MY STORY — THE 5 YEAR PLAN…… ITALY – PART 2
Having started making shoes now, well into my apprenticeship and learning lots of Italian, I meet a girl that would become my girlfriend and now give me more ties to Italy and staying there. The problem was though, that after 2 months of being there and no word on a Visa, I was starting to worry about it all. But Stefano kept telling me that it would get sorted by his lawyer and of course, after 3 months there was still nothing and that was as long as I had to be on a tourist Visa. And I could tell that everything that Stefano was telling me was just fluff. There was no Visa coming. That was the hard truth. And I was then faced with the reality of what to do i.e. go home or become an illegal immigrant. Well after promising myself that I would never look back and never fail again (re: my issue with the music industry internship), I said ‘Fuck it, I am going to just stay here illegally, wing it and trust that the right path will present itself as it always had before.’
So I overstayed my welcome in Italy and thus became an illegal immigrant. It’s quite an unsettling feeling, to be honest. To feel that you don’t belong where you are is not a nice feeling. To know that if you get questioned you could be removed and revoked from an entire country. The unsettling anxiety it gives you sucks but I had to do it to continue on with my dreams. Nothing was going to stop me from going forward. And nothing worthwhile comes easy and this was my first test in understanding that belief. And this was the first of many tests and hardships I would encounter during my time in Europe. And in this period of illegality I faced the police on two occasions, one because my friend got pulled over and two because one day as I was awaiting my girlfriend to get off work and sitting on a ledge on the Arno (River of Florence) for around an hour, the cops saw me there after driving by two times and thought I was up to no good. These were two very scary moments needless to say. But as I didn’t carry my passport on me and could speak some decent Italian, I managed to get out each situation without issue. To all of the aspiring shoemakers out there, a word of advice: Don’t do what I did.
This time in Italy was right at the height of the recession and needless to say Stefano’s business was not doing so well. And you could feel it, the stress of Stefano, the talks in the shop, and the unease of the environment. This didn’t make me feel good because it didn’t give me much hope for being hired and continuing on with my learning. And while I normally don’t make Plan B’s, I had to think of something to make me invaluable. Part of the reason that Stefano took me on, was because my friend’s father (also my friend), told Stefano that I could be valuable to him in growing his American distribution. So as I continued making shoes for myself, learning for myself, I started to also make a plan with Stefano to return home in the Summer with a couple of samples, tour the States and see if I could get anyone to buy his shoes. This kept Stefano interested in me. So I bought myself some time as I continued to devour as much information as I could about shoemaking and the shoe industry.
Two things were happening at this time. One, I was quickly running out of my money and also maxing out my credit card and two, was growing the relationship with my girlfriend. This meant that I was going to have to soon leave and decide what to do about us. I didn’t want to break up but would have to go home as I was making nothing. So we decided that she would come with me on my tour of the US to try and sell Stefano’s shoes. I had mapped out a plan to visit many of the major shoe shops (at the time) around the US. It was around May that I was planning this, and I knew that I had to go home in June, right before the Half Yearly Sale at Nordstrom so that I could recoup my money working at my old job. I had like $300 left to my name and had maxed out my $6000 credit card limit. I needed to pay that off and make enough to not only survive but take this US tour and go back to Europe after the Summer to try and get my job back with hopefully good news for Stefano.
So Stefano and I started discussing the in’s and out’s of his business and told me his wholesale price was €330 (in 2009) and that he could not budge on that. This came with lasted shoe trees and his shoes were handwelted at the time (not sure if they still are or not). It was expensive but in reality, worth the price of what you were getting as Stefano’s shoes during his reign were among the best that I had ever seen. The problem is that at this time, no one had a clue who Stefano Bemer was nor the amazing shoes that he made. So I faced a real challenge but one that was not going to scare me. So came June, Stefano gave me those samples, I said goodbye to my girlfriend for a couple of months and off home I went, to return to the US a completely different person.