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A fine Italian hand

Luciano Bagnobianchi of Italian footwear brand Manas reveals the ambition behind the 60-year-old business, its support of local craftsmanship and production development and its long-term fashion vision

Tell me a bit about how Manas was started.
The company was founded in 1956 as a small workshop-based business in the Marche region of Italy making women's footwear. The name Manas is the acronym of the founders' names, who are still the main shareholders of the company.

What was the aim of the label when it was first established?
Its aim was to produce the highest quality shoes and boots, using the new technologies that were becoming available. Initially, the production was focused on slippers in vulcanised rubber, which soon became a big success due to their elasticity and resistance. Then from the '70s onwards, the company began making women's footwear through the development of innovative technologies while continuing to perfect product quality and developing new markets

How were the initial products developed, and what was the response?
The first products were made using traditional methods but the company soon began employing pioneering manufacturing processes and innovative methods. The reputation of the label soon became well established and the positive response to the stylish, beautifully crafted boots and shoes meant that the company was quickly able to expand onto the international stage.

What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out?
The initial craft-based workshop allowed for time to perfect production techniques. However, as Manas' reputation became more established, doors to new markets were opened quite rapidly. During the '80s, expansion reached such a rate that it required larger production facilities and the transition to what was to become a much larger company had to be managed carefully. At this time the company became a limited-liability one, and between then and the noughties the company grew to have consolidated exports of over 70 per cent.

What sets you apart from your competitors?
Manas prides itself on investment in innovative production techniques, unusual finishes and the creation of stylish, high quality, on-trend footwear at competitive prices. This combination is difficult to achieve and rarely matched in the footwear industry.

How important is the location and history of the company to its success?
The Marche region where Manas is based is at the heart of each creation. The footwear, with its different features, reflects the old craftsmanship mixed with the modern industrialisation of a traditional manufacturing district that the business has made famous worldwide.

How has the product offering changed over the years and how would you describe your current collection?
The company began producing stylish, high quality footwear on a relatively small scale. It has continued to make this kind of footwear but now has the resources to be more market-driven and trend-led, whilst always adhering to the principles of style, quality and competitiveness. The autumn/winter 2017 collection has recently arrived in the London showroom. This is always a great day for the UK merchandising team who have worked with the collection for the past three months, helping develop the collection with the Italian design team. To see the fruits of hours of meetings both in Marche and west London really shows the level of dedication and attention to detail which goes into every single pair. A real passion for perfection flows through the veins of the new range, with each and every pair having been hand-finished by artisans.
Manas' autumn/winter 2017 includes feminine biker boots, wedges, beautiful crepe-effect heeled boots, which are so comfortable, despite the 70mm heel and 15mm platform. The Aspen ski boot collection was added last winter and still drives huge volumes on repeats within season, with both the ankle boots and the luscious grey suede below-the-knee with silver faux fur style being popular. While the ankle boots are still really key for every store, we're seeing footwear trends moving towards taller boots, so we've added tall boots with every sole design to the autumn/winter 2017 collection.

How often do you launch new lines?
There are two main collections each year: spring/summer and autumn/winter. Within these are pre-collections. Each collection is divided into urban and casual categories, both of which are inspired by glamorous trends and young, elegant styles. The Casual side of the Manas woman loves spending free time in the open air, immersed in the more pleasant, relaxing aspects of nature. An escape from reality to rediscover the self and one's own personal privacy. Meanwhile, the heart and soul of Urban Manas can be found in the city's streets and hidden corners. It's street style that's all about vintage flavour and romantic settings, aimed at women who want to bring back the authentic side of daily living.

What are the current bestselling designs? Tell me about your recent campaign.
The bestselling Aspen ski, walking and biker boots sit alongside the sleeker looks for the modern office and eveningwear. The addition of Gore-Tex has really added a new dimension to both the summer and winter collections.

Which trade shows do you attend and which one works best for you?
We attend Riva del Garda and Micam in Italy for the multiples and larger independents and in the UK Manas shows at Pure London and the London Shoe Show, but many of our customers simply prefer to visit our London showroom where the fridge is always full of specially selected Prosecco and the finest Italian red wine.

When was the website launched and how does it support the business?
Manas website was launched in 2007 at the same time as the current brand logo was unveiled. It helps define us as a recognisable brand not only in Europe, but also in Asia.
In fact, the website allows us to reach the final customers all over the world, while on the other hand, it's a tool used by our trade customers to be updated on new styles and to make orders. In the last couple of years we've also started our e-commerce business, through which we reach consumers over the world.

What have been the key milestones in the business?
1956 was the year that Manas was established as a family business. There was major growth throughout the '80s, when it began to operate as a limited liability company and during the noughties it became a major international presence. On 1st December, 2014, it celebrated its most recent milestone with the amalgamation of several facets of the company to become ALMa Spa. History, craftsmanship, care and attention to the product: these are the foundations of a tradition going back more than 60 years.

How do you view the current market and what trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging over the coming months?
The footwear market is in constant competition and in order to survive it it's essential to invest in new projects, in human resources for a harmonious organisation and in research and development.

What are your future plans for the business?
In the UK, we'd like to gain a further 25 independent accounts over two years, in addition to the 50 independents that we already service in the UK and Ireland. This may seem quite aggressive, but we're confident that by giving retailers the right product, with great quality at a competitive price with a healthy margin, it can be achieved.
More generally, as a fashion brand we have to keep a constant eye on emerging trends and demands. Two main projects have been developed this year: Gore-Tex and Sur Le Fil. The former is a debut capsule collection incorporating Gore-Tex, making all designs waterproof and fully breathable; the latter features styles where the outsole is stitched on the upper, so there's no use of glue or heat, only leather and cotton cable, which means that the shoes are flexible with internal removable and washable insoles.

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