Saturday, 12 May 2012

Desert Boots

Welcome again to what we must all understand by now is an occasional blog.

OK. McQueen wore M-43 boots in The Great Escape. He wore playboy boots on plenty of occasions.

Desert boots. Clarks says they've "been worn by Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen". The operative word presumably being "like". I wondered once, briefly once, which "Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen" wore them.

Desert boots do have Steve McQueen style, though. Clarks especially of course knows they're the kind of thing you'd associate with Steve McQueen regardless of whether he wore them. They're close to the playboy style (which incidentally predates the desert boot). It's little wonder people think he wore them.

Ancient Romans wore practical, ankle-high laced leather boots. If you had some kind of machine to take you across 17th century Europe, say, you'd see similar things on the end of many commoners' legs. But don't lie, because I know perfectly well that you have no such machine. I'd be a fool to fall for that again. Anyway these commoners' boots, called startups, were the template for the first industrially manufactured work boots.

Schier Hyena Veldskoen

Somebody who seemed odd (that's a compliment far as I'm concerned) once posted a comment on this blog about the history of the desert boot. He said that the Hottentots, the native people of southwest Africa, wore similar things on the end of their legs. He mentioned veldskoen, southern African footwear that descends from the Hottentot design.

Veldskoen certainly look like desert boots. Rather, desert boots look like veldskoen. The huge Dutch East India Company made the first veldskoen in the 17th century. A company called Schier has made veldskoen in southwest Africa, in Namibia, since 1938. Eight tribesmen make 20 pairs of veldskoen by hand each afternoon in the Herbert Schier workshop. The footwear is vegetable dyed leather, mainly from culled antelope. Hyena is most traditional apparently, and it's also similar to the tobacco colour of our man's Bullitt boot.

Clarks Desert Boot in sand

Clarks began in a Somerset village in 1825, a tanning and wool stapling business run by a Quaker, Cyrus Clark. Three years later the business began to sell footwear, thanks to brother James Clark. He'd had the idea to make slippers from sheepskin off-cuts.

Nathan Clark, great-grandson of James, volunteered to help the goodies in the Spanish Civil War. He noticed the espadrilles – the light comfortable shoes with jute rope soles – that the local peasants wore.

Nathan served in World War II and went to Burma. He served with allied officers sent east when operations were over in the deserts of North Africa. Nathan noticed the practical, ankle-high boots these officers wore when they were off duty. They were made of rough suede, were light and comfortable with crepe soles. It'd started with the South African officers, who'd had replacements of their veldskoen made in a Cairo souk. Clark copied the design in good old Somerset and launched the result in Chicago in 1950. Most of Britain only became interested in them in the 1960s. (Nathan Clark died last year, aged 94.)

I've become something of a Clarks Desert Boot fundamentalist. I've put several colours on this blog but I now believe only in one. Clarks' website says its desert boot "now comes in a neutral sand shade". That's the colour, with the orange stitching, they've always sold. If you're afeared that they're too light, be not afeared. They're about the same shade as the "wolf" colour they sell by the time you've sprayed on protector and walked a few miles.

Perhaps the "cola" colour is still acceptable to me, especially as it's close to the Bullitt snuff colour. Hmm. I admit that I like the look of the "ebony vintage" leather ones too. Trickier than it looks, this fundamentalism lark.

The Schier boot looks great. If I ever get some money again, I'll try them. The Clarks boot is great. I love the crepe soles. Natural and sustainable. I love the whole boot. It's too much for a few people that Clarks makes its desert boot in Asia. These people usually give me the impression that the root problem is racism rather than any sound ethical consideration. It's also too much for a few that Clarks are relatively common, but it's rare to be that pathetic. Most of us understand that the Clarks Desert Boot is great: now you understand even more than most.

16 comments:

  1. I don't think it's pathetic that people are annoyed Clark's desert boots are getting too common as that means they have been cheapened and diluted to appeal to a mainstream audience. The quality of the suede is now inferior, it's hard and not particularly comfortable - a key component to the original.

    Compare it with the soft, comfortbale suede of the desert boots that Weaver/Verginia Moccasins make (which is much closer to the quality of Clark's before they were outsourced). To claim people are racist because they dislike Clarks being made in Vietnam is also a massive and quite frankly ridiculous accusation, since Clarks desert boots have been outsourced the quality has declined.

