Romans is the historic capital of the shoe, and for decades flourished thanks to its shoemaking expertise. After a difficult period in the 70s, the industry began to prosper once again. Numerous brands and workshops popped up. The Cité de la Chaussure in Romans plunges us into the history of this rebirth.
The Cité de la Chaussure has been open since May 2019 and is in Romans town centre, just next to the Tourist Office.
I chose to take part in a group guided tour to discover this place. I was with some tourists from the Jura, as well as some locals. They told me that they remembered the time when this industry was booming. There were about fifteen of us in our group. We were welcomed by Cécile, our guide.
Discovering the history of the shoe
In the entrance hall to the Cité, some silhouettes of shoes are displayed on steel posts. There's also an old casing-in machine. We are plunged straight into the theme. We take a seat. The history of the shoe in Romans can begin! I discover that Romans-sur-Isère was the perfect place for tanning. Back the, the town had access to clean and clear water from the Isère and canals close to the Presle district. These are the ideal resources for leather tanning. The shoemaking industry was able to develop with the suppliers nearby.
The shoe industry really flourished between the two world wars and the climax came between 1945 and 1970. This led to the appearance of numerous trades: shoebox production, wax, glue, soles, etc. At the end of the second world war, more than 5,000 people were working in the shoe industry in Romans, across all the different trades. From the 70s, the sector crumbled. This was due to outsourcing, in-house exchanges and the emergence of competition from countries with cheaper labour. Numerous companies were forced to close their doors. This meant a lot of jobs were lost. It was disastrous for the local population.
After this dark period, the Archer Group gave the industry a boost. The manufacturing plants reopened. Production became more focused on handmade, top-quality and small product series. Shoes were made in an effort to be more accessible and less of a luxury product. The brands focused on creativity and innovation to tap into the niche markets.
Visiting the Cité de la Chaussure workshops
After this first part of the tour, we head towards the manufacturing workshops. I suggest you choose wisely the time of your visit if you want to see the shoes being made. There are some days of the week when the workshops are empty.
We learn about the different steps of creating shoes: the cut, stitching, assembly and finishing touches. Yes, that's right, every shoe needs some finishing touches! The tour of the workshop is really interesting. We see the different machines they use and the employees in action! All the employees working there are available to answer any questions we might have.
To end the tour of the Cité de la Chaussure in Romans, I go for a wander around the big shoe shop. This multi-brand shops covers 300 m² and sells shoes of all differnet brands, all made in Romans. We can also buy leather accessories and other products linked to the world of shoes (leather goods, jewellery, products for leather, socks, etc…).
The shoe industry of Romans can expect some great years ahead!