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The History of La Sportiva: An Iconic (and Ever-Evolving) Italian Brand

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It all started in 1928 in Ziano di Fiemme—a small Italian village located in the heart of the Dolomites—when a man named Narciso Delladio began creating customized leather boots and clogs for lumberjacks and farmers in Italy’s Fasse and Fiemme valleys. As Delladio worked diligently to meet the needs of these small populations, he was unknowingly giving life to what is now considered a founding father of mountaineering footwear, revered among vertical-focused athletes around the globe.

During World War II, Delladio constructed custom mountaineering boots specifically for soldiers, to ensure stability and comfort during long days in combat. After the war ended—whether there was a cultural shift with more people entering the world of rock climbing, or whether Delladio was just a footwear visionary, it’s tough to say. (More than likely, it was a combination of both.) But long story short, demand for these handcrafted mountain shoes grew increasingly heavy. Delladio continued to make technical rock-terrain shoes and also began to manufacture ski boots. He hired more workers. And not before too long, “Calzoleria Sportiva”, or La Sportiva as it’s known today, was born.

According to Mark Day—Vice President of Marketing and Sales for La Sportiva in North America since 2000—the company has been on the cutting edge of rock shoe development since its beginning. “Of all the companies that were manufacturing rock shoes in the 70s, La Sportiva is the only one still in the business really—especially in terms of technical design and innovation.”

The company’s main intent was, and always has been, to create unbeatable footwear, across all vertical discipline spectrums. Whether it be rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing, skiing, or technical mountain running, Day says that every shoe is molded in the best interest of its user.

La Sportiva Today

Rock climbing in Lion’s Head, Ontario Alex Indigo

“Today, La Sportiva sells more than any other rock shoe brand in North America, combined. Period,” says Day.

While many relative outdoor brands update previous models solely by altering outer aesthetic, La Sportiva strategically seeks ways to transform each model, from the inside out, with a specific purpose.

“In my opinion, if you look at the other shapes and silhouettes, there’s no difference in other brands, besides the colors. But that’s not true with La Sportiva,” Day explains, adding that each model is distinctly distinguishable and unique.

This differentiation is similarly revealed in the brand’s commitment to female athletes. Day says that although some shoe brands fail to provide equal gear—both in quantity and quality—to both genders, La Sportiva is “completely committed to gender specific models that reflect different foot shapes, strengths, and materials.”

He explains that the goal to produce superior shoes stems from the company’s dedication to authentic design and innovation, seeking to fulfill diverse needs. “We don’t view vertical discipline product as a marketing piece,” says Day. “We do it because it’s who we are; it’s what we are passionate about and active in.”

With renown pro climbers like Tommy Caldwell and skiers like Adrian Ballinger and Urban Zemmer, outfitting themselves in the brand, La Sportiva’s elite fan-base proves its exceptional quality. “The list of climbers we sponsor is pretty extensive,” says Day. “Whether we’re talking about Alex Honnold or Daniel Woods, their accomplishments speak for themselves.”

Closer to home, Matt Ginley, a regional sales representative for Eventum Sales in the Southeast, vouches for La Sportiva’s genuine passion and loyalty. “The fact that those guys are taking the chance and making investments on all facets speaks to the integrity of the brand,” he says. “They’re always dedicated to offer the best. There’s no compromise; no short cuts whatsoever.”

Ginley—who has been rock climbing for more than fifteen years and who wore 5.10 climbing shoes for fourteen of those years—made the switch to La Sportiva in 2014, when his company started representing and selling the brand. “I had to make the switch,” he explains, adding that while he was excited, he was also hesitant.

“You know how climbers are. For the most part, when they get really psyched on the sport, they become very brand loyal, and the brand they’re usually most loyal to is the shoe. The shoe is the only tool in your chest of climbing tools that you can make a decision on that can change how you climb directly.”

Ginley recognizes this durability with his La Sportiva Solutions. “I’ve never had a pair of climbing shoes last longer than six months maximum, until now. The pair I’m climbing in right now are just now starting to get sloppy and old…I’ve had them for 11 months, nearly double the length!” he said. “I’ve worn a lot of 5.10 and I’ve tried on a lot of high performance shoes, and to me this is the most impressive climbing shoe I’ve ever seen.”

Moving Forward

Long days at the crag got me like Laurel F

Over the years, La Sportiva has sought ways to remain true to its original mission, while continuing to meet transforming needs.

In 2013, the company started selling apparel. Though it’s still in the beginning stages and definitely not as big as their shoe sector, Day expects the clothing to eventually take off. “Do I see the brand’s commitment to it continuing and unwavering? Absolutely,” he says, adding that in terms of budget and income, the clothing may seem like a side project; but that regardless of finance, anything La Sportiva does is with its best foot forward.

In regards to the company’s latest model, Skwama, Day explains that just like any new shoe type, the Skwama is completely different than its predecessors. This hybrid synthetic leather upper incorporates P3—a performance technology that wraps the rand around the heel and attaches it under metatarsal heads.

Day says that the shoe is intentionally designed to use much more surface area in climbing. “Rather than just stand on something, it’s designed to reach out and pull against or push against.” (Read: toe hooks, smudges, smears, etc.) He explains that while many slippers are not as secure as other shoe types and can cause slippage, the Skwama allows for the flexible and light use of a slipper, while also providing secure, robust closure. The highly anticipated shoe is meant to be available in select retailers across the country, including Rock/Creek, by early June 2016.

Today, La Sportiva shoes are sold in 70 countries worldwide, with over 600 retail partners in North America alone. According to Day, “In the United States, well over 100,000 pairs are sold each year,” with approximately 90 percent of the third generation family-owned shoes still produced in the original Italian factory.

Day states that while many mass-produced shoes undergo careless errors, La Sportiva lives by an internal code, committed to “passionate innovation”.

“In a world of lowest common denominator, best price above all else, we are still a handcrafted artisan product that truly cares,” says Day. “We aren’t something for everyone, but we are everything for someone.”

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek

Featured image provided by Liv Harlow

Rock/Creek specializes in fitting climbing shoes.  If you’ve been through the process before, you realize that it is rare that you get the right fit without trying on at lease five different models in five different sizes.  Stop by one of our locations to be fit by one of our climbing shoe specialists.  We honestly enjoy the process and would love to get you set up!