Trippen – Shoes for Individualists

The model 'Mug' from the Cup Collection

The model 'Yen' from the Closed Collection

The model 'Mars' from the Closed Collection

Unusual shoes have an unusual success story. The Berlin shoe label “Trippen” has been conquering the streets from Tokyo to Reykjavik and New York for more than ten years now. The exclusive shoes are on sale in 35 countries. 80 per cent of the 120,000 pairs the company produces each year are for export. Many go to Japan, where there are four "Trippen" single label stores. It is here in particular that the unusual design and the fine, natural materials are very trendy.

But nowadays, these designer shoes are no longer only in demand among fashion designers and artists. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to own a pair.

When Trippen designers Angela Spieth and Michael Oehler met in Berlin for the first time, they found something to discuss right away: shoes. But different shoes, better shoes. Both of them were already experienced. Oehler, the trained master shoemaker, is a genuine craftsman.

After becoming a master craftsman, he made unique items in his workshop in a Kreuzberg backyard. His customers were theatre and film people as well as exacting individual customers. He specialised in an anatomical fit, non-toxic materials and perfect craftsmanship. Spieth, who trained to become a clothes designer, designed the models for a medium-sized shoe factory in the Odenwald region. She also knew about sales, factories and production. Together, they were now seeking a path between the mass market and a backyard. Cheap shoes and workers exploited somewhere in Asia were a nightmare. But lovingly-made, environmentally friendly hand-made items could not be mass produced. Or could they?

The model 'Shade' from the Cup Collection

The child’s shoe 'Dragon'

The 'Moskau' wooden shoe from the 'Modern Wood' Collection

The 'Hutu' wooden shoe from the 'Modern Wood' Collection

Small works of art
In 1991, they discovered unused wooden soles in an old factory in the Harz mountains. After weeks of experimentation, they presented two dozen wooden shoes that amazed the sector’s experts. All of them were hand-made. They then exhibited their small works of art in a Berlin gallery. That was how the Trippen company began. They borrowed the name from the Middle Ages, when "Trippen" were the bulky, wooden undershoes people placed under their shoes when they wanted to cross muddy roads.

The next years were years of new departures, with a great deal of work and repeated setbacks. Yet they persisted, spurred on by the belief that they were doing the right thing and by their enjoyment in doing it. They were convinced that the dream of good, beautifully-crafted and ecologically sensible shoes had to be feasible. The breakthrough finally came at the shoe fair in Paris in spring 1995. One of the most prestigious Paris shoe shops included Trippen in its selection. Everything happened very quickly from then on. The first shop of their own in Berlin was followed by more in Tokyo and London. Today, the label sells 120,000 pairs of shoes each year and has a turnover of nearly ten million euro.

The model 'Charm' from the Cup Collection

The model 'Mehmet' from the Penna Collection

The model 'Haferl' from the Closed Collection

The model 'Warrior' from the Closed Collection

Craftsmanship and continuity
And that in spite of the fact that the German shoe industry is a sector in severe decline. Only eight per cent of the 351 million pairs of shoes that cross the shop counter each year are made in Germany. Trippen produces its shoes at a factory in Zehdenick, Brandenburg. It is a former shoe Kombinat. Oehler and Spieth put machines back up and put people back into work.

Many who had learned by working their way up from the bottom during the GDR era lost their jobs after reunification. 50 people work here today, most of them women. They are skilled. They know what they are doing. They know how to stamp out pieces of leather and sew seams accurately.
Two of Trippen’s nine collections are made in Italy. More than 100 people work for Trippen in a number of small villages. Most of them work in small groups and many of them are senior citizens. Many work from home with a small sewing machine in their living room. Of course, that is more expensive than having the shoes produced in Asia. The shoe company pays its workers just under ten euro per hour. In China, seamstresses only receive a fraction of that amount, but transferring production would contradict everything the label stands for.

The model 'Sparta' from the Closed Collection

The model 'Tint' from the Cup Collection

The 'Tango' wooden shoe from the 'Modern Wood' Collection

Trippen makes shoes for shoe lovers and individualists. New cuts, unusual silhouettes. The models are not replaced or reworked every season. "Anything that is only worn for one season is off-limits to us," says Angela Spieth. Many shoes remain in the collection and gradually develop to become classics and favourite shoes. Wooden shoes with high heels, leather shoes resembling moccasins that are put on like socks, boots. All in unusual colours and shapes, sometimes playful, sometimes bulky, never simple, but always incredibly comfortable. No less a person than Issey Miyake’s designer Naoki Takizawa is full of praise for the German shoes: there is a balance between their form and function, she says enthusiastically, they have a playful touch, and what is more, they are as comfortable as sneakers.

Nora von Westphalen
is an editor at the fashion magazine ELLE.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!
August 2007
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