    For what it's worth I usually enjoy this blog and pretty much enjoyed this post until the last paragraph.

    All The Best.

    James

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    Replies
    1. Hi James

      It doesn't necessarily mean that if something is common then it's cheapened and diluted to appeal to a mainstream audience. It often does, though, and if that's what people mean when they say something is too common I'm fine with it. I just don't tend to hear that clarification. If they try to qualify the comment at all, I'm most likely to hear "you see them everywhere" after "they're too common nowadays", and that's about it. All I can gather from that is the person dislikes the thing merely because it's common, which is about the most pathetic attempt at elitism I can think of.

      To claim people are racist because they dislike Clarks being made in Vietnam would be a massive and quite frankly ridiculous accusation, but I don't make it. The misreading is ridiculous. I used to assume that when people showed concern over outsourcing, there were reasonable arguments behind it: a concern for the decline in homegrown skills and all that entails, carbon footprint issues, exploitation issues. But I've pursued this lately with people who've aired a dissatisfaction with certain foreign-made goods. I've brought up the old lines of questioning. "Why have you got an iPhone if you feel so strongly about foreign-made stuff?" Flimsy openers for a debate. The reponses haven't been what I expected. I don't claim that people are racist because they dislike Clarks being made in Vietnam. I claim that I've spoken to people (recently) who say they dislike the Clarks Desert Boot because it's made in Vietnam, and when I poke around I get confused answers along the lines of people in and from Asia being the enemy. I'm certain that plenty of people (most, I hope) who have a problem with the boot being made in Vietnam have ethical considerations on the mind. In terms of quality, it's wrong to assume something's inferior because it's from Asia. I actually know people who care about clothes and have the "Asia is the enemy" kind of outlook, people who've bought the Clarks Desert Boot and they've all admitted they think the boot is quality, well made, the most comfortable things they own (presumably apart from ugly modern trainers). My Clarks dessies have all started out stiff. They've been instantly comfortable regardless, though, and after a few miles they've softened incredibly. I wear them more than Converse, Red Wing, Sanders playboys, anything. Somebody else said the Clarks Desert Boot used to be better. They must have been amazing. (I'm not a complete Clarks Vietnam Desert Boot zealot, by the way! I do honestly believe it's possible they were better!) I'll check out the Verginia when I get a chance and post on them: cheers for the pointer. I'm glad you enjoy reading the blog, and honestly thanks for the comment and pointers.

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  2. Thanks for your response,

    You usually find when something becomes popular, often the quality is comprimised, which usually means mass production and a cheap price therefore appealing to the biggest audience possible. Maybe there is a degree of elitism in it but if you consider yourself someone who is quite style concious (and by that I don't mean fashion concious). For shoes you'd look at the quality of materials used, comfort, shape, where the product is made and how it works with the rest of your outfit. If the quality of Clarks continually got worse and I was seeing it on more and more people. I'd stop wearing it. I'd find better alternatives. Maybe to some my attitude is 'pathetic', but to me it makes sense.

    In reply to you calling my misreading ridiculous can I just revisit the quote - "It's too much for a few people that Clarks makes its desert boot in Asia. These people usually give me the impression that the root problem is racism rather than any sound ethical consideration". To me this comment groups together people who don't like outsourcing and labels them as racist. Maybe it wasn't intended like this, maybe it's the way I have interpreted it. I don't particularly like clothes or shoes being made in Asia, I'm not a racist though, I just think it suggests companies are looking at bigger profit margains and less concerned with quality. This isn't always the case but 9/10 I personally find it is. There are also ethical concerns about the treatment of workers. I don't judge people who don't have ethical concerns, that is their prerogative, I don't think I'm any better than them either, it's very difficult to not use outsourced products in some form in modern day England, I just try and limit it.

    For what it's worth I actually like the current Clark's desert boot but it could be better, as mentioned before Verginia Moccasins make a better desert boot in my opinion. I wouldn't pay full price for the current Clark's desert boots either. I'd love to see them offer a Made in England desert boot again, obviously I wouldn't expect this to be cheap. Somewhere between £120-£150 I would imagine. Most people would say who cares they look virtually identical but if you're really into shoes you'll know why it does. I don't want this to be attack on your blog merely a debate so I hope it hasn't come across that way.

