Melbourne shoe fashionista Katrina Verso, Founder of Cammino Shoes talks about balancing family life while creating a recognizable brand for the everyday shoe luxury.
What shoes are you currently wearing? Why?
My Cammino Ballet Flats of course. They are truly the most comfortable shoe I own with the exception of the samples of my soon to launch sneakers. However, I do alternative those with support trainers for when I walk/exercise. I broke my foot in four places 10 years ago so flat shoes have been an essential part of my life and reason for starting Cammino.
During your extensive media career in Melbourne, was there a particular pair of shoes that pushed you to start your own brand?
Not a brand, in particular, that pushed me but I just loved shoes in all shapes and sizes. But I had very much become laser-focused on Italian made shoes in my final few years in media. I had lots (still own) pairs of Made In Italy stamped high heels But due to my broken foot I couldn’t wear them all day. So I would often buy a flat to change into. Eg for the walk into the city or just to wear around the office when I wasn’t in front of clients or presenting in meetings, etc.
Was this because they were so uncomfortable?
I really struggled to find a brand of stylish flats that were well made and comfortable leather that wouldn’t smell and last. I really struggle with either a shoe looking daggy but serving the comfort need or looking ok but pinching in the wrong place or being cheaply made/mass-produced therefore never lasting. (and smelling)
Or, was this because of a quality product that you thought you could improve on?
For all of the above reasons, I wanted to find a traditional shoemaker in Italy. In the region where modern shoemaking was invented to create the perfect flat. We have 70% repeat customer business and 100% 5-star reviews due to our comfort and quality.
What reference point did you use when creating Cammino?
I referenced my travels through Italy in my younger years. I had bought ballet flats from a cobbler (which I still have) I wanted to create something that was of this quality which is the reason I looked for a factory in Italy.
Were there any memorable points of inspiration?
So many!!! One of the most memorable was going to Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne. I was amazed at the sight of women walking out in bare feet with heels in their hands. Foldable flats for everyone I thought! It must happen.
But also many an event – eg my wedding. I couldn’t last the days in heels so had a pair of glittery ballet flats t change into after the photos. So many of my friends did the same. I also remember taking a pair of my samples to a wedding that I was a guest at. I popped them on after the main course and spent the rest of the night in them on the dancefloor.
With Cammino being the Italian word for ‘to walk’, what is it about the Italian culture that makes it the right fit for your brand?
It is the premise and reason behind starting the brand. To bring joy to women so they could walk through their day in comfort and trade out the heels when need be.
This also speaks about the quality of Italian shoe-making. It is a dying art of traditional family-run factories that past tradition down for years. The Made In Italy stamp is synonymous with this traditional shoemaking and superior quality. I wanted the brand to create and be known for the best flat shoes.
That being said, how did you find your perfect craftsman in Ferma? A town that is famously known as part of ‘La Valle Della Scarpa’ (The Shoe Valley). What was it about this shoemaker that made you know that they were the “right fit” for Cammino?
I searched for many months to find the right shoemaker. I spoke to countless factories but it was the factory I work with now that one day emailed me with a contact in Melbourne. She was the aunt in law and lived 6 months of the year in Australian and the rest in Italy. She met with me and we skyped the factory. She translated my vision and designs and we went from there. It was that local connection that helped to start us going.
Bringing things back home, you were an Ausmumpreneur finalist in the fashion category last year. What has it been like balancing your family life whilst also growing your brand?
That has been an incredible juggle. I found out I was pregnant with my second bub the week we launched Cammino. Then the business expanded rapidly in the weeks after his birth and I was recovering from a C-section. It was a case of bunkering down with very little time for anything other than my bubs. my biz and grabbing sleep when I could. Now my youngest is 2 and we are finally all sleeping through the night so things feel more manageable. COVID has been a double-edged sword for me. In that, it has made business very taught but slowed down and social activity meaning life feels a little less chaotic. I think any working parents have a juggle and it’s about working out how to make it work for you.
Have the young ones picked up your passion for fashion? What is it you hope they learn from your hard work?
My daughter (almost 5) is my biggest advocate. She pours over all of my shoes telling me what she most likes them about them. She also asks for certain colours and patterns so I do think subconsciously she is my little muse.
I hope that my children learn that anything is possible if you just go out and give it a go. I hope they learn it is possible to reinvent yourself from career to business owner. So I hope they follow their passions, balance it with hard work, and keep themselves a community of people that love and support them.
Being the most talked about subject in 2020, I have to ask, how has COVID-19 had an impact on Cammino? And what particular things have you done to find new opportunities/solutions within the current climate?
I think I have answered some of these earlier, but to elaborate more, I have had to re-look at all areas of the business. Like most businesses big or small we were negatively impacted. But it has forced me to focus on my online (direct to customer) side of the business in preference to wholesale (to stores). As there has been a surge in online spending it has made me reinvent the way I present Cammino online and there will be a big focus on that moving forward.
Speaking of new opportunities, your next product under the Luxury Sneaker Category is now available for pre-order via Kickstarter, what is it about designing/creating a new product that is so exciting to you?
Sneakers were always going to be the next for Cammino after establishing the brand and our customer base. What has been so exciting about the sneakers is that so many people have asked for them and the kickstart campaign we have running allowing pre-orders has received a great deal of attention.
The true excitement in designing is when you can see someone’s eyes light up with excitement when they see a new shoe. I think that is when I truly feel satisfied and energized.
Finally, what’s next for you and Cammino? is there anything, in particular, you are looking forward to?
There is always something bubbling away in my mind or in my plans. You can expect more amazing handcrafted leather shoes in different categories. And we also hope to expand our operations into other continents when the timing is right.