Garment Stories: Caravan Standard Boots

I have had these Japanese – made in Vietnam, though – boots since July, and I’m still figuring them out. The have got only 7 wears since then but already have a rich garment story.

Chapter I: The Acquisition. My dad is a bus driver. Of big buses full of tourists. One of those people who dares – and enjoys – carrying a full 50-person bus up and down an Alpine serpentine or Norwegian fjords. Most often those buses are full of people trying to squeeze as many countries and experiences as possible into a tight schedule of ‘seeing Europe’, tours where they get 20 countries in 20 days and such. And, although this is not the kind of travel that Eastern Europeans used to do to see Europe in the 1990s where one would literally spend several days living in the bus, even people who sleep at hotels and make their major distances on plane leave a lot of stuff behind in the bus. My dad also cleans his bus, so we are quite used to random foodstuffs (with unreadable labels) appearing at home because somebody just left it behind. But it’s small stuff typically: cookies, candy, snacks, napkins… something you would truly stash in the seat pocket and forget.

Hence when I saw a pair of heavy duty boots just sitting in the middle of our living room (yeah, that’s where he unpacks) in Rīga in July, I just though that my dad had bought himself a pair. Only later it was informed that it was – obviously – not his size at all and that this pair of boots was left behind by a client who first realized that she needed a pair of serious duty boots for exploring Norway in summer and then decided that she was not really happy with them after all. And the while she took for thinking it over clearly wasn’t a long one, as the boots had no trace of having ever touched ground. So, no, she wasn’t practicing the ‘trial period’ tactics I recommend for your garments.

My dad collects all the useful stuff people leave behind, so the boots were coming home. And they turned out to be exactly my size!

How else you can model a pair of heavy duty boots in July?

Chapter II: The research. Now I wanted to know more! By a coincidence, I handled a pair of Giulia’s boots for the Percentil experiment in August. A pair of Vibram boots. The only two words that looked brand-like on these new boots was Caravan and Vibram. But searches for Vibram only brought up the disgusting five-toe footwear… I apologize if you’re a fan but I just cannot see that thing. Weird, I know, as I have nothing against seeing actual feet.

At the end it looked like Caravan was the brand and Vibram was the supplier of soles. So it was a journey down the internet rabbit holes trying to discover what had I encountered there… ending up on the Japanese internets. I wasn’t able to find the boots on the Caravan homepage, although there are some similar ones for between 150 and 500€. Then, according to this blog – thank you Google Translate! – I finally found a photo of my boots and understood that they are are reboot of a Caravan Standard model very similar to what the author / his father had had, now retailing at below 150€.

And that blog linked to the full heritage story – with photos – of the Caravan boots, finally! Some Google Translate excerpts for your curiosity:

‘On May 9, 1956, the Japanese Mountaineering Corps succeeded in the first ascent of the Himalayan giant, Manasuru (8156m above sea level, 8th in the world). This is the first time a Japanese has climbed the 8000m class Kyoho. […]  In 1952 (Showa 27), when the next year’s first Manaslu expedition was decided, equipment was also required accordingly. Most mountaineering equipment was custom-made, but there were still problems with the shoes. From the base camp to the top of the mountain, we will continue to use heavy climbing shoes with durable leather in the upper and metal in the sole. The problem was the approach shoes used on the long way to the base camp. At the time, there were still people who climbed the mountain in the underground tabi, and Japan did not have the “light climbing shoes” itself. The harsh Himalayan approach cannot be walked with underground socks or athletic shoes. I absolutely needed shoes that were “light and easy to wear, didn’t slip on the rocks, and didn’t rub”.’

‘In 1954, Sato established Yamaharusha Co., Ltd. in Ginza (later renamed Caravan) and started selling caravan shoes. The production is of course Fujikura Rubber Industry. The first product was almost the same as the one made for the Manaslu Expedition. The upper ankle was proudly affixed with a mark engraved as “Recommended by the Japanese Mountaineering Society”. […] Compared to full-fledged heavy climbing shoes, it is much cheaper and its superior performance was proven by the Manaslu Expedition. Caravan shoes attracted the attention of general mountaineers and gradually became known.’

