It is December 19, 2018, and a crowd of boys sleep all night, in temperatures below freezing, in via Statuto 18 in Milan. The story ends up in all the newspapers. The reason for this alternative camping event? The boys are waiting for the opening of the Nike store for the sales of the Off-White x Nike Air Force 1 "Black" & "Volt" sneakers, the long-awaited "colorways" shoes that can be purchased for € 170. And it is precisely the world of what once were just sneakers that acts as a backdrop to the story of Jacopo De Carli, shoemaker 2.0 takes care of the restoration and care of this type of shoe. “ I was what you could call a dropout. I come from Pavia, I’m 26 years old and I’m about to move my workshop to Piazza Diaz, next to Duomo of Milan, after a fund invested in my company”. But how do you become an artisan of shoes that have always been considered disposable? To find out, we went to meet him in his workshop, DCJ in via Bernardo Davanzati 33, in Milan, between Dergano and Bovisa.
How do you become a shoemaker 2.0?
Well, it depends on what the starting point is. (laughing)
What do you mean?
I’m from Pavia, I didn’t want to continue studying and I was working in a car repair shop. I was a normal worker and I used a numerical control milling machine. An experience that taught me how to work but which I didn’t enjoy. You couldn’t talk because we were too focused on working on like on a distribution chain. I went through two or three depressive episodes and decided I needed to change my life. I was never interested in studying, I was kicked out of all of the private schools I went to, and I only have a middle school diploma.
And what have the shoes got to do with this?
I’ve always been into luxury shoes. Not sneakers but brands like Louboutin or Zanotti, shoes that can easily cost a thousand euro. Let’s be clear though, I come from a middle class family, I had an allowance of 1200 euro and I lived in the country. My family wanted me to become an architect or a surveyor, because my dad had a home painting business. I was never into that. So I started looking around for something that to do with my passion for shoes.
So you found a course…
Yes, I threw myself into an evening course on shoemaking organized by Confartigianato in Bergamo. When in 2015 I was made redundant by the factory, I decided to move to Milan and I had the opportunity to be an intern with a shoemaker who was involved in women's shoes, brands like Jimmy Choo, Prada or Gucci. Everything started there. I learned the basic techniques and the ways of dealing with different materials.
But how did you get the idea of working on sneakers?
Very gradually. At the beginning, after a few months I was in the shop, I realized that not only shoes but bags also came into the store. Only nobody managed them. Nobody knew how to treat them. So I told my boss I would try it myself. Since we talk about objects that cost a fortune, to convince him I had to promise that in case I had created damage I would have repaid my pocket. A lie, I could never bear those costs. But I had no choice. The first bag I restored was an orange Hermes Birkin. It was stained by the sun. A difficult job because we had to work on the shading. Thanks to the experience with paints acquired with my dad I did a perfect job. From that moment I started to deal with these things and I specialized. Sneakers were a chance. A guy asked me if I could clean them. The result was so good that I was included in all the chats and groups of this absurd world of sneakers, of which I knew nothing.
How do you work on the shoes?
With the bags I specialized in washes and restoration. And that experience I then brought back on the shoes along with the notions of shoemaking. But first I had to learn everything about the sneakers market. I went to a lot of specialized shops, asking questions and absorbing everything possible. Today I wash, clean, sanitize, restore and modify them. It depends on what the customer asks for. For the basic service I charge 50 euros, but for a restoration you get up to 150 euros.
Sneakers have always been seen as disposable. Why would anyone pay you to put a couple back in order rather than buy them new?
Because the sneaker market today is like the Rolex market. Just as most other brands, Nike comes out with limited collections. The lower the run, the higher that shoe’s value. A world that I too have only just discovered, while working in it. So if you buy a shoe for 170 euros of which there are only 100 models in the world, after a year that same shoe will be worth 5 thousand euros. That's why there are lines out of the shops and so many customers are interested in my work. The wear of a shoe is measured in a scale of 1 to 10. Ten is new, while a 1 has to be thrown away. I can return a worn 3 shoe to the condition of an 8 – 8.5. And this makes a big economic difference for the owner.
You also sell a product for shoe cleaning
Yes, which is also the reason why I set up on my own business. When my name started to circulate among sneaker lovers, I was invited to a fair. But I needed to have something to sell. So I thought I could put a label on a solvent that I mixed in the lab to clean the shoes. I called it with my initials. At the fair I showed up with white shoes and asked people to stamp on my feet. When they got very dirty, I brought them back to immaculate condition with my product. I had 40 cans and I received 400 requests. At that point there was a conflict of interest with my employer and I opened this laboratory in Bovisa investing 15 thousand euros for machinery, all second hand. They are the same ones that are used in traditional shoe-making. For the money I took out a loan from the bank. The workshop is at no cost, I am a guest of friends. This is the closet of their show room that was unused. So beyond the bills, which I participate in, I have no living costs. Today I get shoes from all over the world. I have worked for the likes of designer Heron Preston and Alessandro Cattelan.
Your offer is not limited to taking care of people’s shoes. You have your own products and a growing relationship with manufacturers…
Yes, this is thanks to my partner Gregorio. He deals with innovation in the strict sense: 3D printer, laser, dyeing techniques. We began to offer our own products. We change the color to shoes with a special technology, we produce shoe masks in different materials and we modify and mix different models. Recently, Nike has sent us a model isn’t selling to try and imagine an evolution with more appeal.
Shortly, you’ll be moving your workshop…
Yes, an investor in London took over 50% of the shares. We’re going to open in Piazza Diaz.
It’s not the first time that investors make openings to you. Why did you accept this time? Their offer was really good. It is rare for someone to leave you more than 15-20% of the shares. And then I knew this guy because he was part of the communities where I was involved at the beginning. An Italian guy who went to start a start-up in London and then returned to Italy to invest the profits in other projects. With three other friends he created the Lumen Venture fund. They have invested in me and two other young companies: Alta Cucina and The Basket.
What’s in store for the future?
I want to find someone to train to do what I do now, that way I can focus on making bespoke shoes, which is my dream job.