Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bio-degradable Thongs : Hope for the future

Currently over three billion petroleum-based flip-flops are produced worldwide every year, with most ending up either in landfills or circulating the ocean currents as pollution.

A professor from UC San Diego and his students have develop bio gradable sandals made from freshly harvested algae oil. Like. petroleum (formed from ancient algae), both can be formulated to make hard and soft foams, but the former can be broken down more easily. Initially they worked to make a bio-degradable foam surfboard from algae oil however, had to compromise and settle for a mixture of petroleum and algae oil to satisfy surfer’s expectations.

After considerable research the team came up with what they believe are both durable wearing and bio-degradable sandals made from only algae oil. The prototype flip flops are made of bright-blue foam, with a leather strap and the university’s triton logo. Plans to market the product are underway and the hope is the new flipflops will be available in the next twelve months. Initial cost will be higher than current brands but hope the price premium will reduce as the production scale is fine-tune and up scaled.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A brief history of blue chip trainers

Once Saturday was established as a work free day, working class families were keen to enjoy the new train systems and took every opportunity to leave the city and visit the seaside, particularly in the summertime. Working boots were discarded as day trippers wanted shoes for walking through sand and paddling in the sea. At first, cheap cotton canvas topped shoes had a sole made from leather, jute or rope but these were flimsy and wore out quickly, usually within a day. After the discovery of rubber vulcanisation (the addition of sulphur and heat makes a more durable and non-sticky rubber compound), which was attributed to Howard and Goodyear in the mid-19th century, but had similarly been discovered in the UK by Thomas Handcock. A major court case ensued and Goodyear was granted the patent in the US; and Hancock became the patent holder in the UK. Henceforth there was fierce rivalry between the two countries to produce rubber based products.

The New Liverpool Rubber Company (UK) developed a lightweight shoe which combined a cotton canvas top with a rubber sole. These were still insubstantial and better off people wore white croquet shoes made from kangaroo skin, and too expensive for the working class. By 1876, seaside promenaders sported the latest canvas topped rubber soled shoes called plimsolls (1876). A rubber band was wrapped around the seam joining the upper to the sole making the new shoes more robust. The similarity to the new load lines painted on boats meant the shoes were called plimsolls. White plimsolls wore well, kept the feet cool in the summer and dried quickly after a paddle in the sea. The canvas could be painted with chalk white which give the outward impression from a distance these were expensive white croquet shoes and really gained popularity during the Gilded Age. Examples can be found in many museums across the world but rarely do these attract the interest private collectors and therefore difficult to value.

The simple plimsoll was quickly adapted to popular sports another working class pastime encouraged by the ruling class at this time. Keeping workers and their families amused in their leisure time was important especially at a politically volatile time in history. In the UK, Lawn Tennis players (circa 1860) wore low cut plimsolls with patented sole patterns to improve grip and prevent destroying the lawns. In the US, sneakers or high-top canvas plimsolls (used to protect the ankles), were introduced to the new team games of baseball (1846) and basketball (1891). When it was realised ‘tennis shoes’ shoes softened the landing of a long jumper they became ingratiated into athletics, and when it was discovered the treads prevented slipping on wet surfaces they were modified for yachting. As each recreational sport adopted the plimsoll (now generally regarded as the tennis shoe) it was adapted to the specific needs of the game. The addition of a simple rubber strip at the end of the shoe stopped the big toe nail appearing through the canvas. Gradually the anatomy of the modern sport shoe (or trainer) began to emerge. Even the British Army, issued plimsolls to their serving men and a pair of gym shoes were found in the kit of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition of 1911.

