In His Shoes: When Profession Becomes Passion

Levi Strauss & Co.
November 18, 2014

A profile of Francesco Boninsegna, Merchandising and Design Director, Levi’s Footwear

He paused, clearly a bit hesitant to play favorites.

“How many are we talking here?” we asked.

“More than 100 … probably closer to 200,” he replied. “I never throw them away.”

Asking Francesco Boninsegna, Merchandising and Design Director at Levi’s Footwear, to name a favorite pair of shoes in his personal collection felt a bit like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.

Given his role, however, it’s not unexpected that Francesco has a deep appreciation for — and a huge collection of — shoes. (The average guy owns about 12 pairs according to a TIME survey from a few years back).

“I’ve been working on footwear my whole career, and if you work in shoes, you have to like shoes,” he said. “I buy everything I think is interesting and have a pair of every product I’ve worked on.”

Making the [Levi’s] Shoes Fit

As his title reflects, Francesco’s job is a mix of merchandising and design. He spends his days coordinating with members of the Milan, Italy-based Levi’s footwear team. Together, they’re charged with designing a global footwear line and regional extensions for the European market.

Ultimately, Francesco views his role being the voice of the Levi’s Footwear team and telling the story of Levi’s through its shoe collections. To him, that means meeting the needs of the footwear market, while also staying connected and relevant to the Levi’s brand.

He’s excited by the opportunity his team has to link back to what the Levi’s brand really means and to design shoes that fit seamlessly within a variety of the brand’s collections.

“We’re always thinking about what would fit well with a pair of jeans — that’s the decision point between what we do and what we don’t do,” he said.

Footwear from Start to Finish

Francesco’s career has been focused on footwear, but his entré into the industry actually came through marketing. His first job was doing consumer marketing for a cycling shoe company.

As an avid cyclist, he became interested in the company’s performance shoes and started digging into what the product was and how it was made. From there, he says, his interest really exploded. Eventually he started learning how to make shoes.

“I’ve found that when people start to work in shoes, it becomes their career,” he said. “If you started with footwear, you will finish with footwear.”

Heart & Sole

It’s obvious Francesco loves shoes. This observation was further confirmed by his immediate, single-word answer to a question about what he’s most passionate about: Footwear.

Partially, his affection stems from the mix of style and function shoes provide. That becomes especially clear when he speaks of his personal collection.

“I’m a gear geek, so I need to own all the right gear … well maybe I don’t need to, but it’s cool,” he said. “My Levi’s Commuter shoes have the perfect silhouette and they’re the right mix of gear geek and laid back.”

His passion, though, isn’t as much fueled by fashion as it is by the craftsmanship required to make a pair of shoes. Although many people think shoes are an industrial process, there’s actually a lot of hand-stitching and manual work required.

“People don’t really imagine it when they think about how shoes are made, but the reality is every single shoe is hand made. It requires true craftsmanship.”

Finding a Love of Levi’s

Walking the halls of LS&Co., it’s not uncommon to encounter employees who have grown up loving — and living in — Levi’s. Francesco admits he’s not one of them. As a kid, he says, he wasn’t really aware of Levi’s the way many people were.

For him, joining the Levi’s Footwear team presented an opportunity to complete an evolution from performance to casual footwear (in addition to the cycling company, he also spent several years at Puma).

Working with the brand, though, and gaining an understanding what it stands for, has made him a life-long fan. The story of not just doing good business, but doing good in general is one he says he really appreciates and can recognize in himself.

“I’m doing something I really enjoy for a brand whose values match my own,” he said. “It’s refreshing when you get to the office and know you’re doing something for a brand that believes what you also believe in life — trying to do good for the environment, while also doing good for the consumer as well.”