Every time there is a major crisis, a question becomes fashionable: how to reinvent yourself? In the Romanian region of Transylvania, a shoemaker has raised this issue to the status of art to survive amid the coronavirus crisis.
Last March, at 55, Grigori Lup had to send his ten workers to temporary unemployment after orders were abruptly interrupted.
“Suddenly, people stopped entering my business,” the shoemaker tells Efe from his workshop in the city of Cluj.
The popular theaters, operas, and dance groups that made up Lup’s clientele fort saw their activity cut short due to the ban on public events decreed by the authorities to contain the pandemic.
“I saw that nobody was entering and I said to myself, stop, I have to close.”
AN UNEXPECTED EXIT TO THE CRISIS
It was then that he had an idea to be able to stay active during the crisis.
“Nobody respected social distance and I thought: I am going to make three pairs of these shoes, I will put them on the internet and I will call them social distance shoes to attract attention,” explains Lup, who admits that at the beginning it was all “a kind of joke “
And so he began to make these giant shoes that guarantee whoever wears them that nobody gets closer than necessary.
Like all the ones he produces in his workshop, these quirky-looking shoes are handmade and made of natural leather.
The shoes are of a normal number on the back where the customer must put his foot. The exceptional thing comes when the toes end, where a toe filled with a light material such as the sole begins, which would be equivalent to a foot number 75.
“If two people who were wearing my shoes were placed in front of each other there would be a separation of about one meter and a half between them,” explains Lup, who sells each pair of “social distancing shoes” for around a hundred euros.
ORDERS OF ENGLAND AND CANADA
Although it was primarily a joke at first, Lup has received eight commissions from Romania, England and Canada since numerous newspapers and televisions in Romania and other countries echoed his initiative.
Some of her clients have told her they plan to take them down the street, while others will use them in comic-themed art shows.
“A person called me from England and said he wanted boots for social distancing. I showed him these boots and asked him: are they for a play? And she said no, that her husband had told her that he wanted to go down the street with them. ”
Lup was born into a modest family in rural Romania and has been making shoes by hand since 1949, when he was 16 years old and started working as an apprentice with a shoemaker from Cluj. “We were eight siblings and I started working after finishing primary school.”
A MASTER IN REINVENTING HIMSELF
Reinventing yourself in the face of crises and social changes is not something new for our protagonist.
After the 1989 revolution that ended more than four decades of communism in Romania, Lup moved from the public sector that until then had completely dominated the Romanian economy to the private sector, and began making shoes for a company founded by one of his bosses.
In 2001 it was the transformation of the production model in his company that pushed him to establish himself.
Lup’s boss had given up on the entire process of making shoes by hand when reaching an agreement with an Italian company to which he sent the unfinished product for them to finish off at his factory.
“I liked doing the job as I knew it, manually, so I decided to open my own workshop,” explains the shoemaker.
And in this way he founded AXA Magnolia, the same company that now offers people around the world the possibility of keeping, through their footwear, the threat of the covid-19 at bay.
AN EXAMPLE OF FLEXIBILITY AND REFLECTIONS
AXA Magnolia began its journey with children’s leather shoes. But this initial bet did not work and Lup knew how to reorient himself to start making adult shoes shortly after opening his business.
As he has done now, this popular shoemaker from Cluj proved to have reflexes during the 2008 crisis, when he lost a good part of his sales and changed clients to go afloat with one of the few economic agents who had not lost the power of purchase: the State.
“There was a woman in Cluj who made traditional footwear for popular dances and had just retired,” recalls Lup, whom the woman telephoned to ask if he could commission an artist.
This is how Lup began to make shoes for traditional dance groups financed by municipalities and regional public institutions.
From there she went shortly thereafter to theaters and opera, first in Cluj and then throughout Romania and abroad until the pandemic until her creativity has put her to the test again: her “shoes of social distancing” have made her famous in the world.
“In all financial crises I have managed to continue making shoes; I have been making shoes since I was 16 years old, it is what I know best how to do ”, said this entrepreneur with satisfaction.