The rubber industry boomed and was very competitive. The popularity of cycling meant many companies started producing bicycle tyres and by the time it waned, development of the car industry brought with it a need for car tyres made from rubber. The United States Rubber Company bought out their smaller rivals, many of which were already exporting sport shoes globally. By the beginning of the 1890s there were two types of canvas topped rubber soled sport shoes, those which sat below the ankle were called ‘tennis shoes’; and hi-top sneakers, designed for basketball were called sneakers. Irving Watkinson is credited with designing the first pair basketball sneakers for Dr. James Naismith who invented the game. An iconic feature of the first hi top sneakers was the addition of a rubber ball logo at the lateral ankle of the shoe and the Colchester Company were so proud of them they had them on display at the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair. In the same year, the company was bought over by the United States Rubber Co., and it took almost 20 years before Spalding introduced their basketball shoes in 1907, others followed. However, it was the Converse Rubber Corporation’s version called The All-Star shoe (1917) which would become the evergreen iconic basketball shoe, we all recognise today. In reality these were a reinvention of the original Colchester sneaker which you can still buy replicas for $85 (US). A pair of the originals would be of course, be worth considerably more to a collector. In 1916 the United States Rubber Co., introduced their own tennis shoes called Keds.

After the Great War, the market for sneakers grew exponentially it was realised the fitness levels of the working class was low. Sports and athletics increasingly became a way to demonstrate Christian Muscularity or moral fibre and patriotism in the new movement of Physical Culture which swept the West. Athletic shoes increasingly were used for leisure and outdoor activities and when physical education lessons were made compulsory in schools, children had to wear plimsolls. I well remember at school the class was divided between those families who could afford tennis shoes from those with gym shoes (sand shoes). Going barefoot was not an option.

Between the wars, the new Olympic Competition was a fashion catwalk, and covered relentlessly in the media as a focal point for international trade. Shoe manufactures quickly modified their footwear to the specific needs of popular sports. After his return from World War I, Adolf "Adi" Dassler started making sports shoes in his mother’s kitchen, he and his brother then went on to establish Adidas. In America, the market for sneakers grew steadily as young boys lined up to buy white hi top sneakers endorsed by sporting heroes like Chuck Taylor for $1.00 (or $20 today). The famous basketball player wore Converse All-Stars and they became so popular they were called, Chuck Taylor All-Stars, or ‘Chucks.’ Chuck Taylor's name was added to the signature circle patch and ventilation eyelets were added in 1932. The classic black All-Star retailed until the 40s. By WWII, Chuck Taylor sneakers were the "official" sneaker of the U.S. armed forces.

International tennis and badminton had become major draw cards and customised tennis shoes began to appear circa 1936. A French brand, Spring Court, marketed the first canvas tennis shoe featuring signature eight ventilation channels on a vulcanised natural rubber sole. Jack Purcell (Canadian badminton champion) adapted tennis shoes to his sport which was played on hard wooden floors. At the same time, Australia starts to have a major influence when one of its famous son’s and international double tennis champion, Adrian Quist, convinced Dunlop Australia in 1939 to make a plain white tennis shoe with patterned herringbone sole. The added grip on the lawn surface made the Volley OC (Orthopaedically Correct) an instant success. Production continued until the 1970s with almost no change except the addition of the iconic green and gold stripe to the heel in the 1970s. Dunlop Volleys were standard issue by the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force. Through the ensuing years other brands of tennis shoes appeared, but the essential design remained unchanged until the late 1960s, when a huge variety of tennis shoe designs emerged. To that effect, Adrian Quist is the godfather of the modern low-cut trainer and I have always advocated we should celebrate this with a Dunlop Volley Day (DVD).

Like the T shirt, service issue plimsolls (often in various colours) became popular souvenirs after the War and were highly prized by the youth of the time. Tennis shoes were ideal for the dance floor and dancing to quick tempo Swing and Jive. The appeal of American sneakers was confirmed when James Dean was photographed wearing Jack Purcell’s and Elvis Presley appeared in low cut tennis shoes. Chucks and Keds became a by-word for teenage rebellion. Fashion crossover (i.e. moving from sport to recreational wear) not only ensured lasting popularity but also the value-added benefit now of retro fashion, because they have never gone out of fashion in almost a century. People still buy them to wear and the originals in their boxes, to collect.

