Zonkeys, the animals, are crossbreeds between wildly beautiful zebras and hardwearing donkeys. They are rare, because nature doesn’t create them without human intervention.
Zonkey Boot was founded in 2010, by the couple Alexandra Diaconu and Michael Rollig, and has its headquarters in their hometown, Vienna, Austria. Their first collection for Spring-Summer 2011 was launched in June 2010.
As a high-end men’s shoe brand, Zonkey Boot does not aim for luxury, but for the highest achievable qualities in craft, skills, engineering, materials and design. Having its roots as much in big scale shoemaking as in the artisan tradition, Zonkey Boot found its matching production partner in the Veneto region of northern Italy.
We share with the Veneti their enthusiasm for everything new and beautiful and at the same time their deep appreciation for traditions in craft and lifestyle.
As Viennese, we sport a sense for relaxed understatement and the simple but good things in life and we believe that Zonkey Boot’s understated style can easily be recognised anywhere and by anyone who pays attention to beauty and quality.
Making of Zonkey Boot
THE CRAFTSMANSHIP AND THE DESIGN
Zonkey Boot shows a minimum of decoration and the maximum of shape and form. The utmost attention is paid to the lasts and materials. The recipe may seem simple but, nevertheless, these ingredients need expert craftsmanship to give an outstanding shoe.
Mainly high–tech shoes from synthetic materials can be designed by computers and made by robots. We still use a pencil to draw the model on the last. Our artisan products need skilled craftsmen to accomplish hundreds of single operations to finalise a pair.
Many of these steps are done with simple hand tools, like the clicking, the hand sewing of the welt or the lasting of the moccasins. Other operations are executed with heavy and sometimes dangerous mechanical machines; but it is always the guiding hand of a skilled person, which guarantees the perfect result.
The Zonkey Boot shoes are passing through the hands of more than 60 workers. Some of them are with the industry for 40 years by now. Others are younger. Their experience combined adds up to quite a few hundreds of years of shoemaking. This is what we consider our heritage.
HAND SEWN UPPERS
Sewing entire uppers by hand has not been seen in the industry for decades. We proudly reintroduced this applied art and additionally implement an unusual two-tone stitch, which we called TWIST (a Registered Community Design by Zonkey Boot).
The basic technique is similar to the welt stitching. Stitch by stitch the upper is pricked with an awl and a linen thread is sewn into the hole with two needles from each side. Depending on the model two to three hours are needed to complete an upper.
Hand-welted Goodyear is a commonly used term but actually incorrect. Goodyear implicates the use of a Goodyear welt-stitching machine. We prefer to have our welts hand stitched, because it enhances rigorously the flexibility of the shoe compared to machine welted Goodyear shoes.
Hand welting is amongst the most difficult hand sewing operations in the leather manufacturing trade. Besides its trickiness, the process is time consuming. There are about 160 stitches to be made on a pair and it takes roughly 40 minutes to do them. The same operation done with a welt-stitching machine takes rather less than a minute for a pair! Hence, while a craftsman stitches one pair, the machine worker makes 40 pairs.
The strap or welt is sewn at the edge of the running surface of the lasted shoe, which at that point looks like a shoe without sole and its technical purpose is to fix the upper to the insole and at the same time to provide a flat band around the shoe for the actual sole to be stitched on. So upper, insole and welt are stitched together with one seam.
The Norwegian stitching is a close relative to the hand welting. Instead of sewing a welt to the insole and upper only the upper is stitched to the insole with a braided stitch (Italian: Norvegese intrecciato). Later on, the sole is stitched to an excess overlap of the upper leather, which has been folded outwards.
Though Zonkey Boot might be a young company, our lasts have ancestors, which go back to the early ‘90s of the last century when Michael Rollig launched his own bespoke line.
His main last was a crossbreed between a probably American last named Vulcano (found at the Paris flea market) which showed extraordinary orthopaedic features and a beautiful Italian mother which was fashioned out of wood and polyester lute under the supervision of the last maker who we work with to date.
Thousands of shoes have been made on this early ancestor’s descendants. The toe boxes might have changed, the heels might have become a little higher or lower, but the metatarsal structure is still there, in what we call now the High Street, the Sailor, the Classic or the Traveller last, etc.
MOCCASINS SEWN BY HAND ON THE LAST
A moccasin is made, by definition, from two pieces of upper leather. One is wrapped from under the sole up to the up side of the last, and the second one, called apron is sewn to the edges of the under part.
Presently, the vast majority of moccasins on the market are slip-lasted. Which means that the last is pushed into a pre-sewn upper like a hand would be pushed into a glove. Accordingly to gloves, slip-lasted moccasins tend to loose their shape faster than the hand lasted ones.
And this is what we do with our hand-sewn moccasins. The under part of the upper is pulled up bit-by-bit with a pincer and temporarily fixed with pegs where later the apron part is stitched in by hand. This hand lasting allows to pull out all pleads before stitching on the apron. Skilled craftsmen need about one and a half hours to last and stitch a pair. This type of moccasin will keep its shape and fit for a long time.
HAND STAINING AND DRESSING LEATHERS
Most so-called hand-dyed shoes are actually stained when they are already made up. The tannery pre-dyes the upper leather and only some waxy colour effects are applied on top with a sponge.
We are applying a transparent aniline dye on the cut upper leather pieces before they are sewn together. This high fluid dye deeply penetrates the grain and generates a particular transparent appearance when sealed and burnished with shoe wax only.
In the tanning process, dressing follows dyeing. So it was a natural step forward for us to start dyeing entire skins and dress them by ourselves. Basically this means that waxes, fat and oils are applied to the half made up leathers and manually worked deep into the skin’s fibre structure. Other leathers which come over compacted from the tanneries need to be de-greased and softened by rinsing in hot water and churning by hand.
Dressing leathers is pretty much like cooking. A good source for the ingredients is crucial, the rest is up to the chef’s mood.
We use shoe wax from a tin, water —no Champagne— and a cotton frazzle. Furthermore the finisher is equipped with an old knitting needle to clean the perforation and a small brush to get the wax into the gap between sole und upper.
It takes an hour for a pair to achieve a high gloss, which lets you look through the surface of the leather deep into the shades of aniline dyed heaven.