By  on August 7, 2006

VICENZA, Italy — Bottega Veneta is out to disprove all those cynics who claim designers and companies aren't doing enough to train the next generation of craftspeople.

The Gucci Group-owned accessories and fashion house is joining local trade school Scuola d'Arte e Mestieri di Vicenza to set up a three-year educational program for aspiring luxury handbag makers. The first session will start in October.

Bottega chief executive officer Patrizio Di Marco said it is increasingly difficult to find skilled workers, especially pattern makers. Bottega is founding the program to remedy that problem and give back to its home region of Veneto near Venice. Bottega requires an exceptionally high level of competence, as well as nimble fingers, to craft its bags, which take hours, if not days, to make.

"There are things that you do with your hands that no book can teach you," Di Marco told WWD following a press conference earlier last month outlining the initiative. He declined to give an investment figure for the project.

"I don't think the validity of an initiative — of any initiative — is based on how much you are spending," he said, stressing the importance of cultivating the next generation of artisans, whom he considers "the beating heart" of the company.

The Scuola d'Arte e Mestieri di Vicenza, an institute with roots dating as far back as the 16th century, offers a variety of courses in jewelry making and creative product development. The school is providing classroom space and lending some of its teachers to the Bottega program.

Augusto Peruz, the school's president, said at the press conference: "This [initiative] is not just the result of a lot of collaborative work, but also the development of a partnership between the world of education and the world of companies."

In the first two years of the course, Bottega's artisans teach students how to cut and hand-stitch leather and other skins. The third year focuses on pattern making. After completing each year of study, students can opt to stay at the school and work toward becoming a pattern maker or start working at Bottega's factory at a lower-level position. Tuition is free.

The school is also stressing the importance of theory, by teaching students the history of fashion and the use of animal hides. English and computer technology lessons, as well as an internship at the Bottega factory, round out the curriculum.Bottega is limiting the size of its first class to 15 students, a number that could grow as the school evolves. Pupils can be either Italian or foreign-born, but the company will give preference to local students in hopes of cementing its links with the region. Bottega, a profitable star brand in Gucci's portfolio, posted 2005 sales of 160 million euros, about $202 million at current exchange, and is on track to reach 200 million euros, or $253 million, this year.

Bottega's creative director, Tomas Maier, said in a statement that the artisans have inspired him from the first day he set foot in the company's factory.

"We, as designers, have never imagined something that these crafts-people couldn't produce," he said. "Bottega Veneta's commitment to this school is an investment in the company's future. And I hope it helps to restore the respect and allure of an [artisan] tradition that is increasingly rare and precious."

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