An army of shoesA look at the world of military footwear with some of its protagonists

Oct 03, 2017
Posted in: , Interviews , Safety

A special category of professional/safety footwear is represented by military footwear.

It’s a special and diversified segment that ranges from elegant shoes meant to be worn with a dress uniform, to service shoes for wearing every day or those dedicated to specific activities or operations worn by active and special corps.

It is a world unto itself in the galaxy of footwear, but not a world that can be left to itself in light of the numbers: just a quick calculation demonstrates the reality we are dealing with, which includes the army (more than 96 thousand individuals in 2016), the State Police (who numbered more than 115 thousand in 2013), the Carabinieri Police branch (with numbers similar to that of the state police), the Italian Finance Police, the Fire Department, etc.
You could even say, in a slight play on words, that altogether they represent an “army” of individuals…

In any case, these numbers represent a great opportunity for those interested in approaching this market segment.
The question at this point is where and how footwear can be sold to this kind of customer.

It depends. For example, it’s possible to participate in the Ministry of Defence’s tenders and contract opportunities. In this case, the tender itself will mention all the requirements of the product, from its construction and materials, to its components and certifications. Another prerequisite will be the financial and productive stability of the company, as required by the State, in order to guarantee the fulfilment of the job order.

The alternative is represented by specialized stores, like those dedicated to hunting and fishing, or specialized internet sites. The military can in fact wear service-issue footwear or purchase them privately, as long as the model chosen respects the same look with the same guarantees of individual protection as those issued by the military, and with the same certifications required for their use.

We spoke of this and more with some Italian manufacturers specialized in the production of this kind of footwear, in order to discover this relatively unknown reality. Let’s take a closer look.

Massimo Catena, Sales Director of Occupational Footwear for Calzaturificio Soldini

Soldini produces military shoes for different branches: the Police, Carabinieri, Financial Police.
We often bid on tenders meant to supply the army and other corps: normally the technical offices of the ministry ask for specific certifications on safety footwear, which more or less refer to the European safety standards Uni Iso 20347, 20344, and 20345.

The requirements and characteristics of footwear change dramatically depending on the kind of use required: for the Fire Department, they must be resistant to high and low temperatures, while for desert-like climates, they must guarantee breathability… in other words, the characteristics change according to the kind of activity.

Instead, as far as distribution is concerned, in Italy, Soldini mostly distributes to specialized stores like those for hunting and fishing. However, most of its business is generated by tenders issued by the Ministry of Defence, which are not very easy to access: specific technical requirements are set down (productive capacity, technical capacity, etc.), as well as economic ones (the company’s good financial standing and reliability) for those interested in participating. Solid credentials are needed to become a supplier to the military and armed forces.

Finally, we only sell to networks of specialized stores abroad, though we do have the option of participating in EU tenders for the armed forces of all Member States… In addition to different EU countries, our other foreign customers include the Arab States and North Africa.

Agnieszka Wisniewska, Sales Manager at Jolly Scarpe spa

In Italy, footwear for the armed forces must be recognized as personal protective equipment for professional use, or must be certified, but a protective toe-cap on this kind of footwear is not required.

Jolly produces military shoes that respect these characteristics: anti-perforation, antistatic, and anti-slip soles; protection of the malleolus, soles resistant to oils, hydrocarbons, and resistant to heat. In addition to this, we offer other special features through constant research into innovative materials and the use of advanced technologies: elements always present during the creation of models present in the Jollyscarpe collection.

Among our leading models for the armed forces we find: Burian, combat half boots ideal for paratroopers; the Light Half Boot, for combat and very light operations, which are ideal for summertime use; and the Desert X 2.0 half boot for military operations, which is made-to-measure for the special forces. Customers’ choices in footwear are increasingly moving towards a low-cost product with less of a priority given to the quality.

The Ministry of Defence calls for a series of requirements that must be fulfilled in order to access their tenders: first and foremost, the company must have a quality management system that complies with the requirements present in ISO 9001 certification. In accordance with the kind of tender, there are different requirements that must be satisfied, which include for example the good financial standing of the company in relation to the supply contract value of the tender; and longstanding technical experience in the footwear production process, including for example the cutting of materials, the assembly of the shoe, etc… For 35 years, Jolly Scarpe has been operating in the world of professional footwear, and thanks to its experience and know-how, our company is capable of satisfying all of the listed requirements.

The distribution of Jolly Scarpe footwear takes place through two main channels: a capillary network of distributors, which directly participate in the tenders and accordingly supply the requested footwear themselves; and stores, or retailers, which complete the presence of Jolly Scarpe in the market of end users. These two markets work in parallel to one another, and in addition to this, many times the supply on a ministerial level is directly taken care of by Jolly Scarpe.

As far as export markets are concerned, there is a widespread request for this kind of product throughout all of Europe. There are however big differences between the various areas. For example, if we look at the requests coming from the countries of Eastern Europe, the price requested is always very low, while in the rest of Europe, the Ministries are more interested in the quality of the product.

Andrea Lodigiani, owner of Calzaturificio Centurion

By now, Calzaturificio Centurion has been active for six years: our decision to enter the sector of military shoes was also somewhat by chance. We knew of a footwear manufacturer in our area that produced this kind of shoe, and which had recently gone out of business, and we thought a gap had been created in the market that we could fill.

As far as the product is concerned, there are an endless number of certifications for army-issue footwear. In our specific case, we produce outside of this scope, that is to say footwear that is not service-issue, but which the military can choose to use as an alternative to them. We are not required to issue certain kinds of certification. All our materials and components however are certified, and for all intents and purposes, even if our combat boot is not certified on the whole, we confirm that it is exactly the same as service shoes.

Having decided to not participate in the world of tenders, we distribute our product above all in Italy to specialized centres and very rarely abroad to Switzerland and Great Britain. Of course, working with foreign markets doubles the number of problems in terms of special legislation, certifications, and the never-ending bureaucracy that must be followed…

Denis Anastasia, owner of Da Capital

Footwear dedicated to the armed forces requires the adoption of certain UNI EN ISO certifications that establish certain values on both the materials used and the finished product. The most common reference found in terms of European safety standards is often 20347, 20344, and 20345, which with all our products comply.

As far as sales channels are concerned, we participate in MEPA (the public administration electronic market) tenders, where the winner is whoever is offering the lowest price. At the same time, we also sell directly to specialised stores.

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