The Grigua shoe accompanies the technical preparation of exploration

The Vinco brothers’ paradox is to have made a shoe to stay firmly tethered to the earth and find that it works so well that it is adopted by astronauts, who keep their feet far above the clouds. Grigua, from the Genoese gecko, a small reptile with suction cup-like legs that allow it to walk even on ceilings, is in fact the model of shoe worn by the astronaut candidates engaged these days in Sardinia with Cai national caving instructor Francesco Sauro (see piece on page), who is overseeing their preparation for technical and exploration aspects, expedition organization and safety issues, as part of the Caves course of Esa, the European Space Agency.

“Quartzite rocks when they get wet become a kind of soapy field and it’s impossible to stand upright, while wearing the Grigua you walk normally,” says Francesco Sauro, “so I put them in the cave to work with the astronauts. I was standing and they kept falling off. So I decided to adopt them for the course candidates as well because no matter how many checks you do on your equipment and preparation, the one thing that really remains imponderable and uncontrollable when you are in a cave is the grip on the surfaces you walk on. Well, with these shoes we achieved 80 percent more grip. Everyone noticed this, so much so that in last year’s final summary, among the things highlighted positively, in addition to the report work and materials testing, everyone said they were impressed with the features of these shoes.” So much so that a Russian astronaut bought an extra pair to take home with him. And this year the Grigua with Esa colors are back among the course equipment. “It is a shoe created in 2009 and designed for people who do sports and canyoning, who often have wet soles or have to move on wet rocks. We needed a particularly grippy material,” explain the Vinco brothers who make them in their small company, “Sauro told us about the results he was getting by wearing them.”

The secret of that shoe, 40-year-olds Daniele, Pierangelo and Roberto Vinco discovered while pursuing their passion: making shoes for the mountains and for leisure, a century-old legacy and one that comes from their grandfather Angelo, a shoemaker, their father Vincenzo, who since the postwar period began thinking about a craft workshop a little larger than the cobbler’s desk and took a correspondence course where he also learned how to make bridal shoes. From there Gaibana (www.gaibana.it) was born, named after the mountain that towers over Lessinia and has become their company logo. They were nine siblings and after finishing middle school they all worked in the family business: now the three of them are left to make 100 percent Italian-made shoes.

“We actually made a shoe that also adheres well to wet surfaces, but we never tried it. It was the canyoneers first and then Francesco Sauro who told us that they put something exceptional in terms of grip on their feet,” the Vinco brothers admit.

They don’t know why it’s a special shoe, but they do know that in the 52 handsteps they have to make each shoe (104 the pair), the first 48 are common to all the models in their catalog, and the last four are the ones that make the difference.

Until you pick it up, you think of who knows what mysterious design will be carved on the sole, instead you find out that it is smooth. The Grigua are lightweight, holding the ankle in the correct position, but they are normal shoes, “in the sense that we did not intend to do anything special,” the Vincos resume. In fact, they are shoes for everyone, which can be purchased for 125 euros in the company’s commissary, the only outlet for Gaibana products. “It is not our customers who come and ask us to wear astronauts’ shoes,” the Vinco brothers admit, “it is rather the astronauts who wanted our customers’ shoes.”

The passion with which they create mountaineering, hiking and safety footwear has also led them to produce a model with specific features for the safety and practicality needs of the Suem helicopter of Bergamo and Niguarda Hospital in Milan as well as 118 Verona Emergenza, Padua and Brescia. The Vincos don’t advertise, they don’t have stores, they don’t fear competition: “No one in the world, for the same price, would pick up a pair of shoes 104 times,” they say.
Vittorio Zambaldo