‘In 1959, the caravan shoes were remodeled to become “Caravan Standard”. There have been minor changes since its launch, but this year’s changes have never been so big. First, the upper cotton canvas is changed to rubberized nylon. This greatly improved waterproofness. The arch part of the sole is equipped with an iron spike called “tricone”. The anti-slip effect on wet rocky places has been further improved. However, these changes resulted in a slight increase in weight. There are two kinds of colors, navy and red.’

So I’ve got on my hands a classic Japanese mountaineering boot.  Completely unintentionally.

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Chapter III: Wearing. On the empirical side, I experimented briefly with them in September. They are heavy. Surprisingly heavy for my feet so used to sneakers. And the upper was rubbing against my leg and leaving it sore for days. I suspect that is the type of footwear that you have to break in *a lot* to find supercomfy afterwards. So I left them in Rīga waiting for winter, with my fingers crossed that this could finally be a good replacement for the Muroexe boots that I was so longing to get rid of. They would make more sense in Barcelona for the occasional rain and slippery tiles instead of Rīga rain and winter… for that you might want a taller boot.

Now, after a couple more wears, I have a bit more information on how these beauties wear:

– The heaviness and chunkiness is real but not overwhelming.

– The height, though, is new, as all that superperformance sole ends up making it, well, a platform boot.

– I clearly walk wrong because the dark rubber parts are already staining the light brown canvas on the opposite boot.

– I had an unpleasant boot experience I still can’t properly disentangle. My old sprained ankle started hurting and went on like that for a week after one day in these boots and then next day walking a lot in my old Crocs boots. That made me to cool off with these and reconsider if I ever want to wear them again. But then I did – to Opera, no less – an I was fine afterwards.

– As for wearing hiking boots to Opera, yep, these felt cool enough for me to pull that off. In those old Crocs boots I felt like a peasant. Obviously, it’s Eastern Europe and many people change shoes in Opera or have a pair of pretty boots for such occasions… but we are minimalists around here and do not drag extra shoes to places where we’ll be spending only 3h.

An opera-going outfit according to Luisitas.

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So the adventure is still on and only time will tell how this relationship will go. But the story is already a good one… Do you have any similar stories of having needed a lot of time to understand if a garment is working for you? How did that go? And what was the final verdict?

#100wears: Muroexe Materia boots

This is not a love song. In contrast to most #100wears posts, this is not a story of a garment being so incredibly useful and/or pleasant that I haven’t been able to stop wearing it. No, this is an ode to me (and maybe my unnecessary stubbornness) for having put up with a suboptimal pair of footwear for three years. Now, after 120 wears and a boot alternative at the horizon (stay tuned), I’m ready to end this rather sad affair.

I bought them on sales in January 2017 for 65€. You can still get them for 95€, probably cheaper during the January sales. C was excited about the brand (he has acquired a pair of sneakers since then and is very satisfied), Juan already owned several pairs and was very happy with them. They were made in Spain (some of their production is made in China, though) and vegan. The marketing was sleek and aspirational, just look at the little tag that came with the boots:

I don’t know which size I ordered (and the size tag has long rubbed off) but I had to change them for a smaller pair, most probably 40 to 39. I had to bring them to a cobbler a year after having bought them to re-glue the sole (7.50€), and will do it again before bringing them to the December swap because they are letting water in again.

