The virtues of Italian-made footwear according to L’bardi founder, Andrew Longebardi.
Finding a decent pair of shoes in Australia is like going hunting for a real pair of Yeezy’s. All smoke and mirrors, and when you find the real deal, it tends to put a hole in your wallet the size of Jupiter. For Andrew Longebardi, founder of L’bardi, paying homage to Italian craftsmanship with their signature driving loafer, is at the forefront of his business. Boasting shoes proudly stamped with ‘Made in Italy’, L’bardi offers attainable quality. But is “Made in Italy” all it’s cooked up to be?
Mike: A lot of people have the “Made in Italy” stamp. What sets you apart?
Andrew: The laws in Italy are very vague. A lot of companies have 80% of it manufactured in China. Then they ship it back to Italy and then assemble it in Italy. They can still deem it being made in Italy because they do the final production processes there. It’s a shame. Where [my shoes] are 100% made in Italy. The leather is picked in Italy, all the workers are Italian. The factory is in the heart of Tuscany.
Through and through oozing Italian craftsmanship.
Additionally, a key objective is the price point. It’s a lot cheaper than what everyone else does. Because we mainly sell online, we don’t have huge overheads. So, I can charge lower prices. Whereas those who have higher overheads [will charge] 500 dollars or more. My quality is still on par if not even better than some of the made in Italy brands that you’ve come across. I just want to make that quality accessible to everyone.
I mean with such a strong attachment to Italy for the production process, would you say the name L’bardi is also something close to you too?
Absolutely. I wanted the name to better represent its place of origin. When I first started the company, I couldn’t think of the company name that I liked so I came up with ‘Andy Tom’ but I wasn’t happy with it. Halfway through I came up with “L’bardi”which is the shortening of my family name, Longebardi. It just makes more sense that way.
On the site the first thing you see is the driving loafers, why do you think somebody in Australia would want to buy a driving loafer?
I reckon the driving loafer is perfect for the Australian climate. We don’t have cold winters so there’s a chance you could wear them all year around. It’s a relaxed style. In Italy, it’s considered a very casual shoe, but you can easily wear the same outfit that Aussies wear with thongs and replace it with the driving shoe and it becomes more stylish. I’d consider it the ideal shoe for dressing up Australia a bit more. It’s good all year around in Sydney – maybe not in Melbourne just because it is quite cold there in the winter. Here [in Sydney], definitely. I’ve worn driving shoes all year around with no socks. Even in the middle of winter.
What about your driving shoes? Comparing your driving shoes with other driving shoes, what are some of the things that they should immediately notice?
First things first this is called the vamp [the section of upper that covers the top front of the foot]. It’s all hand stitched around here. It’s also hand stitched on the last. When they put the leather on the last the vamp isn’t attached yet. So, the sole is folded up and nailed into the last to hold it in place. Then they place the vamp and begin to hand stitch the shoe with an ole. An ole makes the holes in the leather. They must grind the tool to puncture the leather. Many companies still do hand stitch it but they can’t achieve the same shape.
The last for my driving shoe is a little more chiselled. And you’ll notice that on a lot of the Made in China driving shoes, the apron [the stitching that gathers the leather on the vamp of the shoe] is a lot thicker, and it’s not as nice. It also can sometimes get a bit fluted which is something you don’t want. You want an apron which is nice and clean.
What about these rubber studs on the bottom of the sole?
These ones are Tod’s soles. Tod’s and I have the exact same sole. So not many other driving companies have these soles. This is just small range of the driving shoes. A majority I do in suede just because suede is a lot more casual and a lot softer than leather. Also, the colour you get from suede are a lot richer.
Do you do all the dyeing of the suede in the factory or is it done elsewhere?
The manufacturer that we source our leather from does the dyeing process there, but for our sneakers, the leather is all hand-dyed. All the sneakers except for the white and suede are all hand dyed. You’ll see it here it’s got an antique-like defect. You can see all different shades in the actual leather which you can’t get from traditional aniline leather which is all one colour. It’s constant all throughout whereas in the case of L’bardi we use crust leather. It comes undyed; it’s treated but it’s undyed. So, the shoe will look like this and then they will handcolour it. We do a combination of dying the leather when it’s just the plain hide, and then dyeing once the shoe is finished.
It’s difficult once you’ve dyed a hide to know which part will be highlighted on the shoe. So, you must dye it once it’s finished to make accents on the toe or the heel things like that. You don’t want certain parts to be too light or too dark that why you must finish off the shoe when it’s complete. Every pair is unique because of this process. It’s quite a lengthy and arduous process.
So, this is the cognac one, isn’t it?
Yup. This is the aged cognac one. This one we call the expresso which is the one I’m wearing. There’s a combination of suede in there which has been distressed.
I like this detailing in the front of the sneaker too.
This is blake stitched. It’s too hard to do it by hand. It’s a detail that I wanted done. Down to the other sneakers with the woven detailing, these ones here are all hand woven. It’s a bit of a finicky process just because it is so fine.
This one here is reminiscent of a hand welted construction which I wanted to highlight. You don’t see that in sneakers it’s more of a dress shoe detail. You can see here it’s stitched twice on the welt, then again to the sole. The welt is attached to the upper and then the sole is attached to the welt.
I wanted a point of difference when it came to the plain white sneaker which a lot of brands already do. So, I added the natural coloured toe as well as the heel piece. It’s just the market is so oversaturated with the white sneaker. You have Common Projects with their signature detail close to the heel. So, I just wanted a point of difference that you don’t see.
Good things take time.
Yes, they do. The process uses a lot of the Italian traditions. It’s a slow build up to achieve the colours that you see here. With the suedes, it’s so much better for multiple colours like this, like dark red. It just wouldn’t suit a leather. A red leather can look cheap and tacky. This is also the same for navy blue leather where as a navy-blue suede is classic. Also, the inner sole is quite cushioned which is comfortable. Furthermore, we have the arch support in there.
Italian lasts tend to be a lot narrower. The driving shoes they mould your foot so it’s not going to be difficult to fit those with a wider foot.
I suppose next to fit, a key feature of your shoes would be colour. I’ve noticed that there’s a definitive colour palette that you’ve really stuck with on your website and imagery on Instagram. It’s very warm.
The colours are very earthy and are colours you see a lot around Italy. I’ve got a blue which is reminiscent of the Italian coast lines. I’ve got browns that draw on the land as well as the rooftop of Italian homes in Tuscany. Even the dark red, an oxblood. Italy will always be for me a pillar that I come back to. The country is incredibly rich with culture. The South, Middle and North are all very different, so there’s a lot of things you can draw inspiration from. The North has German-like architecture. When you head south the Italian architecture that everyone knows starts to emerge.
The sneaker market is quite saturated and positioning is everything. Would you consider some form of custom service?
I would consider it. I think it’d be too difficult to do bespoke sizing, however I could do custom made to order in which the consumer chooses things like the suede and the colours but it’d still be the standard sizing. It also depends on the workshop I’m working with, whether they can do just one offs. Sometimes they want minimum orders which just doesn’t work well when one customer orders that. I can kind of do it with the driving shoes but I haven’t offered it yet. Just because it’s a real pain the arse to try to organise it right now but I have done it for me personally.
As the market grows what’s next for L’bardi?
New styles and colours. Maybe bags?
L’bardi Driving Shoes