By Galina Trofimenko
Each company aims to create a trademark which is both recognisable and prestigious. Think of ‘Belarus’ tractors, vehicles from MAZ and BelAZ, and ‘Milavitsa’ lingerie. Soon, felt boots made in Smilovichi (Minsk region’s Cherven district) are to join the list of well-known domestic goods.
The financial-economic crisis of 2009 was the third of its kind for the Smilovichi Felting Factory’s Director, Vasily Saban. However, each time, his unique company has recovered from its challenging situation. Mr. Saban, 55, has not only survived these times of trouble but has discovered a solution for ‘his’ factory. Having worked there for 38 years, we can admit that he is justified in claiming it for his own. The crisis of the early 1990s partially changed the focus of his company, with alternative jobs created via diversification into furniture making. Meanwhile, the company modernised its felt boot production, with the range of wool-made products expanded, increasing supplies to the domestic market. The same, time-tested method was applied in 2009.
“This branch may be one of the oldest but it has embraced progress,” says Mr. Saban, looking at black-and-white photos from the 1950-1960s. These depict cumbersome felt boots with rubber soles, being made in dilapidated wooden factory buildings. “In 1928 (the year of the factory’s establishment), Smilovichi staff made just 8-10 pairs of felt boots daily; the figure is ten times larger now. Over eight decades, the quality has also improved. Our modern felt boots are lighter, boasting coloured fur trimmings, fluorescent bands and applique detailing. Our felt boots for children have light, transparent rubber soles, while those for adults have ridged polyurethane soles (instead of the previous black-coloured slippery rubber soles). We’re now working on making women’s felt boots more attractive and fashionable, without giving them high heels! Jointly with a Belarusian shoe factory, we’re developing a new boot-tree.”
Felt boots have been worn for over two centuries but still enjoy popularity with villagers, builders, the military, steel workers and ice fishermen. In recent years, felt boots have even gained iconic status, being bought in Russia, the Baltic States, Ukraine and Finland; Smilovichi-made footwear is worn with pleasure. In Soviet times, about three dozen enterprises produced felt boots.
…I went to Smilovichi to buy felt boots for my sister but ended up buying some for myself and my family. They’re beautiful and warm and environmentally friendly, being produced from sheep’s wool, without additives or synthetic glue. Anyone wearing Smilovichi-made felt boots must surely feel warm; their footwear has been made with love and retains the warmth of their makers’ hands.