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Mario Moretti Polegato, president and founder of GEOX, has the entrepreneur gene – the ability to turn an idea into a business success. His 1995 vision of a breathable shoe is today regarded as a revolution in the footwear market. With no support and in the face of strong critics, the former winemaker didn’t let anyone dissuade him from his idea of bringing ventilated shoes to market.
It was a warm day in Reno, Nevada, when Mario Moretti Polegato’s now-legendary business idea almost fell into his lap. He was on a business trip for his family’s wine company. While out for a walk, his feet became so unbearably hot that he took out his pocket knife and drilled ventilation holes into the soles of his shoes. That helped against the heat, but not against water, making the shoes unusable. Back in Italy, Polegato put his all into researching and perfecting his idea. The end-result was breathable water-resistant soles.
The fine-pored membrane combined with a rubber sole didn’t receive the desired reception at the beginning. Why do you think that was?
The only thing I can think of is that there were many prejudices. People were sceptical that soles with holes could actually prevent water from penetrating into the shoe. And after a few larger companies in the industry had rejected my invention, I decided to make the shoes myself. From the beginning, I was absolutely convinced about the product and that my idea would be successful.
Which steps did you initially take towards a market launch?
I was lucky enough to produce my first shoe collection in a small shoe company of my family. This meant I had access to both the know-how and the hardware needed for shoe production.
We then carried out a market test with a series of children’s shoes. After we successfully passed this text, we started producing the shoes. The first patent was gradually improved and perfected. We have now expanded the range of products to cater to men and women as well as children.
It’s great that you didn’t lose your way and that you didn’t have to wait too long for success. Since that time, you have been working at GEOX to continually optimise the products. How does this improvement process work? What is there to improve and what is still left to explore?
We are no longer just about shoes. A few years ago, we started producing clothes with the same concept. For example, with a breathable shoulder area – exactly where the body heat builds up. In principle, however, there are always things that can be improved. For example, shoes for special climates, and we are also always ready to supply shoes adapted to the needs of the market.
What exactly is a good shoe for you, and what does optimal shoe care look like?
The first and most important feature of a good shoe is the quality. The better the quality of a shoe, the longer we can wear it. In addition, the material should be breathable and, of course, the shoe should have the perfect fit.
The care depends entirely on the shoe materials. Smooth leather, for example, can be treated with cream from a tube or a can. This regenerates the leather and moistens it. However, you should always wait for about half an hour until the shoe cream has been absorbed, and only then polish the leather with a cloth or brush. It is important to repeat the maintenance periodically to keep the shoes in good shape. Shoes should always be stored in a dry, well-ventilated place.
Is it true that shoes should be “aired” for a few days after being worn? Is this also the case with GEOX shoes?
It’s true that shoes should be aired out after wearing for at least 24 hours. That’s the main problem of “normal” shoes with rubber soles, since they are not breathable, resulting in sweaty feet.
It’s different with our GEOX shoes. They can breathe and so they also air while being worn.
What is the situation with children’s shoes? Are there other “rules” to consider?
Children don’t mind if their shoes get dirty and they don’t pay attention to how they handle their shoes. For this reason, children’s shoes have to withstand much more. Above all, they should be high-quality and robust. In addition, the shoes must be breathable to ensure a good climate for the feet.
Each motor development phase requires a shoe that provides a specific solution, with details and features throughout the structure. At GEOX, the sole is breathable, flexible, non-slip, and shock-absorbing. The cut of the soles facilitates the natural bending of the feet and the special non-slip material ensures safety, while the shock-absorbing material protects the joints. The upper material is soft, light, and has a rounded shape that promotes movement of the toes, while the back part is stiffer to support the heel. This ensures stability in every step.
The insole is made of chrome-free leather – a vegetable-based leather without chemical substances – and a special open-cell polyurethane that improves comfort. In addition, it can be removed for easy cleaning.
Why do you advise parents to invest in high-quality shoes instead of inexpensive alternatives, despite the fact that the child will soon grow out of the shoes?
The usage time is perhaps proportionally low, but, in my opinion, children’s shoes must withstand much more than shoes for adults. Children are much more active when they play outside. Their shoes become wet, dirty, and so on. For this reason, I advise buying high-quality shoes that last as long as they fit. In addition, high-quality shoes are better for children’s growing feet – they consist of breathable materials and have an accurate fit. Equally important for parents is to be sure that the materials used are free from harmful substances. This is why we work together with TÜV. The Institute tests everything from the materials used to the entire supply chain.
What should retailers do for your customers? How can they build the customer relationship and strengthen their sales? Do you have tips?
Trust is the key to success. If the customers receive good advice and the staff can meet their needs competently, then a lasting relationship of trust between customers and staff can develop. That’s how you develop loyal customers in the long run.