Tommaso Sani represents the third generation of a renowned shoe company founded over 40 years ago in Tuscany. His grandfather Mauro started with a pair of riding boots with a designated cigarette pocket, making their way into Sergio Leone’s world of spaghetti westerns.
Buttero was founded in 1978 outside of Florence on the Tuscan countryside. A place where craft and quality means everything. Today they make a wide range of contemporary shoes and accessories, yet their craft and sense of quality brings a highly timeless image.
Tommaso lives in Milan since two years ago, where he works with the business side of the company. We met up with him for lunch in New York during a seasonal sales trip.
How did the company go from making riding boots to contemporary sneakers and shoes?
Buttero was born in the ’70s, quickly becoming one of the best boot makers thanks to the passion of my grandfather Mauro Sani. As we all know fashion is always changing and new trends have lead the need to develop new products. Boots fell out of style and people started wearing rubber sole shoes. We decided to develop our sneakers called “Tanino”, with clean design and handcrafted quality, vegetable tanned leather and a careful attention to details, maintaining the spirit of Buttero as an iconic brand, with something more contemporary and modern.
What are the pros and cons working in a family-run business?
We take great pride in being a family company. We are very flexible, smart and have many professional people who love being part of Buttero. But it can also be challenging because of the different nature of a family relation, compared to a professional one.
Did you always think you’d be working for Buttero?
No. I was a professional footballer in Italy, but at the age of twenty I decided to quit playing. I followed my dream to go to Japan where Buttero has two flagship stores in Tokyo and Osaka. Moving there really sparked my interest in the world of fashion. Now, two years later, I’m managing our flagship store in Milan. After this sales trip in the US I’m finishing university in Italy, then moving to New York.
How does your creative process work when coming up with new models or products?
We have a creative team of people from various fields, like design, marketing, etc. Together we create a collection that feels right for each market. At the end of the process we always make sure the result reflects our brand identity. Our research is based on iconic styles that we customize with our own DNA.
Tuscany as a region is very associated with craft and tradition, whether it’s food, art or architecture. How is that reflected in your company and products?
We are very lucky to have our factory located in one of the best premium leather districts of the world, Santa Croce sull’Arno. There we have a close relationship with the local tanneries.
Tuscan food is famous for its excellent produce, which we try to translate into our product development. Our motto is: “Quality products begin with quality materials.”
What are your biggest influences as a company?
We take inspiration from everything around us, from travelling, from advertising, the taste of a wine, movies, etc. In the family we’re all attracted by well-crafted and beautiful quality products, which today is increasingly hard to find. This is something we try to bring to our philosophy.
How is Milan different from Florence?
Florence is a slower and more quiet city. It’s more known for its high quality production for large brands like Gucci and Prada. Milan is all about ideas, design and business. There’s a lot more going on in Milan in terms of contemporary arts, cultural events and nightlife. To me, Florence and Tuscany is a lovely place to wind down and have family when I’m a bit older.
How does Buttero’s shoe production typically work? Is everything made by hand?
Buttero’s products are exclusively made within our factory and they are 101% made in Tuscany. The use of machinery is very important today for the accuracy of certain constructions. We can say, however, that each pair of shoes leave our production line with an artisanal and handcrafted finishing.
What do you think is the key to run a sustainable business over time?
Today it’s very important to work with branding and try to expand in markets where our products are appreciated by the customers and sell good.
We are working with our resources of developing the marketing department in order to push our brand as much as possible. For example e-commerce is a great way for us to reach out globally with our products and brand to millions of people, in a really simple way.
What are your thoughts on current trends in fashion?
After a long lasting “heritage” trend, I think we’re all going back to a lot cleaner and minimal style. Scandinavians do this really well and their aesthetic approach is very interesting.
Your shoes are popular outside of Italy and Europe. From a marketing and business side, how do you work with other markets like Asia and North America?
Japan is our first market and Buttero Japan is managing the distribution with a team of professionals and two flagship store in Tokyo and Osaka. We worked with Barneys and other important department stores for many years but some seasons ago we decided to develop and expand in the US market. We believe that Buttero’s products could be interesting for American customers and for the best retail stores in the country. We are working with one of the most important multi-brand showroom in New York, called M5 Showroom, who are able not only to sell the collection but also to develop our brand in a certain country.
What does the future hold for Buttero as a company?
I would like the opportunity to open new flagship stores around the world and increase business with some emerging markets, like the Korean one. My dream is to see the fame of Buttero increasing as a brand thanks to the quality of the products and accuracy in details.
Interview and photography by Fredrik Gruber