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Holey soles: Italy's breathable shoe brand looks east

From Juliet Mann, CNN
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Wed August 22, 2012
  • Italian shoemaker Geox specializes in creating "breathable" shoes and fabrics
  • The company employs 30,000 people around the world and has nearly 1,200 stores
  • Economic downturn means Geox is planning to invest in Asia

(CNN) -- Since 1995 the Italian shoe manufacturer Geox has worked hard to ensure consumers are spared the inconvenience and embarrassment of sweaty feet.

Its patented "breathable shoe" technology -- a combination of a membrane insole that absorbs sweat and lets it out through an outer sole filled with holes -- has turned the company into a multi-million dollar shoe empire.

The idea of a sole filled with holes came to the company's founder, Mario Moretti Polegato, when he was on a business trip to Reno, Nevada, to promote his family's wine products. After the meeting Polegato decided to go for a wander in the hot Nevada Desert, and necessity turned out to be the mother of invention.

As his feat quickly began to overheat Polegato decided to make holes in the bottom of his shoes. "With my pocket knife I cut holes in the right and left part of the soles and I realized the ventilation in my shoes," he said.

When Polegato returned to Italy he started to develop a shoe with holes in the sole that let air in and perspiration out. The design was patented and in 1995 Geox was founded with five employees; today it employs 30,000 people around the world.

Scientific and technological innovation has been key to Geox's success, and the company has patented numerous new materials in rubber, leather and fabric. Each prototype is designed in Italy but to shorten delivery times the company outsources much of its manufacturing to Asia.

"We invest a lot in quality control. In every factory where we produce there is an Italian technician, a shoemaker, that controls shoe by shoe," said Polegato.

Despite being Italy's number one shoe brand, the economic crisis has affected sales in Geox's core market. The company's distribution network is clogged up with last year's stock and orders for next season are down.

Read more: Unlocking China's business potential

Polegato says the solution is to look further afield than Italy and its neighboring countries: "Our strategy now is to invest more in some countries with economic growth, like the Asia Pacific area, Eastern Europe, India and Turkey," he said.

Nearly seven years after Geox opened a megastore on Madison Avenue in New York City, the company is looking east to expand its empire. "Our program now is to open 300 Geox stores in China," he added.

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