Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bootmaker Alt-Berg

Below you can read our on-going evaluation of our Alt-Berg boots, or you can go straight to the Alt-Berg boots website by clicking on the Alt-Berg logo on the left
We rode up to beautiful Yorkshire today, into the historic town of Richmond. There is a Richmond in Tasmania too by the way and that is also a beautiful historic place. The reason we went to Richmond was to visit the small family firm of Alt-Berg, a traditional shoemaker. Alt-Berg is known worldwide for their top quality hiking boots, but it's perhaps less well known that they also make a range of motorcycle boots. We had never heard of them and actually found them by pure chance. 

Alt-Berg was founded 25 years ago by Mike Sheehan, who still works in the factory today as a senior bootmaker. Mike was by no means new to the trade though. He made his first shoe-last, the foundation upon which each shoe is made, over 40 years ago. Mike explained that he was fortunate enough to have worked with William Shepherd. William was 62 years old when Mike started working with him and made his first boots in the 1920s. Shoes have been made in Richmond for over 90 years, a long tradition. 

The start wasn't easy. “In the early days of Alt-Berg, things were very bleak, and we had some days when we had no money, no orders, and the machines kept breaking down… I didn’t know if we could last another week… But I was taught – by a good man, who had survived the dark days of the 30’s depression – and he would say… ‘when times are bad, just concentrate on making good boots… there’ll always be someone who wants a pair of good boots…’ and that’s what we did, and that’s what we still do…”

Son Joe has since joined the company, working alongside his father on the technical aspects as well as managing sales and marketing. Daughter Tara has joined as well, a true family firm. Alt-Berg specialises in high quality boots, made by a team of dedicated craftsmen and women. 
We were met by one of them, Paul, who told us more about boots in 5 minutes than I had learned about them the 50 years before. First our feet were carefully measured. Not just the length but also the width and circumference. Apart from being able to make each boot in sizes 7-14, including half sizes, they also make them in 5 different widths. 

Bootmaking is a traditional craft. To be able to make a good boot you have to know a lot about feet and what the boot is going to be used for. Rather than making flash looking boots, Mike and Joe put a lot of thought into practical design. Add to that craftsmanship and dedication and you'll end up with boots that not only fit your feet perfectly but also work for what you want to do with them. The initial outlay will be higher than cheap shoes-r-us models of course but not only are your feet worth it, Alt-Berg boots will last a lot longer too. Alt-Berg will also re-sole their boots if needed. Standby your product so to speak. While we were there a pair of battered but obviously much loved old hiking boots were in for a re-sole.

Alt-Berg normally makes boots to order, as their boots are custom made for your particular feet. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to wait for them to be made. Luckily Joe had carefully selected a couple of boots for each of us from a small stock. They fit perfectly!

Having used them for a while now, we are impressed. The attention to detail shows everywhere you look. From the biggest strongest oversized zippers I have ever seen, to adjustment methods for feet and shin. Safety wise they are the best boots we've ever had. Mike and Joe have not just looked at motorcycle boots, they have looked at what happens when a motorcyclists crashes. 'How can we protect motorcyclists feet from crushing, protect them from damage to shin and ankle and still be able to walk on them' The result is safety features I haven't seen in any motorcycle boot before.

Alt-Berg is a family firm. About 22 people work in the small Yorkshire factory, which is only separated from the showroom by a glass wall. These people have nothing to hide and while we were trying boots for size, new ones were being made behind us. So why does a bootmaker, known for its walking boots, starts in a niche market like motorcycle boots? Mike, founder and senior bootmaker, rides a motorcycle. Being a true perfectionist means he obviously couldn't find good motorcycle boots and thus started making his own! The factory runs 100% on green energy and, as we were told at the local petrol station, the Sheehan family is well liked in Richmond!