Please, understand me correctly! These boots have been a reasonably OK experience for the occasional Barcelona rain and the very mild Mediterranean winter. But that is also the whole point: they perform just OK when a pair of sneakers would do better and are suboptimal for the weather they were supposedly created for. I have several major complaints and both are purely design issues that somebody hasn’t really thought through:

1. The sole has 0 grip! Dude, you have to be an idiot to make a rain boot that has no traction on slippery surfaces. Or somebody who is so Mediterranean that ‘they forgot’. It is ridiculous. The only way you can walk in these is what my dad would call ‘as when they put little booties on a dog’. I have had only one serious fall while wearing these, though. On the stairs of my apartment building, slipping and then sliding for a while ending in a broken lunch box and a very painful elbow for weeks. But that was scary and could’ve ended much worse. The point was brought home to me most powerfully on a dinner date with Julie where I complained about this and we then proceeded to compare the soles of our ankle boots: hers was a grippy Danish thing made for all the tricky textures of wet leaves and slush, mine was a Barcelona fantasy of a wet weather boot.

No, you don’t want a surface this smooth in contact with the famous Barcelona tiles when those are wet.

2. As for being ‘waterproof’, as promised on the website, and setting aside the fact that the joining line is clearly not that solid (2 re-gluings in 3 years), they have exactly the same problem as all waterproof lace-up boots. Your feet will be dry as long as no water reaches the lacing… after that you are done and can go home. Or spend all day with wet feet (that won’t get dry because they are encased in waterproof material). But, I’ll admit, this complaint is equally valid for a pair of classic Docs and other similar wares. Those, however, might be slightly more breathable…

3. This might be a less universal complaint but it does ruin my experience with these boots. What they call ‘goma’ / ‘rubbery texture’ on their website (a side note on both prices and text differing between the Spanish and English versions of the Muroexe universe) feels incredibly plastic IRL. I own a pair of Nokian Hai rainboots and the texture is very different. In the Muroexe boot my feet feel trapped in plastic bags.

I also happen to have very sweaty feet… so the experience has been very sweaty and very smelly, as the already noted waterproofness will take care that nothing evaporates. My boots have probably spent more time on the balcony stuffed full of lavender bags than they have spent on my feet. And the insoles have seen several machine washes.

4. In comparison with the rest, this might be minor, but still speaks about the design flaws: the laces won’t stay laced. I don’t know what they are made of – and they are cute – but never in my adult life I’ve had to redo my laces so often. In combination with wet weather and the 0 grip soles this becomes not only annoying but dangerous. The only way I found to deal with this has been tucking the ends of the laces in the boot itself. Not optimal.

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My decision to finally let go of these boots actually has to do with having had to spend several days nonstop in them… I was fine wearing these for a couple of hours on a rainy day in Barcelona, and I always had a pair of office shoes to change in. But I took only the Muroexe boots for me on the Portuguese train trip, spent five days wearing them for extended time periods… and I was disgusted. See you never, Muroexe, we are not a good match!

On the other hand, the aesthetics are good and translate well across a wide range of formal to informal styles:



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So come pick them up at the swap if you are around size 39/40, walk carefully, and are not prone to sweaty feet. That plastic is sturdy enough and shows little wear, so maybe they can be your new best friends.

Have you had this kind of complicated garment relationship where you know very well how suboptimal the thing is but are very reluctant to let go? Are you suffering something like this now? I do suggest that you look for a way out, especially if your suffering is physical or endangers your health.

#100wears: Vegan Birkenstock Gizeh

The only way how a pair of Birks can look dainty is by another, bigger pair.

#100wears is the most beloved garment section where I show off the longevity of items I’ve worn at least 100 times and urge to elevate the rather low #30wears aspiration. Basically, a love song, a poem, a “there are some garments so good I can’t stop wearing them”… My pair of Vegan Birkenstock Gizeh has reached the magic wear threshold a while ago – it’s now 130 and counting – so here comes the love song.

This is my first pair of brand Birks as it took years for vegan models of my liking to appear in the vegan section of their store. I have been pinning these ‘made in Spain’ suspiciously similar vegan sandal for years. I knew I would like the model as these were the copycat sandals I wore to shreds in summer 2005. And then I went back to the store  and with my despair about how could a pair of shoes fall apart so quickly (the toe post came out, so that was a design flaw) cajoled them into giving me another pair for free:

So all the stars aligned last July and for rather reasonable 65€ we have been happy ever since, getting up to #100wears in less than a year. And their production practices and attitude couldn’t make me happier… I mean, somebody who is willing to go on record saying that collaborations with Supreme or Vetements would be ‘prostitution’, among other strong opinions about the world of fashion is exactly the person I want to buy sandals from (see this for a historic overview of Birkenstock footwear).

