If you come to Victoria B.C You’ll get the boot!
These boots were made for style
Victoria’s venerable Viberg Boots continues transition to fashionable footwear
By Sarah Petrescu, Timescolonist.com March 14, 2011
For several years now, I’ve walked past one of Victoria’s best-kept fashion secrets nearly every day without a second glance.
Perhaps it was the shop’s giant boot doorstop, the cluster of firefighters or construction workers browsing inside, or the tiny storefront display that threw me.
Luckily, a few fashion-forward men tipped me off to Viberg Boot Company (662 Herald St.) and the buzz it is gaining worldwide.
Viberg has spent 80 years mastering the art of indestructible workboots.
More recently, they’ve capitalized on an Asian fashion market obsessed with hand-crafted heritage brands, so much so it has become half their business.
Now they’re riding a wave of trends in heritage, blue-collar styles in North America and Europe.
“The whole Americana thing was taking off in fashion.
We’re probably one of the top bootmakers in the world, and I wanted us to break into that lifestyle market,” Brett Viberg told me at his family’s Chinatown shop and factory, where he works with his dad Glenn, mom Leslie, brother Jason and 16 staff members he calls family.
Viberg, 29, splits his time between working in sales and development for the boot company and as an actor in Vancouver.
One of his recent ventures was to create the Service Boot, a streetwear shoe that honoured the company’s craft, yet penetrated the young fashion market.
“Basically, I wanted to create something that I’d wear.
The styles are slim-fitting in clothes and these go with that,” said Viberg, sporting the boots.
He got the idea for the design by looking to the company’s history, all the way back to some of the first boots his grandfather made for farmers in rural Saskatchewan in the 1930s.
“I pretty much copied the pattern of grandpa’s original leather boot,” he said, picking up one of the oldest boots in the factory.
The ankle boot’s simple pattern is timeless and passable for casual or dress shoes.
Its leather is so stiff and shiny it looks like a brass sculpture, probably weighing as much.
Edwin Viberg might have sold this model for $4.95 in the 1940s.
The current Service Boot retails for $500 to $700, available in a variety of leathers, fabrics and colours, and with decorative perforations.
This fall Viberg collaborated with Four Horsemen men’s boutique in Market Square on a special run of the usually made-to-order boots, these ones made with black buffalo leather.
They’ve also worked with Inventory boutique and magazine in Vancouver.
“It’s not our biggest seller but it goes with everything — except maybe shorts,” Viberg said. “It’s also really versatile.”
Viberg hiking and workboots are also a hit with fashionable outdoorsmen.
They were recently featured in the New York Times style blog, have been approached by Ralph Lauren and Barney’s, and sell out stock at trendy boutiques like Leffot in New York.
The latter sold its entire shipment of hiking boots in one day, at $675 US a pop.
Viberg hopes the current interest in heritage brands is not a trend but a genuine movement to value hand-crafted, locally made items with a rich history — as in Japan.
“It’s amazing in Japan to see how a company is celebrated for its tradition and craft,” he said, citing customers who’ve researched every detail of the shoes they order from the source of the leather to the stitching.
Viberg Boots evolved from utilitarian workwear to the fashion world through its Asian fan base, where platform soles and bright leather are popular, and custom boots retail for around $1,300.
“The first time I went to Japan it opened my eyes to the potential for us and the appreciation of handmade things,” Viberg said, noting the time a bus of Japanese tourists stopped at the shop to give it a blessing.
They’ve also had a few fans come to work for them, like Kyosuke Jumonji, who came to learn the boot-making craft after spotting Viberg Boots in the Japanese fashion magazine Free and Easy.
While the heritage-brand look is in vogue, many North American companies have outsourced manufacturing for financial reasons — which Viberg said can be a killer to local outfits.
“First and foremost, you need to be doing it for the love and passion of the work,” he said.
His priority is keeping the workmanship high and the staff employed, but the company’s future in fashion is “very exciting.”
Special Thanks to Sarah Petrescu
Cheryl C Young, REALTOR
Saanich Peninsula Realty
Sidney B.C www.cherylyoung.ca
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