From Brazil to the World

Well established Shoe Labels from abroad choose Brazil to produce international quality shoes that become global hits and conquer even the celebrity feet

2022-03-21 | By Sylvain Justum

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Brazil is the biggest shoe producer among western countries. It got to the 3rd position in the world rank in the last decade, and in 2021 reached the production milestone of 811 million pairs of shoes. Traditionally, the southern area of the country has been the big producer of leather shoes, and its exports represent approximately two thirds of the total national exports of such goods. Following right up are the Southeast and Northeast regions, which represent each 18% of the shoe pairs exported throughout 2021. Last year, nearly 20% of the Brazilian shoe exports - of all segments and states - were private labels originated. The great manufacturing structure and the quality of labor and raw materials are usually quoted as most relevant industry attributes in comparison to other shoe producing nations around the globe.

These are only a few of the reasons that made well established brands from other countries look to Brazil in order to produce shoes that cover demanding feet from Japan to Hollywood, and also Brazilian showbiz stars, who are used to great design and quality. Anitta, Iza and Bruna Marquezine, for instance, are big fans of Sophia Webster’s very decorated and feminine high heels, and the British creator has been producing her shoes in Brazil since the launch of the homonymous brand, 10 years ago. “Brazil easily competes in tradition, manufacturing ability and minimum order quantity (MOQ), not to mention the unparalleled propositional attitude”, says Sophia. Brazilian designers living abroad also bet on the quality and competitiveness of the national shoemaking industry to develop products that enchant the planet. It’s the case for the duo Marina and Ricardo Larroudé, head of Larroudé, launched in New York in December 2020, and Diego Vanassibara, who was born in Caxias do Sul and has been living in the UK for 16 years.

Diego started Vanassibara in 2013 and swapped Italian manufacturing for Vale do Rio dos Sinos, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in order to have better control over the release calendar and better cost adequation.“I was always running late with production in Italy, because their calendar didn’t benefit us. Our delivery timing wasn’t factory priority due to other European labels, the stores timeline became more anticipated and the changes made in retail weren’t adopted by the industry”, says Diego who, after nearly 15 years in London now runs his business from Glasgow, Scotland. The air bridge between the UK and the south of Brazil, has enabled Diego to change his shoe production site, without skipping on quality, and, an extra plus, eliminate intermediary costs that increased the cost of his products in Italy and in physical multi brand stores from Paris to Tokyo. “I can get the artisanal part done, which requires handmade expertise, with quality of labor, for lower costs than in Italy - where handmade craftsmanship is becoming more and more rare.” The production transfer was followed by a remodeling of the business model for Vanassibara, which has grown digitally and now sells in a more direct manner to its final customers.
Diego, who began by focusing on male shoes, currently doesn’t worry much about gender when it comes time to create, and adapted his product to the raw materials that are available locally. “My strength is design; the rest is perfectly flexible”, he mentions, having incorporated sheepskin leather to his repertoire. Other positive points to the change: comfort and durability of the metal embellishments used in the shoes. “My shoes are now less structured and have become much more comfortable because of Brazil. Brazilian metal embellishments, maybe for being also used in beachwear, don’t oxidize. I’ve never had problems.” Diego makes timeless shoes, made to last, and prefers to produce with ‘less and better’ as a sustainable philosophy. “To me, one of the biggest sustainability and preservation acts has to do with worrying over durability and the number of times we wear a product. When shoes are handmade, for instance, they have quality enough to last several years, compensating the effort and the natural resources utilized in its production. Our current “throw away” culture, of the disposable, is harmful.”

“My shoes are now less structured and have become much more comfortable because of Brazil. Brazilian metal embellishments, maybe for being also used in beachwear, don’t oxidize. I’ve never had problems.”
Diego Vanassibara

Living in New York for nearly 20 years, Marina and Ricardo Larroudé have also given up their Italian experiences in order to choose the region of Sapiranga, in the same Vale do Rio dos Sinos, as the Brazilian tentacle of the label they launched as a startup less than two years ago. Besides concentrating the production in the south of the country and taking advantage of the quality of local labor, they have also set up a design center and even run photoshoots for the visual materials of Larroudé on Brazilian ground. There are 12 people directly working with them and 25 in total, considering freelancers. “Brazilian professionals are trained to service the foreign market. They all speak English and the product offered is of an impressively good level, with international quality”, says Marina, who has been American Teen Vogue’s editor and buyer of department store Barney’s. “I cried when I received the first pair of Larroudé shoes because I had no idea we could have this quality. I wasn’t aware of Brazilian potential, and we have always made a point out of working with the highest quality of materials and production.”

