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Tuscan Leather

After arriving in Florence, one of the first things you're going to notice is the abundance of shops and stands selling leather products. From purses and shoes to key chains and bookmarks, you can buy almost anything your heart desires made from leather. The only issue that arises when you're shopping for leather goods here in Florence is that there are so many places you can purchase from, and it's difficult to tell which shops are reputable and sell authentic Florentinian leather!

My best advice for buying leather in Florence is to shop around a lot! Go into every store and stop at every stand before you commit to buying something. Always ask the vendor questions about the product, and use your best judgment about the quality of the leather. As long as you're diligent and focused, I'm certain that you'll come away with a good-quality item that you love.

In my quest to find the best leather products in Florence, I accidentally stumbled upon the Scuola di Cuoio Firenze (Leather School of Florence, for those of us who don't speak Italian well). About two weeks ago, I was on my way to Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio to buy more clementines and golden delicious apples. As I was walking, I made my way past an entrance way attached to the back of Basilica di Santa Croce. I don't think it would have caught my attention at all, but there was loud classical musical playing just inside the door. As you can tell from the picture above, it would be easy to walk right by this place because the entrance sign almost blends into the building! I apprehensively made my way into the entrance way, and started following the winding path behind the church.

Scuola del Cuoio was founded after World War II by Franciscan friars from the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Casini family. "Their mission was to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade with which to earn a living." The first students of the school were from the Boys Town of Pisa, and they were taught about leather and how to cut it by hand. Then, the students began to learn how to create various small items like purses, briefcases, and desk sets. In May of 1950, the school began selling their goods to the public, and they even contracted with the US Air Force. Because of this contract, the school became popular in the United States, and President Eisenhower even used a leather desk set purchased from Scuola del Cuoio! Because of the significant role the school played on the city, the Mayor of Florence created two annual study abroad scholarships for boys from third world countries. Scuola del Cuoio boasts a ridiculously long list of important people who have visited including: Queen Elisabeth II, Ronald Reagan, Will Smith, Audrey Hepburn, Ozzie Osbourne, Steven Spielberg, Robert Downey Jr., Neil Patrick Harris, and Princess Diana, to name just a few. "Scuola del Cuoio today remains the largest genuine laboratory in the city where clients can witness the artisans create the leather goods in the midst of centuries-old history." You can go to their website and read more about the history of the school, shop online, and even check out the different programs that students can sign up for!

Learning more about this amazing pillar of social betterment and craftsmanship just made me more interested in buying one of their incredible leather goods! I left the school that day with a small, crossbody bag, which has been perfect for travel and days when I want to pretend to be low maintenance and just wander around the city with some cash, chapstick, and my phone. They also offer tons more products for purchase! Wallets, belts, handbags, bookmarks, journals, shoes, glasses cases, key chains, and more. You name it and they probably have it. Also, if you buy something from the school, one of the student artisans will stamp your initials on your purchase for free!

I would highly recommend checking out Scuola del Cuoio Firenze before you make any leather purchases because you'll be giving your money to an institution with an amazing history and a purpose.

Ellia Flinn is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Florence, Italy. She is currently a junior at Cedarville University.

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