Monday, November 29, 2010

The Australian Shoe Industry: Brief History

Up until the end of the 19th century Australian boot makers continued to produce handmade footwear which by comparison to imported boots and shoes was very expensive (i.e. almost double). Australian made working boots would last on average one calendar month whereas the English boots were doomed by two to three weeks. Up until the 1830smost immigrants unable to pay Australian process ordered their footwear requirements for the year ahead from England. Cobbling (shoe mending) became an essential household maintenance in Australian homes. Higher wage claims (wages doubled between 1840 and 1860) saw a marked decline in the footwear industry in New South Wales with many of the work force leaving to join the gold rush. At this time British manufacturers tried to flood the Australian trade market but it was the Americans that prevailed. By 1858 new technologies had been introduced in the States which completely revolutionized the manufacture of mass produced boots and shoes. At first these were poor quality and scarcely lasted more than 12 days but eventually quality improved. American manufacturers over produced for their domestic market and became a major exporter during the late 19th and early 20th century. A spike came with the Gold Rushes (US 1848- 1855; and Aus 1850s -1890s). During this time the population of Australia quadrupled and the Australian market continued to be flooded with cheap US imports. Australian manufacturers found it difficult to compete until tariffs were introduced then they started producing their own footwear. The affect of American styles on colonial woman's fashion was profound and by 1894 the American shoes had replaced British footwear in the Australian Market.

John Lobb trained as a bootmaker in London before moving to Australia to try his luck in the goldfields. Whilst he never found fortune in gold he did strike on the idea of making hollow heeled boots for prospectors to hide their gold. The idea caught on and Lobb set himself up in business in Sydney in 1858. When the Great Exhibition came along in 1862 he sent a pair of his boots along and won a gold medal for their quality. Twelve months later he sent a pair of his riding boots to the Prince of Wales and was awarded a Royal Warrant. He returned to London and established a business " John Lobb, Bootmaker" which continues to trade as the world's most famous bespoke shoemaking establishment.
By 1870 bootmakers in Sydney were producing 15,000 pairs of boots each week. By 1890s the Melbourne manufacturers had converted to a modern system of mechanization and many Australian bootmakers began making children's shoes. (although Clarks of England had been exporting children’s shoes to Australia since 1842). A local concentration on practical footwear meant fashionable imports remained popular with consumers. Home grown fashion industries did try to become established but with little real success.
Making shoes is a complex business involving many subsidiaries and footwear operations sprung up in many metropolitan areas across Australia including: Ballarat, Geelong, Goulburn, Hobart, Perth and Adelaide. By the beginning of the 20th century good quality leather was abundant and many new Australian companies started making quality boots for farmers. The onset of World War, meant Australian boot makers went into war production mode, manufacturing footwear for the Australian military. Many of these companies have survived producing quality footwear for mountaineering and industrial needs. The First World War saw a massive demand for Australian footwear and by the 20s there were large Australian footwear companies with many hundreds of employees. During the Depression these firms went to the wall and in the wake came smaller boutique companies who thrived due to demand of an increasing population and the Second World War. By the 60s the entire Australian economy was expanding, fuelled by large scale immigration and technical and scientific innovation, as well as the increasing availability of raw materials after protracted wartime shortages. As the 80s and 90s approached there was a marked decline in Australian produced footwear and more dependency on imports from Asia. Currently local manufacturers produce about 12% of the footwear purchased in Australia with much of the production now done off shore.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shoes downunder: A potted history

Indigenous people seldom ever wore shoes to protect their feet. Most tribes were reported to go unshod but some from the Northern Territory of Australia and adjoining desert country did wear a primitive sandal to protect their feet from the scorching ground temperatures in summer. The sandals were made from tree bark had no uppers and were retained by thongs to the first and fifth toes. Not particularly robust, the crude sandals required to be replaced several times during the hot season. Ceremonial shoes were worn by aboriginal shaman and these included emu feather slippers tied together with a marsupial fur string. These were worn only during sacred ceremonies including ‘bone pointing’ rituals and revenge killing expeditions. The emu slippers left no footprints.

From the end of the eighteenth century convict shoemakers were very busy in the convict colonies and referred to in flash language, as ‘snobs.’ This may have been because captors and prisoners valued owning a sturdy pair of boots. The quality of hides available to the early colonists was very poor and although hides were imported from England these were usually damaged by mildew making them almost unwearable. A barefoot tradition prevailed.

