Born in Sicily and raised America, Maria Gangemi had summer vacations that put your camp experiences to shame—let’s just say a key stop on her yearly itinerary was Florence, where she would scour the city for handmade leather goods. “In Italy, working with leather isn’t just about stuff—it’s an art form,” she says. The experience molded her in a major way, and she eventually went on to bosslady gigs as a shoe guru at Vince Camuto and running Rue La La’s luxury biz. Through those roles, Maria found herself returning to her native country often for work—where she noticed her favorite leather shops were closing one-by-one, replaced by designer flagships. Afraid the heart and the craftsmanship she found in those little stores were vanishing, she decided to do something about it. In 2014, she launched M. Gemi, a direct-to-consumer shoe line, to make the most of her homeland’s materials and old-school cobblers—at not-insane prices, to boot.
As the whole made-in-Italy thing would suggest, Maria doesn’t cut any corners when creating the label’s rich-looking and -feeling satin slides, suede mules, and tumbled-calf high tops. To put together M. Gemi’s dream team of suppliers and makers, she traveled all around Lo Stivale to sole-search the pros, from a family that’s been making moccasins for generations to a woman who’s spent thirty years finessing the perfect pump and a tannery that’s operated in Santa Croce since the 14th century. As she explains, “For the people who make our shoes, it’s not a job. It’s their passion, their life, and their family business.”