When it comes to fit on my hobbit feet, you can see that a size 38 is a bit long (in sneakers I typically wear a 39 to fit in all that width) and a bit too narrow as my pinky is hanging on the edge. Trying to get it right I actually went to a brick-and-mortar pop-up here in Barcelona, and this size is a compromise between their generous sizing and my even more generous feet. After a year of active wearing – I also got a pair the same model in EVA for home and swimming pool use – I’m very happy with my choices. But if you are the one with very narrow feet, these might not be for you (not for nothing they do a narrow-feet option),  leave them to the hobbit people!

My biggest surprise – but obvious when you think about it – is that while they are very easy to just slide into and hang around, Birks are not a walking shoe. Less so with the ones made of EVA because that plastic is cushioning, but that original anatomical footbed is not giving you any spring. It supports, yes, but that’s it. So walking long distance is not a good idea, at least I get feet blisters which is no fun at all. And keep a heavy duty cream for your feet at hand, as they get dry and tired in sandals (as opposed to wet and smelly in sneakers). Also, my feet create vacuum with the footbed when walking and often make little fart noises… You decide if that’s a perk you’d enjoy. I don’t know any other Birk-wearer that has the same issue, so it probably has to do with the hobbit feet and not so much the shoes.

Another primer: although they look incredibly sturdy, they do wear out, especially, of course, if that happens to be your only sandal and you are a shredder (a counterfactual: C’s Birks are from 2016 and look immaculate in a live-forever-Highlander-way). So at least for me this is not a #buymeonce scenario. Mine have wear and tear, and the reason for discarding will probably be the left heel. They are surely hanging in there until this autumn, and we’ll see how the next summer goes. If they survive until next July and clock in the respective 260 wears, I might have to do a ritual burial and all. After 130 wears (and no cleaning or any other active upkeep), this is what they look like:






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What pieces easily reach #100wears in your wardrobe? Have you ever had the perfect match between desiring something for a long time, then getting it and being truly satisfied? Have you had any recent #buymeonce finds or #buymeonce disappointments with something you thought would last forever?

#100wears: Veja Arcade sneakers

#100wears is the most beloved garment section where I show off the longevity of items I’ve worn at least 100 times and urge to elevate the rather low #30wears aspiration. Basically, a love song, a poem, a “there are some garments so good I can’t stop wearing them”… My Veja Arcade sneakers have reached the magic threshold a while ago – it’s now 140 – so here comes the love song.

I was chunky sneaker-curious for a while and, after having reaffirmed that Veja Taua would be my lifelong love, I decided to spice it up a bit and got a pair of vegan Arcade in April 2017 (money reports 1 and 2). They came pristine and perfect, of course, but that didn’t last very long as I took them with me for all the big 2017 trips.

To Granada and Sevilla in April:

To Philadelphia in May:

To Cape Town in November where I managed to touch a bit of Atlantic ocean while wearing them:


And just back and forth in Barcelona:


They are chunky and casual alright, though. Last June I put my mother in a desperate bind as my only two available options for my grandma’s 70th birthday were a pair of worn out floral Taua and still a pretty fresh Arcade. She insisted on Taua as for her Arcade looked too much like a hiking boot. I also still have moments of doubt about pulling of the chunky sneaker looks, specially with midi skirts. At times it just looks weird. Oh well… As on normal days my sneakers only serve as a commute shoe, it’s fine. I just feel cool instead of looking the part.