Larroudé is now the Brazilian brand that sells most abroad, having conquered the hearts of artists such as  Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore and Mary J. Blidge, besides American First Lady Jill Biden. The secret? Offering a very high quality product with accessible prices if compared to most high-end labels acting on the same niche. “Our client can even buy three pairs of shoes with us for the price of a pair from the tradicional luxury labels”, says Marina. And the equation is only possible because, similar to Vanassibara, Marina and Ricardo have cut costs in the process. “The number of intermediaries in the shoe making chain is large, there are many agents and, by building a center in Brazil, alongside the factories, we have also gained agility”, says Ricardo. 

"I cried when I received the first pair of Larroudé shoes because I had no idea we could have this quality. I wasn’t aware of Brazilian potential, and we have always made a point out of working with the highest quality of materials and production.”
Marina Larroudé

Larroudé was already born as a digital-centric label, and is currently present in the main American wholesalers - such as Nordstrom, Saks and Anthropology –, and is now preparing itself to launch its shoes physically to Europe. “We want to be in a good position in Europe in order to expand globally and, in the near future, join the Asian market as well”, plans Ricardo. The results of this success is a great increase in their models repertoire and, consequently, in production - efficiently absorbed by Brazilian factories. The range of choice for Larroudé goes from platform mules to party high heels, passing through comfortable flats sandals, like the one created in collab with Melissa, launched in december 2021 and already sold out. The newest collab is with  Oscar de la Renta, sandals that retail for US$650. And it’s no coincidence the prestigious WWD fashion portal has called Larroudé “the Warby Parker of accessible luxury shoes”, referencing the American eyewear startup that lowered its products prices without giving up excellence in design and materials, and is now a brand worth US$6 billion.

Larroudé’s model is similar to Sophia Webster’s, who created her label in 2012 and has since produced, in Brazil, luxury shoes of colorful spirit and accessible prices. “When I launched the label, I noticed a huge gap for the type of product I wanted to make. At the time, the market was dominated by a very serious type of fashion and, for female high heels the options were painfully expensive luxury models or cheaper, but less creative, shoes. I looked in the European Union, China and Brazil to launch my business. Brazil was clearly the best option: I had a wonderful tradition in shoe making and an expertise that could translate the emotion of my designs to reality - but beyond that, there was a huge distribution chain in the USA, the market that would become our biggest”, reminisces the British, who won British Fashion Awards in 2013. When she visited Brazil for the first time to see the factory, Sophia fell in love with the vibration of Brazilian culture. “The people I met were so warm and welcoming. Their attitude towards all the challenges I put forward was so positive! To this day they are very welcoming to try new things and to going beyond limits”, she compliments. Just like Larroudé and Diego Vanassibara, Sophia also produces her not-so-obvious shoes in Vale do Rio dos Sinos region.

Those who follow Sophia’s work are aware that color treatments and finishings are very important to her products. Her Brazilian supplier has agreed to allow her to define specific leather colors and order as many as she wishes - contrary to other tradicional producing countries, where it is required to adapt your creations to what’s available, without much maneuvering space. “In China it would also have been impossible, due to MOQ demands. Having control over colors has allowed me to tell my stories exactly as I wished. My supplier also took up the challenge of matching several techniques, such as screen printing, digital printing, embroidery and hotfix. This richness of textures is very important to my brand’s DNA, and also enables easier identification of pirate copies of my shoes. They had never created anything similar before, but I convinced them to try and work with their strong suits.” To Sophia, it is perfectly possible to work long distance with Brazil, even though for more polished projects her and her team follow the factories up closer during the development and execution of the projects. “In this communication era, the world has become a smaller place and sharing ideas and abilities with a supplier who is thousands of kilometers away is totally viable.” 

"Brazil was clearly the best option: I had a wonderful tradition in shoe making and an expertise that could translate the emotion of my designs to reality"
Sophia Webster