By the 50s man-made fibres became incorporated and sneakers merged into trainers. Now more durable, flexible and hard wearing, cellular foams were added to increased fit and comfort. When designers began incorporating a two-colour finish (colourways), signature sole patterns and brand decals and dashes a completely new fashion was created. These were first seen at the Melbourne Olympics worn by the athletes from behind the Iron Curtain. Competitors were often filmed ambling about minutes before competition wearing their trainers then later as if by magic, won medals in their heats. Contrasting colours were used to highlight reinforced areas on the shoe which gave them distinctive characteristic and coincidentally head turning appeal. Trainers were now fashionable shoes in their own right, with Ath-Leisure footwear equally at home on the track as they were trucking asphalt. Film and television coverage of sporting events was a marketing bonanza for sport shoe manufacturers, who recognised the need to have their product instantly recognised. Adidas three stripes trademark back in 1949 set the bar for branding thereafter. Collectors pay big bucks for these original pathfinders.

Two other things ensured the allure of sport shoes would last for ever. The first was celebrity endorsements and sneakers sponsorships into college and professional sports; the other came as an aftermath of the Space Race. In the beginning those sneaker designs affiliated to particular sporting celebrities ended with their retiral from sport. The same model was then passed onto a new endorser rather than be discontinued, or a new one created. This created collector interests. Once we had walked on the moon and with a surplus of new synthetic polymers, what better use to make of them than to incorporate the out of this world material into sport shoes. It was during this time in the early 80s, sport shoes become blue chip investments with a constant barrage of designer styles and signature shoes. While previous generations of males might collect cars from their youth, Generation X preferred shoes. This is not entirely male centric and females too, collect sneakers. The ultimate in secular consumerism maybe driven in part by the overall desire to acquire modern objet d’art at affordable prices. Collectors appreciate one-off's, limited editions and exclusives.

The shelf life of a trendy trainer is short (3 months) and companies like Nike and adidas are forever introducing new lines. To add incentive, companies offer "quick hit" or hype shoes which is a clever marketing ploy involving the sale of a small number of limited edition shoes as a special offer in selected outlets for a limited period of time only. With minimum advertising these events are hurriedly communicated through networks, websites and SMSs. Sneakerheads range from casual fans of sneaker fashion to those who buy and sell shoes like blue chip investments. Fanatics endure the elements and camp overnight for their next purchase of limited edition. The shoes can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars depending on their cachet. Some wear them, and have multiple pairs (in case one gets scuffed); whereas others keep them ‘fresh’ in their boxes, or ‘deadstock’ them in a bank vault, or on display and always unworn. Shoe collectors often determine what will sell and companies are obliged to follow. Collectors have enormous closets full of trainers designed by sneakerhead artists who, themselves become celebrities. Experts believe the drive for the sneaker phenomena relates to a mix of popular culture, nostalgia, technology and investment. Sneaker Freakers have many dedicated web sites, movies, books, songs and even radio shows dedicated to sneaker culture. Experts believe the drive for the sneaker phenomena relates to a mix of popular culture, nostalgia, technology and investment.

Currently the American market for deadstock sneakers is estimated at $1 billion, with the thriving resell community net millions of dollars a year by selling rare kicks for profit. By far Michael Jordan shoes (Js) are considered to be the most expensive at auction. Recently a pair of his shoes was sold for $190,373. The previous record for a pair of game-used sneakers was again, Jordan’s worn during the "Flu Game," and sold for $104,765 in 2013.

Recently, in Perth WA, The Art Gallery of Western Australia hosted a most successful Sneaker Exhibition entitled The Rise of Sneaker Culture. This is a traveling exhibition organised by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Feature was local collector, Dr Lee Ingram, a lecturer from Curtin University who has collected 830 pairs of sneakers.

The history of Sneakers

Shoe Historian Cameron Kippen joins Harvey Deegan on Remember When for this fascinating chat about the history of Sneakers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The art of shoes and symbolism

Something that is enjoying a great popularity just now is shoes which incorporate works of art on their uppers. A company in the US called Icon Shoessell these delicate artifacts to the rich and famous as if there were no tomorrow and at price tags which are quite staggering. Most of their sales come via their website. The fancy footwear is designed by artists, designers and stylists and incorporates many novel features which are not always seen in high street fashion.