Similar to Arcopedico wedges, these shoes have reached the #100wears for practical reasons instead of undying love. I have ten pairs of footwear altogether, but between those that do not touch street (winter slippers, pool slippers, KonMari consulting espadrilles) and those for specific occasions (rain, winter, formal) sneakers do the bulk of the work, so for me footwear is the easiest #100category. Here, this is how the drawer looks:

Arcade were a bit hard to break in and cannot be worn without a sock, but they are much better for lots of walking and soak slower than the canvas sneakers. I haven’t washed them and, while not being that pristine anymore, the gray color scheme is incorporating wear very nicely. They are by no means waterproof, but the elevation, recycled plastic and thicker built make them very nice for Barcelona winter while not that appealing in summer. So there they are in my wardrobe, waiting for October.

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Is there a type of garment that you have kept wearing throughout the years? What pieces easily reach #100wears in your wardrobe? Which garments do you end up wearing more, the beloved ones or the practical ones?

#100wears: Arcopedico wedge ballerinas

#100wears is the most beloved garment section where I show off the longevity of items I’ve worn at least 100 times and urge to elevate the rather low #30wears aspiration. Basically, a love song, a poem, a “there are some garments so good I can’t stop wearing them”… My Arcopedico wedge ballerinas is one of those.

In comparison with other #100wears pieces, these shoes is a very recent acquisition. My mom was visiting last March – so not even a year ago – and we left Arcopedico store with three pairs of shoes, one for me and two for her. They are vegan, made in Portugal and quite comfy. My only complain, as it often happens with my feet, is about sizing: I bought them in size 39 and the shop ladies swore they would not stretch. Yeah, right! They ended up being a full size too long and hard to walk in, as the constant movement caused blisters. After an extensive online search on ‘how to make shoes smaller’, and ended up with silicone straps that stick to the heel and reduce friction (like these but from my local pharmacy). That’s how I went to Kristīne’s wedding, and it has worked like a charm since then.

Mazmežotne, August 2017. You cannot see the shoes because of all the grass, but there they are!

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Athens, August 2017. These are my formal conference shoes now!

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But, as with the gray cardigan, the #100wears is due to the fact that in normal weeks these shows live at work. Yes, I’m the Eastern European that cannot stay in street shoes when indoors, so my morning ritual at work is storing my lunch in the communal fridge, changing shoes, washing my hands and putting on the kettle. Hence these shoes haven’t got much street time but have been in use for many hours. They are prone to smelling (or are those just my feet?), so they rest with lavender baggies inside overnight and occasionally come home for a hydrogen peroxide drench. The next challenge for them (and me!) will be a Spanish midsummer wedding this June, let’s see if I can pull that one off in chunky black shoes because at the moment is either these or the birks… but maybe the right dressy sandals or ballerinas will cross my way in the next swap?

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Is there a type of garment that you have keep wearing throughout the years? What pieces easily reach #100wears in your wardrobe? What are the items or materials whose functional superiority you have had to admit despite your genuine preferences pointing you in another direction?

#100wears: Veja Taua

#100wears is the most beloved garment section where I show off the longevity of items I’ve worn at least 100 times and urge to elevate the rather low #30wears aspiration. Basically, a love song, a poem, a “there are some garments so good I can’t stop wearing them”.

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I don’t know how I came across Veja sneakers in May 2015, then I couldn’t name any bloggers that were wearing them… Maybe through C., as he is the one better informed about brands in our household. But it was love at first sight, and, despite several shipping and handling problems (If you are not in France and are likely to not to be at home when your package arrives, at least in Barcelona, Spain you are screwed, because Veja people have no idea which courier company their shippers use in Spain. Solution: stay at home waiting, order to to a work address/someplace it will be accepted, or just use a re-seller…), I’ve currently wearing my 3rd and 4th pair. Oh, special vegan section, lovely designs, full transparency… and they fit my feet! After a long history of wrong footwear, this is a great step towards my well-being.


My first Vejas: Taua Black White! I miss them so much…

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What walking and biking does to soles. This is the 1st pair outgoing vs. the third incoming.

