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Shoe Sale has Italy's support - Jun 06, 2009

The Columbus Dispatch
Business
By Tim Feran
June 5, 2009

Shoe sale has Italy's support

Easton Shoes plans an exclusive showing of Italian footwear lines next weekend on the Northwest Side.

While most such events aren't unusual in the retail world, this one is. It's being co-sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, which kicked in some money to help spread the word about the country's products.

The show, which coincides with Easton Shoes' 55th anniversary, "is a public investment by the government of Italy," said Aniello Musella, trade commissioner and executive director for the U.S. office of the trade commission. "The total investment is more or less about $30,000 to $40,000, but it is a joint investment (with Easton).

"We want more Americans to know about Italian products," Musella said, "and the Midwest and Southwest are areas where Italian fashion products are not well known."

"Italia: Life in 'I' Style" will feature footwear from such makers as Thierry Rabotin, Finest Figini and Gardenia -- "shoes not available anywhere in Columbus, and the only Ohio store to have others," said Lenny Comeras, who with his wife, Marcia, owns Easton Shoes.

The three-day event begins with an invitation-only reception on Thursday, continues Friday with a daylong sale and mini-festival featuring Italian-themed refreshments, and concludes June 13 with a trunk show of special orders and samples for next season from Thierry Rabotin.

Easton Shoes, at 1880 Henderson Rd., is the only retailer in the state this year participating in the Italian Trade Commission event, a competitive program that began in 1995 and has included 429 U.S. retailers.

"The quality range matters a lot," Musella said about how retailers -- all independent -- are chosen.

"Low, medium cost we're not really interested in. And the product should be made in Italy 100 percent. That's something we're very much concerned about, of course."

Easton Shoes had participated in the Italian-sponsored event once before, but "we had not planned for this in our yearly budget, so we had to dig deep," Comeras said. "But Marcia and I love shoes, quality shoes, and (Italian makers are) struggling to compete with cheap shoes from China."

To Comeras, the event is as much about honoring the commonalities he shares with the Italian manufacturers as it is about promoting the sale of high-end shoes.

He speaks enthusiastically about visiting shoe factories in Italy and seeing workers come in one morning, leave with a box full of shoes and bring them back two days later having hand-stitched the soles to the uppers.

"We go to Italy every chance we get," he said, "and every time we do, we're impressed."

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