Shoemaker Craft and Trade
Renato Bočak - owner
+385 (0)1 4846453, +385 (0)98320929
Working hours: 10:00 – 20:00 (Mon – Fri)
10:00 − 14.00 (Sat)
"Ilica has become uncompetitive. People are going to shopping malls because there is a large concentration of stores in one place and they also offer free parking."
Oaza: Your space and produts stand out from many others in Ilica because of top quality and good communication and promotion. How did you start doing this type of work?
Renato Bočak: I am the third generation in my family. We have been at this location since 1933. I started working as a kid in my dad's workshop and later I enrolled at a high school called the Center for Textile, Leather and Footwear. Later I passed the shoemaker's master exam and afterwards the orthopedic shoemaker's exam. I have been the chairman of the board of shoemaking and orthopedic shoemaking examiners for a long time and I also collaborate with the school; I have worked on determining the curriculums, on the sector council and I am very engaged with the institutions. I took over the shop from my dad in 1994 so I have been a craftsman myself for 21 years and in the meantime I have finished a footwear design course at the Faculty of Textile Technology.
Oaza: We assume that has also influenced your attitude towards product design? Where do you acquire new knowledge related to trends, materials, technologies, etc.?
Renato Bočak: Our products are specific, we are developing our own style that is up-to-date with the trends. I personally make the molds and take them to the factory where they are used to extrapolate all the sizes.
Oaza: Do you have any desire and room for experimentation, in the sense of introducing new materials, shapes, etc.?
Renato Bočak: When possible, I try to incorporate something new. We are most limited with what is the standard problem in Croatia, you have to prove yourself every day. The market will often set your direction so you do not even have the material means to fully devote yourself to innovations, even though I have a lot of ideas and a lot of drawings and writings. Everyday life pulls you back and dictates what you have to do so that segment is unfortunately often missing. The problem is that you cannot express yourself as you would like to because that is too expensive. Then you sell ten pairs to those who get it and then it all stops again. We are just that sort of market.
Oaza: Where do you get your materials?
Renato Bočak: Some here, some abroad, mostly in Italy. It is a lot easier to pick there. Since the demand is low here, there is also no supply. There used to be warehouses full of leather here. What you wanted, you got.
Oaza: Is there any room for collaboration with the creative sector, namely the designers?
Renato Bočak: Again, that is hard to pull off, mostly because of the funds. We have cut back the number of employees and the state of the market does not allow us to develop to the extent that we would need. That is what makes me sad the most but in these times we have to get through it.
Oaza: How does hiring work with you? Do you have apprentices or trainees?
Renato Bočak: My business has had trainees the entire time and a good number of them is still working. Siniša, who did his apprenticeship with us is still working here, for over 20 years. We still educate new personnel but few stick with it because the demand is low. When I was finishing my apprenticeship, almost my entire class stayed in the trade. Some, like me, with their fathers and some in companies, mostly making orthopedic footwear. Today it is different.
Oaza: Who is your audience? Do you have regular customers and what is their attitude towards the quality of a handmade shoe?
Renato Bočak: We have customers that have been buying shoes exclusively from us for years. In our archives we have around 15 000 measurements and 1000 mold models from all around the world, so to speak. Of course, we also have customers inherited form my father, who have been our customers for over 20 years. We also get some younger guys who want a certain style so we work on that together. Our target audience are business people who have a certain dress code and are looking for custom-made footwear. Most of the information today we get over the Internet from trade publications. However, whenever I can I go to a fair, mostly in Italy since we do not really have them anymore.
I feel like there is a lull again, that something did not go quite right. Our market is simply very small, our population is smaller than Milan's.
Oaza: What are your promotion channels? Is there a well-established infrastructure for craftsmen?
Renato Bočak: One of the segments that is as traditional as our business is the fashion show Golden Needle that is organized by craftsmen. It offers a great opportunity to see the craft businesses that are still operating in Zagreb and that is good publicity. The hall is always packed and there is great interest. There are no more fairs. We are trying to do something through the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts. They enable us to exhibit at international fairs through subsidies. In the meantime, Ilica has become uncompetitive. People are going to shopping malls because there is a large concentration of stores in one place and they also offer free parking.
Oaza: Do you feel a marked decline in demand over the last several years?
Renato Bočak: Yes, I am in a business that has almost disappeared. In the West, there are efforts to protect, bring back and commercialize crafts but I am not sure how successful they are. When it comes to Croatia, it is hard to succeed because the market is small. I have seen how some designers have used the industry to try to launch their products and those products made sense, they were well designed and all but I do not know to what degree they succeeded.
Oaza: What about government subsidies?
Renato Bočak: I have not applied for subsidies in three years because they mean nothing to me. I have another completely new workshop but what will I do with new machines when I have no work? So it makes no sense for me to apply for subsidies when I cannot increase production.