Devich Wooden-sole Shoe Manufacturing

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When Daniel Devich followed in his father’s footsteps and took on his family’s business in 2014, he was the fourth generation of Devichs to do so. Supported by his two sisters, he now runs the business that his great-grandfather Alois Devich started in 1922 in a workshop in Bezau, manufacturing wooden-soled shoes — or Hölzler, as they are called in local dialect. In rural regions, this type of shoes emerged as a result of what was needed, what was available and what has stood the test of time. In contrast to Dutch clogs, wood is used for the soles only in the Bregenzerwald, while uppers are made of leather. Wood, leather and fur are common materials in the region, the production is tried and tested and the shoes are highly suitable for everyday use. Still, the soles are constantly being refined in terms of footbed, fit and elasticity. And today, wooden-soled shoes are no longer just the footwear of peasants. They have emerged from their traditional agricultural context and entered the realms of urban life. The young generation of Devichs, well trained and with an entrepreneurial mindset, embrace innovation just as much as tradition. Both production and marketing make use of a pragmatic combination of analogue and digital tools. The range of products includes classic Hölzler and wooden-soled boots and sandals in all forms and sizes. In-store marketing relies on the expertise of the shop assistants, whereas online marketing opens up international networks and markets.

In 2016, after the completion the company’s new premises, business was moved from Bezau to Hittisau. The workforce of twelve employees keeps the company flexible and at a manageable size. After going through a particular combination of fully automated and handcrafted workflows typical for manufactories of this kind, around 20.000 pairs of wooden-soled shoes leave serial production in the 1.400 m² factory (including a raw material warehouse) every year. A team and solution-oriented attitude and the ability to react flexibly to feedback from clients and employees are special qualities of this company. Each member of the Devich team goes through a comprehensive training process so that everyone can fill in for everyone at any time. There is, however, no possibility to train apprentices in this craft that is counted among the free trades. Wood is the core of the business, and fully automated production the vision.

The production of a pair of Hölzler starts with a square-cut block of wood. The traditional material used is maple wood or, alternatively, poplar wood, which is lighter and quick to grow back. The wooden part, which is slightly raised in the heel area, is shaped by milling and grinding in the production line, supported by CNC machines and robots. Casting technology ensures that wood and sole are firmly connected. In former times, the sole was simply glued on.
In the production of the shoe base, the work steps are automated, whereas the covering of the upper with leather and fur is done with manually controlled tools and machines: punching the skins, sewing and riveting, attaching buckles, clamps and straps. In the selection of the fur pattern that is offered by nature, the puncher becomes a designer — and each shoe a unique specimen. When it comes to further development of the shoe’s form, there has been no collaboration with designers so far.

Hölzler (classic wooden soled-shoe). 20.000 pairs of wooden-soled shoes leave serial production every year. The sensual, handcrafted quality of a wooden shoe lies in the detail, in the direct contact of foot and shoe — a most pleasurable sensation thanks to the leather cover’s soft fur lining and the finely sanded foot bed. Clearly, a bright future lies ahead of the wooden shoe business and its young owner. His entrepreneurial vision: fully automated production.