Wenqi Wu’s Shoe Polytechnic Journey

Parsons School of Fashion and The Shoe Polytechnic connect students through creative concept and technical expertise through this unique, exclusive and cherished opportunity with support of world renowned shoe genius and IRIS founder Giuseppe Baiardo. This winter, several School of Fashion students visited Padua to see the Shoe Polytechnic and review the local shoemaking practices. Wenqui Wu was among those who visited. 

Before visiting the Shoe Polytechnic and the other modern production lines of the Italian shoemaking industry, I pictured Italian traditional shoemaking as an old man using traditional tools, carving the shape of the heel, and hammering them to the base of the shoe. After observing the production lines at Onward Luxury Group and various heel factories and sole factories, I realized that more than just tradition goes into the Italian shoe production: intelligence, heritage, but most importantly modern technology.

Our first stop was the Shoe Polytechnic School, where we got an overall view of the shoe business, especially of the local culture and its relationship to Veneto. We were lucky enough to visit a class in which students assembled a pair of traditional shoes, the pump. The facilities in the classroom really impressed me because there was a complete set of shoe assembly machines, which are strictly used to connect the heels to the body of the shoe. The machinery was built with the latest, most advanced technology, the same as that currently used by production companies in the industry. The students and teachers were kind enough to show us the process right away, which made me realize that my original impression of Italian shoe making was inaccurate and needed to be modernized.


The next day we were invited to visit Onward Luxury Group (formerly known as IRIS Shoes). The list of major luxury clients includes: Jil Sander, Rochas, Marc Jacobs, Chloe and many more. We began the tour by visiting the showrooms of different labels to see the inspirations and sketches from the designers. We went to the production floor to see the manufacture process in action. There were many laser-cutting machines cutting patterns and 3-D printing machines to make the prototype based on the sketches. Afterward, we saw the production lines that fused the traditional handcrafting practice with machinery. It was really fascinating to to see the shoe making process go from sketch to prototype to an actual high-quality product. Visiting Onward Luxury Group/Iris shoes headquarters changed my perspective of how I perceived production. It takes a lot of work as well as collaboration and communication. The highlight of the day was the visit the Shoe Museum – Museo Rossimoda Calzatura at the Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra’ (sponsored by LVMH). The gallery has two floors filled with gorgeous shoes from 1950s Dior couture shoes to last season’s Celine loafers. I felt like I was in shoe heaven, surrounded by not just shoes, but also history, heritage, and modern culture.

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The last stop was to go back to Shoe Polytechnic and work with the students that we paired with for the project. I was able to communicate with the production team my ideas and listen to them about their thoughts on the designs. I also learned something from the students during the meeting because they really understand practicality and how to translate a sketch into an actual product. As a result to these visits to the factories and facilities, I learned many things from the trip, which helps me understand a little more about shoes and the process of making them. The experience certainly helped me design differently and more thoughtfully.