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Enzo Bonafe Visit: Handmade Italian Dress Shoes From Bologna

Enzo Bonafe IntroClassic Italian Craftsmanship

In today’s article I want to share with you details of my visit to the Enzo Bonafe Workshop.

A classic shoemaking brand from Bologna famous for their outstanding dress shoes and boots.

I had the pleasure to visit them and meet the entire family while going through the production line.

Let’s enjoy this visit together.

Enzo Bonafe History

Those familiar with good quality dress shoes are probably aware of Enzo Bonafe.

In fact I named them in multiple occasions as some of the Best Dress Shoes In The World.

The company exists since 1963 and is the birthchild of Enzo Bonafe and his wife Guerrina.

Enzo Bonafe Team
Archive Picture of The Enzo Bonafe Team

Despite the ever changing industry and focus in industrialization and fast production, Enzo was adamant about retaining the values and ides of high end shoes.

Born in 1935 in Bologna (Italy), it is astounding how Enzo and his wife still work in the workshop at the age of 87 daily.

With the help of his children (Massimo and Silvia) as well son-in-law Roberto, Enzo Bonafe remains a family business to this very day.

Harsh conditions during World War II was when he developed a love for shoes seeing how poverty forced children to walk barefoot.

His first chance in the shoemaking world came by in 1948 by Amedeo Testoni, who taught him the secrets of shoemaking.

Enzo showed rapid progressions due to his passion for shoes and became an expert cutter and leather expert.

About 15 years later Enzo Bonafe finally pursued his own career despite 1963 being a very difficult moment for the shoe industry in Italy.

Through passion, determination and certainty about the quality of his products he slowly infiltrated some of the most luxurious boutiques in Italy.

These days, Enzo Bonafe has a great reputation and ability to produce anything you desire.

Your own creativity is the only limit and they have access to countless leathers, constructions, models and lasts.

Enzo Bonafe reminds you why “Made in Italy” still has prestige and power in the world.

The Enzo Bonafe Workshop

You might notice that I say workshop instead of factory.

While a sizeable location, workshop (in a great way) was the feeling I got when I visited them.

Located just 10-15 minutes from the center of Bologna, the workshop is in a quiet location.

When you approach the gate, you see the famous eponymous logo and ring the bell while waiting for your hosts.


Enzo Bonafe Shoe Samples
Enzo Bonafe Shoe Samples

I first met Silvia who is a wonderful gentle person and was a part of my main point of contact, Massimo.

Massimo speaks excellent English and has a clear passion for his work and the family values of Bonafe.

I was there to also discuss some business and I felt extremely welcome and excited.

Before sitting down to discuss these opportunities Massimo took me for a quick tour of the workshop.

I will try to showcase it to you in the next sections.

Leather Quality

In all factories and workshops there is a certain flow.

New leather comes in and needs to be checked for flaws, quality, consistency and color range before filing.

You could say this is the first line of defense and there was Enzo Bonafe himself and his wife!

Enzo Bonafe
Enzo Bonafe next to some pretty cool shell cordovan hides!

At 87 years old they are still taking care of the leather and ensuring everything is ok to move forward.

Leather ProcessingWith my basic Italian I spoke a little about my shoemaking journey with Mr. Bonafe and his eyes lit when I told him about Stefano Bemer.

He told me to wait a moment, reached out and proceeded to grab a small box from his drawer.

Stefano BemerYoung Stefano was sitting next to him learning shoemaking so you can really understand how important this man is in the shoe world.

Cutting, Closing & Assembly

You then move forward to the leather cutting and closing of the uppers.

There are a few key individuals doing all the operations, including cutting the leather by hand or with casts.

Leather Cutting
Pattern Cutting Station

Many of the women doing the closing have families and Enzo Bonafe allows them to stay at home and work from there.

Leather Sewing Uppers
The closing of the uppers happens here (and at home!)

I consider that very noble and they seem to be happy and efficient.

Of course, when the upper is ready it is time to move on to the actual shoemaking

Enzo Bonafe Constructions

What happens next always depends on the actual construction of the shoes.

For example, a Blake Stitched shoe has a slightly different operation than a Hand-welted shoe or a Norwegian.

