For the vast majority of our 31-year history, our only sole option has been quite traditional and very authentic — a soft leather sole. It's the only way to make a real moccasin.
We've always thought that this was the best option for a moccasin — a moccasin is supposed to be the ultimate in minimalist footwear — a barefoot feel with a neutral heel stance and without an artificial arch support, one in which the bones and muscles of the feet work as nature intended to maintain stability and balance. The best part of all for this type of footwear? The answer is easy: They're so dang comfortable.
Should we try something new?
Over the years we've occasionally entertained the idea of adding a rubber sole option but it never felt 'right;' it was too much of a departure and moved us closer to what our competitors did (which is never our goal.) We couldn't get comfortable with the idea of making a shoe that looked like a moccasin but took away all of the advantages of minimalist footwear. So every time we contemplated it, the answer always came back 'no.'
A customer named Sue
Fast forward to summer of 2016. A lovely customer by the name of Sue came into our Crosslake MN store and marched right up to me and said that she wanted us to make a rubber-soled moccasin and she wouldn't take no for an answer. Secretly, I admired her determination and I asked her to sell me on the idea. After a moment of being taken aback, she did.
While authentic moccasins have a lot of benefits, we fully acknowledge some of their drawbacks — primarily that leather soles are slippery on some wet surfaces and always on snow and ice. And there's a small segment of our customer base that gets premature wear on a leather sole — particularly due to a shuffling gait or dragging your feet when you walk.
Sue's concern was the slipperiness — she wanted footwear that she always felt confident in and didn't have to worry about whether the autumn leaves on the ground would be wet when walking across the yard. She concluded that she would buy more of our moccasins if we made a rubber soled version. We were sold.
Research...searching...searching more. Thank God for Google.
But as we researched sole options, we didn't like what we saw — most were hard(er) rubber that would immediately make our moccasins feel more like shoes instead of the ultra-comfortable barefoot feel that we're famous for.
Then we discovered an old soling material that's no longer frequently used: Natural crepe rubber — a latex sourced from trees. Natural. Natural. Natural. The idea just felt 'right.' That is, until I couldn't find sources of crepe rubber other than China and we'd have to buy massive quantities that wouldn't make sense for a small company like ours. Drat. I kept digging, even reading shoe repair blogs found on Google. And suddenly I found mention of one company in Ohio that still made natural crepe rubber — literally the only one in the USA. And as luck has it, there's one similar small company in Canada that makes it as well. (Gotta have a fallback position, right?)
I ordered a sample and had our Factory Store make two sample pairs ... one for me to personally test, and anther that we gave to Sue for testing under the premise that she would report back to me periodically as to how she liked them, how they wore, and whether they gave her confidence in grip.
Well, both of us loved our sample pairs. Sue positively raved about hers. I wore mine in the craziest conditions — hiking in the mud in the Painted Hills of Oregon, and along the wooded trails of the North Shore in the fall. They got wet in the rain and puddles; I wore them in the snow. I even ventured out onto the ice in them — something I never would have attempted with my leather-soled mocs. They held up beautifully, had TONS of grip and, most importantly, they felt exactly like our original leather-soled mocs. The crepe rubber comes in thin sheets and we're able to manufacture the moccasins exactly the way we always have — same cutting tools, sewing techniques and finishing steps.
And now they're available to you!
We're so excited to finally have them made up and available for sale. I recommend that you try a pair ... I honestly think you're going to love them.
And, once you do, let me know what you think. I always like feedback. Post pictures on Instagram, tagged @itascaleathergoods. Tell everyone. Spread the news! We need this news to spread like wildfire!
Happy soles. Happy feet. Happy travels.
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