    Regards

    James

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    Replies
    1. Hey man, thanks for taking the time to elaborate. I don't see it as an attack. Not much anyway ;-) I did say that the greater the mass production often the more inferior the product. If your attitude is being on guard for that, as you say in essence, that's certainly more than disliking something solely because it's become common, and it certainly isn't pathetic. I stand by my "racism" bit. It does not follow that I believe all people who refuse to buy the Clarks Desert Boot because it's made in Vietnam are racist. It's just the impression I've gained of late from the few who've voiced an opinion when I've rooted around for reasons: I'd previously not bothered to ask because I assumed an ethical basis and it's been a bit of a shock to find that kind of the reverse seems to be true in regard to most of the people I've pushed on the matter. "These people usually give me the impression…" The ones who give me any kind of impression about it have tended to give me a racist one. I trust and pray to God that isn't how it is for a good portion of people. I'm glad to hear that isn't how it is for you and in fact I'm encouraged you find seem to find it incredible in a way that people would have a racist motive for disliking the boot being made in Vietnam. One guy said to me it wasn't about racism and then went on to be clearly racist (we should go to war with "them", "they" shouldn't be allowed to work in our country, if you say anything like this the politically correct brigade want to label you a racist, that's what it is, political correctness gone mad blah blah). It came as something of a surprise, believe me, and I hope I've just been unlucky a few times. It's great to have more level-headed input, I'm thankful for it and I'd like to mention your opinions in a future post because they seem to represent valid concerns I've heard elsewhere. They're the ones I assumed most people had, as I said. Shortsighted exploitation of the consumer, the foreign worker, the whole economy. You're not the first person to say quality of the Clarks Desert Boot has declined since outsourcing either, as I also said, and now I've heard it again that's again something I want to mention in future. Seems the shape has changed slightly. Seems there's a big group of us who have the dream of a made in England one again too. The price has gone up unreasonably: largely in line only with the increase in popularity. The familiar story. Despite all this, most people concede they're fantastic. Clarks tends to offer 20% off two or three times a year, just in case that changes anything for you or anybody else who might be insane enough to get to the end of this novel of a ranty reply (subscribe to their email updates if so). Anyway, ta again!

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    2. Bullitt Fan, man21 May 2012 at 19:30

      There is no manufactoring base left in the UK partly because we no longer have the "flexibility" that under paid sweatshop workers in the near and far east can provide.

      How many people can actually say they would pay two or three times as much for a pair of boots just for the privelege of knowing they were made in Nottingham rather than China or India? Apparently not enough

      I've been buying Clarks DB's for 30 years, not often as they last so long, and I havent noticed any percieved drop in quality

      unlike your blog which like the boots, doesnt come along often, but is great stuff when it does

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    3. Great stuff, thanks. Spot on first paragraph too, I'd say.

      Delete
  3. The Schier boot looks great. If I ever get some money again, I'll try them. The Clarks boot is great. I love the crepe soles. Natural and sustainable. I love the whole boot. It's too much for a few people that Clarks Shoes Sale makes its desert boot in Asia. These people usually give me the impression that the root problem is racism rather than any sound ethical consideration. It's also too much for a few that Clarks are relatively common, but it's rare to be that pathetic. Most of us understand that the Clarks Desert Boot is great: now you understand even more than most.

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  4. Dear all,

    I am an undergraduate from the University Of Nottingham and I require help with my dissertation research.

    My dissertation research intends to study the iconic Desert Boot letting it speak for itself and tell its own stories, in an attempt to reveal the hidden global complexities of commodities. I want to highlight the need for studies of more than the simply the labour behind the product, through looking at the culture and heritage of the brand C. & J. Clarks Ltd. to unravel the hidden global tales.

    I require research participants who own a pair of Clarks Desert Boots to participate in the study. Participant names/details will not be divulged.

    If any of these ideas interest you please do not hesitate to contact me, I would appreciate your support.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Lydia Bell
    lgylb2@nottingham.ac.uk

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  5. The Clarks desert boot is one the finest items of footwear available to man.

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  6. Will the shoes looks good with chino? Someone here can tell me what to wear with chinos?

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  7. Footwear is an important accessory as they add that finishing touch to your look. Great footwear enhances your attire and bestylish is the best online shoes store for all brand-conscious shoe shoppers.

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  10. It is nice to read such a good blog post. However, I don't like java. Because of the unavailability of native development environment such as visual studio for .net.

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  11. Any new articles coming up soon?

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