What is your first memory on Viberg Boots?
First memory would be me maybe during elementary school, grade 7 or so, in the factory watching people work and then getting the job of straightening the ‘Triconi’ side nails for our logging boots. They are from Switzerland, for mountaineering, and they are bent, but in order to apply them on our logger leather stacked heels we had to straighten them out. They came with a film on them, from the foundry I guess that made them, black hands. Hated doing it!
How did Viberg story began?
My grandpa started the business in 1931, during the depression era. My grandpa, Edwin Viberg (photo above), moved to Canada from Sweden in 1907 to Saskatchewan, farm land of Canada. He originally was doing leather harness work for horses and also making leather belting for the machines. Eventually he met someone from England whom he apprenticed with on boot making. My guess is that at the time of the depression, farming died off fast and boot making was sort of a more stable job. So he started Viberg boot.
At the time it was him and 2 other employees. We don’t have much records due to the small size of our company, since at the time he was busy making shoes and not archiving anything. It wasn’t until the late 50s early 60s when the logging boom was in full effect all along the Pacific Northwest that he decided to move out west to follow the work. He had been in a few cities following the work, like a gypsy really, until we landed in Victoria, where we are now and have been since the 70s.
Is there a bootmaking tradition in Victoria?
Victoria. Well, for those who don’t know, it’s on an island and the shoe industry is basically at zero there. Vancouver at one time had a bunch of larger established shoe/boot companies but not in Victoria. It’s more about where they decided to settle down and then my dad became old enough and started to take over the business from my Grandpa.
Viberg boots are regarded as some of the best in the world. What makes you so special ?
I think what sets us apart is that we are small enough to be able to set the bar with quality and that we are always striving to find the best components you can buy. All of our insole / outsole leather comes out of Europe. We are pretty much the only factory, of our kind, that uses all brass nails and tacks in the boot.
We produce an all nailed (brass nail) down boot more for heavy industrial and logging. Then we do stitch down, which the heel seat is nailed down and the vamp is then turn out , glue and stitched to the midsole. Then we use a leather insole and leather counter is 10 iron. Our midsole is 11 iron. So it’s pretty heavy stuff.
We also have just bought good year welting machines, which I will be adding into the mix , most of the lifestyle will be done this way. Same weight leather insole / counter / midsole. But it just allows me to make a more beautifully shaped boot/shoe, and not be stuck in a sort of heritage niche area we are in now.
Viberg has recently expanded into a lifestyle market. How do you keep the quality high and also keep the boot afordable?
I have basically kept the boot internally the same, then changing the last, pattern, upper leather and hardware to allow a more commercial product. But obviously it’s still very niche in regards to the overall market share.
In terms of the costing, it’s something which is tough. We are in a city which the cost of living is super high, so our labor cost is double of what a small town middle America factory would be and then on top if it, since my name is on it, I won’t compromise the quality of leathers at all. We are slowly increasing productions which will eventually lower the production cost. But I put a lot of time into developing new styles, lasts and leathers, so the price point will at some point reflect that, no matter what industry.
Do you consider yourself to be an authentic Canadian bootmaker and how many traditional bootmakers/shoemakers are still in Canada today from your point of view?
We are the only boot company manufacturing the way we do it in Canada. Nailed down. Stitch down. Two others in North American do stitch down. In Canada there aren’t many of us left, I would think 10-12 who are doing large manufacturing, of those maybe 5-6 are goodyear welt, the rest would be Glued / Blake / Injection, something like this.
I would just like to think we are trying to be authentic to the old world quality, which comes at a price point. But, it’s something I hold close to my heart and probably will never change.
To be continued…