For several years now Sneaker Freakers have been decorating their sneakers with colourful artworks. Canvas topped shoes provide a perfect medium for painting and colour fast paints mean the shoe painter is only limited by their imagination. Truly personalised shoes are the ultimate desire of all shoe enthusiasts.

Shoes in art have long held a fascination for artists from Van Goch to Alan Jones, the shoe holds its own as an icon and inspiration. The obscure French painter, Arthur Chaplin assembled a personal collection of vintage shoes in his apartment on the IIe Saint-Louis and used them to inspire his works. Another artist and painter, Jannis Kounellis always wore multi-soled shoes but no-one was ever sure, why. Vittore Carpaccio (1450-1522) was a Venetian painter and depicted shoes as turreted instruments of torture, designed to seduce. He probably was not all that far wrong for long toed poulaines were a contemporary shoe style that was eventually banned because of their sexual overtones. As a painter Carpaccio was influenced by Giovanni Bellini and painted with rich colour and a wealth of detail.

Jean-Antoine Watteau, (1684–1721 - Rococco style) was another Flemish painter who studied in the studio of Claude Gillot. Some of Watteau's finest paintings, were based on theatrical life e.g. Love in the French Theatre. A great colourist, he executed sensuous scenes in shimmering pastel tones which influenced both fashion and garden design in the 18th cent. In his painting Indifference, he paints little satin slippers.

Edouard Manet (1832–83), is often credited as being the father of modern art. His influences were Velázquez (pronounced, Valaskiss) and Goya, then later by Japanese, printmakers. In 1863 he painted Luncheon on the Grass, which when it was displayed was violently attacked. The painting depicts a nude woman enjoying a picnic in the woods with two fully clothed men. Subsequently the picnic became a common theme in modern painting. Manet's true masterpiece was entitled Olympia (1863), and was an arresting portrait of a naked courtesan reclining on a chaise longue. The theme by itself, reclining nude, had been popular for centuries but what Manet did, which subsequently outraged the critics and public, was to introduce the shoe to its role of erotic synecdoche (pronounced syn ekto key) or symbol.

Eventual acceptance of the shoe as a representation of the female vulva was considered by many experts to be pivotal to the development of western modern art. Contemporary development of psychoanalysis (Freud) made the eventual connection between contents and container to the point of singling out the specific sexual and fetishistic aspects of the foot and shoe. The deductive logic or syllogism was if the foot represented the phallus then the shoe must be the vagina.

René Magritte (1898–1967) was a Belgian surrealist painter who developed a style of surrealism in which misleading realism was combined with mocking irony. Based on Freudianism, the artist in his works the Red Model (Le Modele Rouge) elaborated fantasies constructed around common situations and metamorphosed the shoe into the foot. This unisex image many argue was destined to trouble our dreams, ever since.

The Pop Art movement emerged at the end of the 1950s as a reaction against the seriousness of Abstract Expressionism. Pop artists used common images to express abstract formal relationships. Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol attempted to fuse elements of popular and high culture and to erase the boundaries between the two. Shoes became one of the emblems of the movement because they represented status and consumerism. It is probably no accident Andy Warhol started off as a commercial artist drawing shoes. Today’s artistic work painted on shoes is a commercial extension of the same abstract movement.

Reviewed 10/09/16

Monday, October 09, 2017

A short history of Ugg Boots

Like me and many others you might believe a ploughman's lunch was the traditional fare of land laborers. Well the truth of the matter is the plate of bread, cheese and pickle was an invention of marketing executive in the sixties, commissioned to sell, relish.

Somewhat in a similar manner the Ugg Boot seems to be thought as the traditional Australian and New Zealand footwear since the beginning of time. Of course this is not the case and the term Uggs is thought to be in common venacular since the early 1950s. Many believe the surfing fraternity started wearing makeshift sheepskin leg covers in the nineteen sixties. Legend has it a group of surfing jackeroos working on a West Australian sheep ranch wrapped their legs in pure merino fleece after taking their daily dip in the chilly surf.