Enzo Bonafe hand-welting
Enzo Bonafe hand-welting

For the higher end they still hand-welt and (partially) hand-last their shoes.

Machinery is state of the art and each worker has extensive experience on a certain task.

Bologna Construction
The Bologna Construction by Enzo Bonafe

Massimo even showed me the famous Bologna Construction where the shoe receives the stitch in a tiny channel in the insole.

Lasting, welting, trimming and of course applying the sole is the next step.

After the trimming and refinement of the sole they will apply the heel and there you essentially have a shoe!

Finishing Station

Little details remain at this point, such as the insole footbed for example.

Finishing of shoes
A Workbench for finishing

And of course the dying of the outer parts of the outsole and of course shining.

Last shoe touchesThere you have it! A complete shoe by Enzo Bonafe is ready to ship!

Industry Challenges

After our tour, I sat down with Massimo and Silvia to talk about things.

I will not disclose and bore you about the details of our business talk.

Instead I will talk about the challenges of the industry and Enzo Bonafe’s goals as a brand.

Blake Stitch Machine
A Blake Stitch Machine

While they have a workforce of 20-25 people it is still a relatively small operation.

And the ethos of Enzo Bonafe is to preserve the quality over quantity.

This explains a lot how and why there are not many retailers out there and how careful they are with their selection.

Edge Finishing Shoes
A lot of effort goes in the finishing of the outsoles

I previously reported on the current shortages of the leather industry.

Even regular box calf can take months to get, the quality can vary and generally skins are thinner than before.

There is then a very delicate balance between production and demand which they try to keep.

And one more reason for us (us customers) to be more understandable about delivery times.

Weak & Strong Points

Online availability is a bit of a hassle as very specific boutiques around the world carry Enzo Bonafe.

The situation is different locally and in some places such as Japan they are more accessible.

Bonafe Construction
Talking about creativity, check out this amazing piece of craftsmanship!

The creativity is also there with endless options for MTO and even modified lasts in certain occasions.

But more often than not this depends on the customer to update certain styles.

I would say that as a shoe enthusiast you should definitely consider getting a pair from Enzo Bonafe one day.

Where To Buy Enzo Bonafe?

My recommendation for your Enzo Bonafe shoes is through online retailers such as Solegarb and Shop Mehra!

Final Thoughts

I visited multiple workshops and factories in the last few years.

Enzo Bonafe was one of my favorite experiences not just due to the quality of the shoes but also the friendly atmosphere there.

I felt welcome and we shared the same enthusiasm about shoes and life.

It is also rare to see the entire family working hands on in an operation of such scale.

I want to take this opportunity and thank Massimo, Silvia, Enzo and Guerrina for their hospitality.

Did you enjoy this coverage? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you for reading,

Kostas Mandilaris,
Misiu Academy

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Comments (6)

I enjoyed your article, and look forward to my first pair of chukka boots from Enzo. He is one of the few in europe offering hand welted shoes at an affordable price. Also they are making alterations to the last. A truly hand made shoe..

Great to hear Karl.

If you like them and you dial the sizing, I would love to help you commission your next pair via my shop!


I have multiple pair and all are beautiful!!!

I agree!

Dear Kostas,
You are talented writer as well not just a shoe geek, pardon the pun. That was a great article. And thank you for taking time to visit them and share with us the whole family and the warm workshop experience! I found the boots aka ‘Commando’ by EB on Mehra and I was about to order 9.5 UK because I live in FL, USA and usually get 10.5 d or medium and sometimes slightly wider due to my left foot…..Am I OK with UK 9.5 in EB Commando on 946 F last? I have RM Williams Comfort Craftsmen AUS 9.5 same as UK 9.5 and after breaking in they are ok now. Also U Last in Vass on penny loafers…I think that was a bad decision on my part to purchase…they are NARROW and hurt my feet. I’ll try to wear them a little more and see if I can ‘stretch’ them a little and make them more comfortable. So I’m stuck I love the EB style and prices. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Kostas.

Hi Milan, I just saw this. Honestly Gaurav is the right person to guide you through this. US 10.5D should take UK 9.5 on the 946 last in my opinion.

Alternatively, I also offer MTO with Bonafe through the shop.

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