Business continues to have a generational purpose. Large brands were built with family continuity in mind, and Portugal is one of those countries that maintains this tradition. In the footwear sector, one of the most successful in the country, there are large manufacturing companies that have integration and continuation within the family in their DNA. One of these successful cases is the Zarco Factory, producer of footwear for international brands, and leader of one of the best brands in the world, Carlos Santos. This is a story built on dedication, love and the perseverance of its founder, who already has his descendants working in the company structure.

 

Words: Catarina Vasques Rito

Photo: Jorge Amaral

 

Once there was a man who, due to the circumstances of life, started working when he was still a teenager. In his time, it was normal to start working even before you started having facial hair. He set his sights on a sector that conquered his heart and taught him the art of manufacturing shoes. More than 40 years later, he maintains the same passion for his business and the art of transforming a piece of leather into a beautiful pair of shoes. Carlos Santos always dreamed that his children would follow in his footsteps and become members of his team. This dream became real. His oldest son, Armando Santos, was the first one to work with his father, although he left for a few years, but came back again.

Of the three children, two girls and a boy, his middle daughter took up a managerial role in the company. “I never imagined that I would work with my father. When I did my training in Marketing and Sales, I had other plans for my professional life. Things don’t always turn out the way we think they should: 13 years ago, I came to work at the factory built by my father and the truth is I never left again”, explains Ana Raquel Santos, manager of the company’s Sales department, the Carlos Santos brand, and the Zarco factory, with its head office at São João da Madeira. Working in a family business does not mean that your life is easy, according to Ana Raquel Santos. When she told her father that she was going to work with him, she was put to the test for years and, despite having demonstrated that she is passionate about the duties she performs, she continues to be guided by the owner, her father. “In the beginning, it was difficult and challenging. I had to prove that I could do it, and show the other company employees that I’m not a child, I’m not a daddy’s girl. I think that in almost a decade and a half I have proven all this and much more”, she confirms, without hesitating to emphasize that she always had the opportunity to give her “well-founded” opinion on the options and strategies for the good operation both of the Carlos Santos company as well as the brand with the same name. “I have to make the fact very clear that my father is available to hear my suggestions, of trying to understand what is behind certain decisions I make, and at the end of the day, my reward is reflected in the face of the man who taught me, and continues to teach me, who educated me and had the desire to create a project with a difference”, stated Ana Raquel, a woman with a confident attitude and a penetrating look. Furthermore, because “she’s a chip off the old block”, Ana Raquel developed her own idea, with her father’s support, to create a footwear brand: Ana Lusitana, which shall be on sale from next year. The collection was presented at the MICAM Fair in Milan in September.

“I don’t know if it was a natural journey or not, the truth is that I ended up developing an idea and Ana Lusitana was born. It’s a brand created by us, targeted at dynamic women who like accessories, in this case shoes, with a male-inspired design. They are not men’s shoes, they are women’s shoes with a male attitude”, a product that prioritises comfort and trendiness, two elements associated with the quality of the raw materials used and the manufacturing techniques. Carlos Santos, a simple man who is knowledgeable of his field of business, sponsored his daughter’s project and gave her the support “required for market implementation”. Years of experience have given him natural knowledge, and made him receptive to new things, not forgetting the level of reflexion of someone who has many years of “working in the sector”. “Having my children working in the business that I created with them in mind is a pleasure. I want them to have a full idea of how it works, so that when they manage all of this the company doesn’t end due to a lack of know-how. I trust in the professionalism of my children, particularly Ana Raquel, because she is with me every day and she has been with me over the past few years”, states Carlos Santos, “I am aware that there are times when opinions differ, creating moments of “discussion”, but they are always resolved, for good sense always prevails!” The Zarco factory produces for different brands sold internationally and the Carlos Santos brand exports 98% of what it produces. It is on sale in Portugal at the Rosa&Teixeira shop in Lisbon, and at other points, as well as on the site. “It doesn’t make sense to produce more for the internal market, due to the actual volume of the market. I would obviously like to supply shoes to more Portuguese men, but they have not yet discovered the level of our quality, due to the stigma that exists on what is Portuguese. I know that this relationship is changing, although not at the desired pace. Our segment is in the mid-high end and luxury market. Our quality is very good. And I would like this to continue”, observes the company owner. Participation in international fairs is a constant and it is an investment that is thought down to the tiniest detail. The company has about one hundred employees, and most of them have been working there for some decades, giving us the full impression of the calibre of this man who believes that the best professionals in this area are built over time, with respect as a foundation. “A good worker at our factory has a consistent path, with training that takes as long as 10 years. It takes time to master the techniques and to get to know the rules. All this know-how is what ranks us among the best. We can’t have any results if there is no team”, this successful businessman acknowledges.