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The first three pairs I bought were all the same model: Taua. A very basic tennis shoe! I shred my first pair mercilessly. I wore them on all occasions, and washed them in the washing machine when they got too dirty even for my very low standards (I’ll never be the person with impeccable white sneakers!). Then I invested in another pair a few months later, mostly because of the floral print. My third pair, bought in 2016, is another outrageous a print, this time not in *organic cotton* but in b-mesh *made from recycled post consumer plastic*.

There are two lessons I’ve gathered so far: (a) as I have so few pairs and they get a lot of use + my hobbit feet keep breaking the textile in the same exact place, I really wear these things out; & (b) for the sake of versatility, I’d really love to go back to black, but Veja won’t let me… and that third pair is getting closer and closer to complete fallout.


Nº2 in floral cotton.

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Nº3 in fantasy b-mesh.

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Since I started counting wears in January 2016 (which means that the the two oldest pairs have actually been worn many times more than appear in my books), Veja Taua Black White got 101 wears until their demise in January 2017, the Floral has got 95 and are begging to be replaced, and Bahia’s got 209 and counting (I aspire to replace them in January 2018). Boom!

My 4th Veja pair is Arcade (see here, here, and here) – even I got carried away with the bulky aesthetics of the shitty brand sneakers one sees everywhere – but I was socialized in tennis shoes as symbol of rebellion (thanks so much, Converse All Stars and Avrile Lavigne!) and would like to go back to basics with my next purchase, so the current choice would be between Taua in colors nobody wanted or the chunkier Pierre design… We’ll see. Meanwhile, my street cred with shredded pirate sneakers from 2005 (although I doubt that any of those got to #100wears before they fell apart) for your viewing pleasure:

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Is there a type of garment that you have keep wearing throughout the years? What pieces easily reach #100wears in your wardrobe?

Journey on Hobbit feet

Comfort is key. Comfort is key. Clothing is here to make our lives easier. Have I told you that comfort is key? Sometimes I think that the feminist interpetation of (most) female footwear as conscious attempt of the patriarchy to keep us down is not just a hyperbole. If you need a visual argument for this, google “high heels x ray”. It shall do the trick.

The Tolkien reference in the title stems from the fact that my adult footwear choices have been restricted by my feet. They are wide, robust and keep me grounded. Also, their length by width do not fit most commercial footwear brands: the sizes that fit the width leave room for at least a finger or two at length.

This has served as more of an excuse than reason for suffering so far. I never really learned to walk on heels, so I gravitate towards more reasonable footwear anyways. Yet there have been some mistakes throughout the years. Espically painful was admitting to myself that Melissa stuff just is not made for my feet (plastic does not stretch, d-oh!) and lifestyle (their flats are not made for walking; believe me, I’ve tried). Here, have a laugh at my younger self and my poor tortured feet:

Sneakers have been a mainstay on my footwear shelf. Chuck Taylors All Star – real and fake – obsession was followed by lots of fast fashion ballerinas that wore out in few months. Summer 2014 was the lowest point of shoe desperation of wishing for better but being out of ideas. So my mom took me (a 26-year old) to Crocs shop in Riga and bought me 3 pairs. Only one of them turned out to be a real winner, but at least the existential dread of having only shoes that hurt in one way or another was eliminated.

An authentic relief came with my first pair of Veja, and I’ve been riding into the sunset ever since. But here are some past favorites:

Currently I’m the most happy with my footwear options I’ve been in a long time. I have eight pairs of outdoor shoes – five in Barcelona and three in Riga – and using ninth, the white Crocs pumps, as slippers at home. The great majority of them fit very well, except for those Crocs (that’s why they have been retired from taking long walks) and my first Arcopedico pair (next one I’ll get will be a 38 instead of 39 because, contrary to what the salesperson claimed, they do stretch). That’s the advantage of finding few brands that work for you: you resonate with the aesthetics, research the supply chain and production conditions, trust the quality, and know your size. That’s a quadruple win, especially for someone with non-standard feet.

Now the only thing I need for a dream-come-true shoe capsule is a pair of vegan footbed sandals, something like this but preferably with a toe post and attached to the ankle.