THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. Handiman Ali chats with Joezer Mandagi about Mario Minardi’s story of East-meets-West in the realm of fine leather shoes
A funny thing happened during our photo and interview session with Mario Minardi’s Handiman Ali at the brand’s flagship store at Kota Kasablanka, Jakarta. At one point, a middle-aged gentleman walked in and, after browsing a bit, inquired about whether Mario Minardi was an Italian brand. When told that it was essentially an Indonesian brand but registered in Italy, he seemed incredulous, citing (not quietly) the make and prices of the footwear pieces on display.
Apparently, it was this gentleman’s belief that nothing “local” could be this refined—or command such prices. To be fair, that gentleman wasn’t exactly alone in thinking so. In a way, this is a common stigma long endured by many of Indonesia’s trendsetters as they continue to make their mark in an increasingly global playground dominated by premium imports from well-established foreign brands.
Those familiar with the brand, however, know that Mario Minardi is as Italian as it is Indonesian, and that the brand’s leather shoes combine the best of both worlds. It is also true, however, that it was only last December, when the aforementioned flagship store was officially opened, that Mario Minardi became a true household name. This step also reaffirmed the brand’s Indonesian roots and introduced local shoe aficionados to an entirely new level of homegrown footwear and leather-working know-how.
At the helm of this fine label is Handiman Ali, Mario Minardi’s CEO and third-generation owner who oversees the brand’s general direction, research and development, production and innovation. While appearing somewhat reserved—and initially rather nervous as well; apparently, being in the limelight is one aspect he hasn’t gotten used to yet—he quickly turned passionate as the small talk ended and we began chatting about his brand, his shoes and the future of Mario Minardi.
Joezer Mandagi: There’s still a lot of people who don’t know what kind of brand Mario Minardi actually is; particularly about its country of origin. How would you explain your brand’s identity to the average customer?
Handiman Ali: Mario Minardi is an Italian brand, licensed from Italy, which was established in Indonesia around 1982. The company was established by my grandfather and my father, and I’m the third-generation head of the business. I started at a very young age, at 15, in the shoe factory, learning how to design, doing my own stitching and even assembling shoes myself, until today.
Joezer Mandagi: What are Mario Minardi’s primary target markets at the moment?
Handiman Ali: Our primary market is still Indonesia, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and also China.
Joezer Mandagi: Do you have any plans to expand the brand’s reach beyond those countries?
Handiman Ali: Yes, of course. That is part of our vision and mission. So, our base is, of course, in shoe production, and we want to bring the brand to other countries. We also regularly participate in trade shows in Europe to reintroduce our creations.
“All of our materials are imported from Italy, but we produce here in Indonesia. Why? Because of the craftsmanship”
Joezer Mandagi: Speaking of Mario Minardi’s global reach, in all the years that you have in business, have you noticed differing footwear preferences in the countries where your shoes are available?
Handiman Ali: Basically, Indonesia has the widest range of demands, since we have a huge population. So, Mario Minardi has to be able to offer shoes that not only certain people can buy. We can now cater to people as young as 25 to those 50, 60 and even 70 years of age. We also offer bespoke or made-to-order shoes. But as to preference, Indonesia differs from other countries. In Indonesia we can offer casual and fashionable shoes; both modern and classic options sell well. In Singapore, we do well in classic shoes, and in Malaysia as well. Thailand has mixed preferences, whether it is classic, fashion and modern. Japan, though, is all about fashion. So, we have a very, very wide range. For Indonesia, again, we have a very large population, and men nowadays like to dress up. They want to look cool. So, Mario Minardi can be a one-stop-shopping destination for all their needs, from shoes and sandals to belts and accessories. In the future, we will also develop a line of suits.
Joezer Mandagi: Having, as you mentioned earlier, such a wide range, is there still something that serves as the hallmark of Mario Minardi’s shoes?
Handiman Ali: Our leather soles. You can say that not many make shoes this way; in Indonesia only very few do it. All right, some imported brands might do similar things, but locally? Almost none. So, in essence, we are offering very good shoes—Italian shoes—at a very good price. All of our materials are imported from Italy, but we produce here in Indonesia. Why? Because of the craftsmanship. Indonesians are excellent at arts and crafts, right? We have a lot of artists, a lot of skilled hands. So, we combine Italian technology, Italian designs and Italian materials with Indonesian craftsmanship, thus creating very nice products with—again—very good prices.
“For our custom-made shoes, we scan your left and right foot, and from that data we will make a pair of shoes based on those measurements”
Joezer Mandagi: How has the brand’s designs evolved over time?
Handiman Ali: We have gone through a lot of evolutions. When we first launched, Mario Minardi was very classic—very old-ish. After the year 2000, we changed a lot. We made shoes that weren’t too classic, but more along the lines of contemporary-smart. So, these would be shoes that you could wear not only to formal functions but also daily—to the office, to events, anything. And we added new lines. We used to only have classic shoes, but now we have casual models, fashionable options and colored ones. We become bolder when it comes to blending colors. Our latest collection, the Patina Collection, was hand-painted, with every pair sporting different colors.
Joezer Mandagi: Speaking of the Patina Collection, do you have more thematic collections planned for the future?
Handiman Ali: Yes, we do. We are trying to develop shoes featuring a mix of woven materials. Just a small collection, though; nothing big, just something to refresh the brand. The Patina [collection], for example, was something refreshing, something new. In the future, that’s the direction we’re moving toward: making collections with distinct motifs.
Leather shoes and bags by Mario Minardi
Joezer Mandagi: About Mario Minardi’s made-to-order shoes—what kind of customization services do you offer?
Handiman Ali: For our custom-made shoes, they are fitted 100 percent to your feet. We are opening a new shop and adding a new machine—a foot scanner. We can scan your left and right foot, and from that data we will make a pair of shoes based on those measurements. Your left and right shoes will not be exactly the same, but the design and the look of the pair will be perfect. So, people who usually have trouble finding shoes can have a perfectly fitted pair made according to whatever design they wish.
Joezer Mandagi: Final question: What do you, and what should we, look for when picking a new pair of shoes?
Handiman Ali: Style, looks and comfort. But I have one particular tip for people looking to buy new shoes: Why do people in Indonesia always look for something that’s black, black, or black? You have to be willing to go out of the box. Try a brown pair, try tan, try anything else.
Leather shoes and bags by Mario Minardi
Photography Haruns Maharbina
Styling Triska Putri
Styling Assistant Jay Robert Davies
Models Mark Szabo & Bojan Joksimovic/21MM Management
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style spring/summer 2016. Get your copy here.