.’
“That’s not a normal entrepreneur. A true entrepreneur just looks at the numbers and says ‘we need to move production to China’.
“If my father was only concerned about money he would have moved production to the Far East, but he has always wanted to keep production here in Italy.”