Traditionally people working with sheep used the discarded fleece in the form of felt as clothing. Felt is a fabric made from wool but the fibres are not woven or knitted. Instead they are matted caused when small scales on the outside surface of the fibre rub and inter-lock when wet. These then bind tightly together or matt when dried. No one can be quiet sure when felt was discovered but it is considered to be one of the oldest textiles. Sandals and felt boots (valenki) are thought to be the original sheep skin shoes and were worn from prehistory. Initially they took on a decorative rather than protective function and were prized by the influential and powerful within the society. In the 4th century BCE felt caps and boots were worn by Northern and Central Eurasian peoples (the Turkics) providing them with ideal protection from the biting frost. Felting technology became highly developed and Roman soldiers wore felt breastplates (for protection from arrows), tunics, boots and even socks. Chinese Emperors sat on felt mats and invading armies slept in felt tents. By the Middle Ages. At least one Pope plagued with foot problems used some animal wool to felt his shoes.

The feel of pure merino wool next to their skin felt good after a dip in the cold water. The lads began sewing sheepskin fleece together as leg protectors before attaching linoleum soles on the bottom to make the shoes last longer. Not surprising the makeshift boots were called "ugly, " then abbreviated to "ughs' or uggs. The fad caught on and soon spread to early morning Gold Coast surfies and there the crude linoleum was replaced with rubber soles. In 1975 an Australian surfer (Brian Smith) went to the US and discovered the Ugg boot had not migrated to West Coast America. He started to import boots and distributed them through surf shops. In no time up and down the west coast from California to Mexico cottage industries were set up to make ugg boots for surfers. Smith registered the name ‘ugg boot’ as a trademark in the early 70s and by the mid-eighties ‘uggs; were established as a West Coast surfie cult. Smith eventually sold his interests to Deckers in 1995.

The ugg reached celebrity status when Pamela Anderson (Lee) of Baywatch was snapped strolling through the sets wearing only her scarlet bikini and ugg boots. Later Uggs or Himalayan Boots formed part of the subplot in "Seinfeld."

The best ugg boots are made from Merino sheepskin because of the good insulation properties provided by the strength and tenacity of the fibres. The thick fleecy inner of merino sheepskin ugg boots are constructed from millions of microscopic fibres which give the linings strength and elasticity. Ounce for ounce, wool is stronger than steel and can withstand being bent over 30,000 times. In addition to strength, merino sheepskin possesses the ability to wick moisture and odour away. Merino sheepskin captures more air in its fibres than traditional sheepskin, the presence of air pockets creates the natural thermostatic qualities that keep feet warm during very chilly days (down to minus 30C) and cool during warmer days by circulating air. The ugg book can be worn anywhere and is comfortable both on the beach and in the snow. Wool fleece moulds to fit the shape of the foot preventing peak pressures under foot and lanoline moisturises skin as well as absorbing excess water. Improved manufacturing techniques make the footwear waterproof and more durable. Among sheepskin there is a vast difference in comfort levels. Thicker fibres are scratchy more fragile and offer less insulation whilst the finer grading of fibres of Merino wool give superior comfort and feel. Merino sheepskin is rarely used by ugg boot manufacturers with the vast majority of manufacturers preferring inferior sheepskins or combination with synthetic mixtures to keep the costs down. Cheaper boots wear more quickly and can harbour bacteria which may cause foul foot odour and/or fungal infections.

Hoping to capitalize, Deckers Deckers Outdoor Corporation systematically bought out all the small entities making sheepskin ugg boots. Realising the potential for fashion crossover, they acquired the name UGG® Australia in 1995, but when the company tried to protect their interest overseas problems arose in Australia and New Zealand.

In 2000, Oprah Winfrey was given pair of Ugg boots and taken with their comfort featured them on "Oprah's Favorite Things" show which caught the attention the program’s demographic. As a result, the much have fleece line boots flew off the shelves and suppliers could not keep up with demand at a time when most of North America was experiencing an extended cold spell. The spike in demand and shortage of boots for sale in America meant consumers everywhere reached for the internet and bought Australian uggs over the internet. Desperate to safeguard exclusivity Deckers (US) in 2003, took legal action to prevent other companies using the name ‘ugg’ including those in OZ. The term ‘ugg’ in Australia is considered a generic term for sheepskin footwear and used by almost 70 sheepskin footwear makers. Australian ugg boot makers responded by trying to legally challenge the protected term. After long court battles, in 2006 it was finally accepted 'ugg’ was a generic term in common Australian use and hence, unfair to restrict it. Now fashion Australian ‘uggs’ can be found from Dog Town to the slopes of Vancouver; from the streets of Essex to the Paris Catwalks.

