A three-hour drive from Rome, through rolling hills and nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, lies the region of Le Marche. With neither the Renaissance legend of Tuscany nor the dense forests of Umbria, Le Marche is quiet and rural, stretching nearly 4,000 square miles across Italy's sandy eastern coast.
However unassuming Le Marche may be, Italy is not quite Italy without it. It has long served as the ancestral home of the country's artisanal shoe trade. Today, it's still dotted with footwear factories of all makes and models, from large-scale facilities employing the better part of entire towns to hole-in-the-wall workshops lining cobblestone streets.
"There's a strong link with the territory," says Matteo Pasca, the director of Arsutoria School, a Milan-based institute for design and technical training in footwear and accessories. "Most of the factories are still small, family-run businesses that hire locally and promote from within. And most of these factories have a tradition of generations that pass the skills from parents to children."