Put on Your Blue Suede Shoes
PUBLISHED 19 SEP 2018
Veldskoene, designed to protect the feet of settlers and farmers living and working in the harsh, dry conditions of the southern African bushveld and scrubland, are making their mark on the international stage. But, rather than being adopted by farmers and other outdoorsmen, hip young urbanites from both Africa and other countries around the world are putting on their blue suede shoes.
While the original earthy tones are still popular, manufacturers are livening the iconic veldskoene or 'vellies' up by adding brightly coloured soles and laces or creating funky coloured versions of the original classic.
Trendsetters are making a fashion statement, wearing veldskoene with everything from flowing dresses to tight fitting leggings, tailored trousers or denim jeans, and everything in-between.
Namibian veldskoen producers, African Leather Creations, have been making vellies from the coastal town of Swakopmund in Namibia for over 50 years. The company started from humble beginnings when founder Ewald Schier moved from Germany to Namibia in 1938 and opened a leather tannery. Surrounded by open veld, endless desert and farmlands, Schier saw the need for a shoe that was both durable and comfortable. While there was already a version of the veldskoen available in the region, Schier pioneered the commercial production of vellies created from kudu hide, due to its superior flexibility and durability.
Ewald Schier introduced the Swakop Vellie into the market in 1960, and nearly sixty years later the company is still owned by the Schier family, but now the iconic suede shoes are not just worn by local farmers, but also by South African students, German tourists and trendy New Yorkers.
Phillip Schier, Ewald's grandson, says the family owned business is embracing the rising popularity of the icon shoe, but they are reluctant to expand the business. They will not change the basic design of the shoe, but are more flexible to customer demand when it comes to trends in colour and materials. Schier says they are experimenting with different coloured dyes as well as alternative materials such as zebra hides to add a bit more creativity to the original classic design.
Schier believes that the popularity of this Namibian classic can be attributed to the fact that they are produced by a small family business that adheres to simple business practices, which is something millennials tend to find appealing. Also, these Namibian veldskoene are made from Kudu hide, which is more sustainable than leather typically used by other manufacturers. Rather than being commercially farmed on small spaces for food production, kudu form part of Namibia's wild game industry and typically roam on wide-open spaces on game farms where they are killed for venison or culled to manage population growth sustainably.
African Leather Creations currently employ twelve staff members and produce between 1,500-2,000 pairs of veldskoene a month. Their Swakop Vellies are stocked in stores whose primary consumers are farmers as well as small fashion boutiques both locally in Namibia and in neighbouring South Africa. If you are visiting Namibia be sure to pop into their factory shop located opposite the Municipal Building in Rakatoka street, Swakopmund, to pick up a pair — just place your order beforehand to ensure they have a pair of veldskoene in your shoe size and colour of your choice in stock.
Tel.: +264 64 402633