In the spirit of zeitgeist, the rise in popularity of slip-on footwear was determined by global events such as 9/11 (2001), changing global climate and downturn in the economy. Increased security necessitated travelers wore shoes that could be removed at airports and other security posts; the pressing need to dress fashionably for changing weather conditions; and the availability of cheaper shoes. The fashion industry sought out styles that were fit for purpose and hence, Uggs, flip flops ( Havaianas ) and plastic clogs (Crocs) all enjoyed high vogue. Discerning travelers could now skip effortlessly through even the most stringent security checks unhindered by buckles and laces without compromise to the beauty of their feet and legs. Uggs could be worn in warm and cold condition with ease and comfort.

In times of hardship and economical decline shoe styles take on a utilitarian or unisex bravura. Predictably this is met with a tirade of abuse from traditional fashionista and the foot police who zealously guard their right to be well healed and foot healthy. Uggs, flip flops and plastic clogs have all came in for their share of criticism. When Ugg boots became the footwear of choice of Chavs and "looting chic, " the fleecy lined footwear dipped in high fashion popularity among the well-heeled as alternatives such as the Mukluk wee sought out.

Meantime there was a ready market for the cheaper clones among the lower socio-economical group demographic. Despite a complete absence of supporting evidence, podiatrists soon were claiming Uggs failed to the foot station, forecasting all manner of nasties to everyone who dares wear them. Foot strain has always been a focal point for medicalization, in part because there is no known cause in at least half the cases; and more importantly the temptation to demonize footwear is an easy cop out.

Here in Australia, despite their international appeal Ugg boots are socially tarnished and thought by many (quite wrongly) to be inferior footwear worn by Bogans (uncouth blaggard). Availability of cheaper and inferior quality boots ensure high sales but the shelf life is short and the boots are rarely maintained in good quality. By stark contrast expensive high fashion Uggs still enjoy patronage of the gliteratti and at the 2016 SAG Awards, luminary Carol Burnett complemented her super-glam green two-piece outfit with her favourite grey Uggs to receive her 2016 SAG Life Award.


Admistrators at Pottsdam Middle School in Pottsdam, Pa. banned pupils from wearing ugg boots to school. Apparently authorities were alarmed at the number of girls hiding mobile phones in their uggs. The school has a strict policy on cell phones prohibiting their use during class hours. Students were using the phones for texting and posting on Facebook. Students now only wear their winter boots to school but then must change out of them into sneakers or another shoes that lace at the ankle and cannot conceal a cell phone. Most parents were incredulous that the school thought that banning boots would solve the problem of sneaking cell phones. In day of old sailors turned their long (thigh length) boots over their knees and used the concealed panel to hide contraband rum (bootlegs).

Further Reading
Cormack L 2016 Australian ugg boot manufacturers fighting to use the word 'ugg' The Sydney Morning Herald
Nguyen D. (2016) Tracking: The Rise and Fall of the Ugg Boot in Recent Fashion History E Style Collective

Reviewed 2/02/2016

Tommy Cooper’s shoes: Just like that!

Tommy Cooper was a big man standing 6’ 4” foot tall in his stocking feet, all size 14 of them. As he was the night he generously donated his shoes to a local publican in Cornwall. The comedian's size 14 shoes are now on display at the Railway Inn in St Agnes. Tommy Cooper frequently drank in the pub and according to one story donated his shoes to the pub’s shoe collection before walking home barefoot in the rain one evening.

The pub have over a hundred pairs of shoes donated by patrons including a pair of Lillian Board’s running shoes once she wore when she won a silver medal in the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.

Tommy died in 1984 after collapsing on stage in London. Now if you go to Caerphilly, Wales there you will find overlooking Caerphilly’s castle a nine foot high bronzed statue of Tommy Cooper.