Convict shoemakers produced large quantities of boots and made the best of available materials but not every colony taught shoe making. Prior to the convict colony in WA shoe makers were rare and this is echoed in letters of 1830. A lady of Perth wrote "… many respectable females with their children are going barefoot, not a shoe maker can be got to work." Convicts were sent to WA in 1850, primarily to swell the population and provide labour and skills. Some prisoners were taught shoemaking and as a result by the end of the nineteenth century WA had more bespoke shoemakers per head of population than any other state or territory in Australia. On release many convict boot makers became saddlers and in the outback census, of 1828, there was one shoemaker to every 236 inhabitants. Distance alone meant many horsemen (bushman) became skilled leather workers including boot makers.

As the Australian population increased with Scottish and Irish immigrants fleeing the clearances and potato famine many had traditionally gone bare foot and continued to do so in their adopted country. Boot wearing new comers to the expanding colonies paraded up the main street on a Sunday wearing the fashionable finery of top boots made in patent leather only to be only to be lampooned by the locals fully aware of the inappropriateness of their footwear. The average life of a man’s fashionable boot from the Homeland was approximately three weeks whereas Australian made boots might last a month. Second and third generation Australians were more likely to have access to better footwear but by this time, barefootness was almost endemic.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Book: Manolo's New Shoes

Manolo's New Shoes by Manolo Blahník , Suzy Menkes, Grace Coddington, Milena Canonero, Amy Fine Collins and Carlos García Calvo.

Manolo’s New Shoes contains more than 130 of the designer’s drawings collected into a book. Manolo Blahník writes and introduction and the volume includes contributions from some of the most prominent names in fashion: Suzy Menkes (International Herald Tribune); Grace Coddington (Vogue); Milena Canonero (Fashion Designer); Amy Fine Collins (Vanity Fair); and Carlos García Calvo (El Mundo). Manolo's New Shoes provides a fascinating glimpse into the creative mind of one of the best-known contemporary shoe designer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fashion blogs: Paradigm shift

A new study suggests that women's passion for killer heels has caused them to receive medical attention. Researchers say that a fifth of females polled have ended up twisting their ankle or tearing a tendon when wearing their heels. One third reported falling flat on their face as a result of their heels, with many damaging their teeth and breaking their wrists. The poll of 3,000 women, found other injuries sustained in the name of fashion include broken ankles and twisted knees. One cannot rule out other contributory factors such as too much of the singing syrup. Despite the warnings of the shoe police the ‘killer heel’ continues to be popular as stores continue to promote the skyscraper heel trend. New kid on the side walk is the platform heel or ‘Sky Heel’ Shoes. The combo footwear is a fashion platform shoe with up to 9 inch heels. Their popularity is in no short measure due to those fashion slaves who worship at the feet of Lady GaGa. However celebrities are having far less influence than previously according to experts (?) who believe the power of by blog idols like Carine Roitfeld and Emmanuelle Alt , Kate Lanphear and Giovanna Battaglia take over. New style savants blindly follow influential fashion blogs like Jak & Jil, Who What Wear and Citizen Couture. The prominent bloggers are also magnets to designers and mainstream American merchants, who have built marketing strategies around them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sandals: A Biblical profile

There is no surviving artefacts or descriptions of Jewish shoes from the period of the early Bible (Nahshon 2008 p2). However footwear does hold an important significance to early Israelites. According to the Scriptures, God gave man a ‘coat of skins’ to wear.

"...Unto Adam and also unto his wife did the Lord God make clothes of skin and clothe them..." (Genesis 21:3). Once the Hebrews acquired the art of tanning they used thick hide for sandals. The Biblical sandal was either leather or wooden footboards held to the foot with finer leather thongs Nahshon (2008).

The lyric in the Song of Songs (circa 900 BCE ) confirms sandals were worn by the high born.

"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.” (Song of Songs 7:1).

One of the earliest known depictions appears on the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE) and depicts Jehu (son of Omri) bringing a tribute the Assyrian king. Jehu is prostrating himself in homage and is depicted wearing up-turned pointed shoes. These were fashionable with Assyrian royal families and may not be representative of ordinary shoes worn by Jews.

By the 8th century BCE concerns were expressed by elders as to the irreverence of decorated elevated sandals worn by young women. (Isaiah 3 16-20).

Later during the period of captivation in Egypt, Jewish slaves were taught the craft of Egyptian sandal making and took the trade with them. The fleeing slaves were wore sandals (Ex 12:11).

"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.”

According to the Holy Scriptures Moses wore shoes when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5).

"Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground."

This was repeated again, at the confirmation of Joshua as the new Moses.

'And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.'
Josh 5:15
Possibly the first shoe miracle to be described was n Deuteronomy 29:15

“During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
Hence forth footwear and bare feet took on major symbolic significance in the Jewish religion. These are seen in the Torah , (Laws of Moses) and the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish law) which was written in the 16th century. Every day event were to be seen as something to worship the glory of God including putting on sandals. The Jewish laws prescribed the order in which you put them on. The right went on first followed by the left. (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:4). The left shoe was to be tied firs and the whole process reversed when taking the shoes off (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:5). It is thought this custom was based on the belief the right side was more important than the left and subsequently the right foot should not remain uncovered while the left was covered. Shoes were tied from the left because knotted teffilin was worn on the left arm. This refers to the children of Israel being out of Egypt as an act of God. When walking outdoors, Jews were required to cover the entire body including their feet (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:6). By the end of the first century CE shoes were considered an item of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure. Rabbi Akiva (ca.50–ca.135 CE) instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot.

In the Talmud (200CE – 500 CE) (Shabbat 129a) it declared "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet, " which if taken literally would again underline the importance of footwear in the Holy Land. Scholars and thise well versed in Jewish Law (Talmid Chacham) were never to go out wearing shabby or worn out shoes. Much later the Kabbalists considered the body as "the shoe of the soul," to protect it during its journey in the physical world.

According to Nahshon (2008) the primodial connection of the naked or semi naked foot to the land became an important element of Israel’s Zionist pioneer culture. Walking barefoot symbolically intimated one of three states: the lack of social status, an act of humility, or reference to the Divine. A common punishment or judgment was being forced to go without shoes.

'At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.'
Is 20:2

Captives went barefoot and their footwear was often taken as a trophy.
'And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them.'
2 Chron 28:15

The Jewish custom of not wearing shoes was also taken as a show of remorse, penance or mourning (Book of Isaiah 20:2). In Talmudic times both the pall bearers and the mourners went barefoot. When David was in mourning he went barefooted.

'And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and went as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot'
2 Sam 15:30

Jewish Law determined wearing leather shoes was not permitted during the period of the seven days of mourning (shiva,). For practical reason when shoes were allowed the custom was to place a little earth or pebble in the shoes to remind the wearer that they are in mourning. Jews are buried in a shroud covering the feet and the corpse id never dressed in leather shoes.
In the laws of halitzah when a married man died childless and leaving an unmarried brother, the brother was obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law. This was called a levirate marriage and was primarily to continue the family linage.Deuteronomy (25:5-9); and Book of Ruth 3:4. If the brother in law refuses to marry the widow a ceremony involving the halitzah shoe was undertaken. The shoe worn on the right foot of the male was made from the skin of a kosher animal. It was like a moccasin made of two pieces and sown together with leather threads with long ties. The widow places her left hand on the brother in laws calf, then undoes the laces with her right hand before removing the shoe from his foot. She then throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din then recites the formula releasing all obligations. Here the shoe is a symbol of transaction and reference is made in Biblical times to shoes and sandals being used to seal bargains.

Human beings intrinsically used their bodies (or parts there of) as physical measurement of the known universe and so it would see perfectly logical to extend this to describe all human endeavours. The idea our ancestors described the universe with reference to the human body would give credence to the argument when describing faith there would be a head of a religious order; and feet, or the foundation of followers. This would translate into concrete iconoclasts as found in talisman of faith e.g. Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. The absence of sophisticated transport in Biblical Times required walking as the primary means to spread the Gospel. By implication this would necessitate healthy feet and encourage protection of them. No surprise, perhaps to find reference to feet and sandals became closely associated with evangelism within in the New Testament.

Nahshon E 2008 Jews and shoes Berg Oxford.