In an abandoned factory in the Harz Mountains of Northern Germany, Trippen co-founders Angela Spieth and Michael Oehler happened upon a pile of unused wooden shoe soles from the 1970s.
With extensive design and craftsmanship experience between them, the pair felt inspired to put the soles to good use and started work on their very first shoes.
After what the founders describe as an intense period of experimentation, in 1992, they were ready to present 60 handmade wooden shoes in a Berlin-based art gallery.
Leading design experts and shoe shops were so impressed by Spieth and Oehler’s work that the first of many orders were quick to come through.
A sturdy start
Recognising the strong potential of their new venture, the next step for the designers was to choose a brand name.
They eventually decided on “Trippen”, a term which describes the sturdy wooden undershoes often worn by people in the Middle Ages to protect their footwear — and a nod to the first wooden models that had started it all.
The first Trippen shoes were handmade entirely from wood by a small team of craftspeople in a typical Berlin-style rear courtyard workshop. By 1994, Spieth and Oehler had decided to expand their range and incorporate several sturdy and functional closed-toe leather designs as well.
The following year, the new closed-toe collection was showcased at a French shoe fair, where one of the most prestigious Parisian shoe shops asked to start selling the shoes.
Providing an alternative
Given their newfound international attention, the designers went in search of a production partner that would help them to keep up with increasing demand. The journey led them to Italy, where they found several family-run companies with decades of experience in traditional shoemaking.
“We have been collaborating with a number of small family businesses in Northern Italy since 1994,” says Spieth. “We wanted to provide an alternative to the irresponsible use of resources, disgraceful labour costs and poor working conditions.”
With the exception of Trippen’s own factory, 80 km north of Berlin, all other production still takes place in Northern Italy.
Sustainability and longevity
Since Trippen’s beginnings in the early 1990s, Spieth and Oehler have remained committed to their core belief in sustainability and social responsibility.
“Environmental regulations and ecological production methods are not only taken into consideration, but have a direct influence on our designs,” enthuses Spieth.
Their commitment is clearly reflected in every aspect of the brand’s distinctive designs, such as their sturdy and flexible soles — made using recyclable rubber and attached to the shoe body with intricate stitching instead of artificial solvents.
“The basics in the development of our soles are the shoe’s longevity and a sustainable use of resources,” Oehler explains. “Our soles are mostly sewn — not glued. This reduces the need for solvent-based adhesive during the attachment of the sole.”
The rubber is carefully moulded into a variety of unique sole shapes, including the grooved Boxer Espresso Ankle Boot for Men’s sole, designed to ensure flexibility as well as excellent support of the spine and back, or the concave sole of the Common Slip-On Shoe for Women, conceived to provide optimal shock absorption.
Waremakers co-founder Mary Tungay admits that she has never come across a more comfortable sole: "The unique design of this sole has provided my feet with comfort I have yet to match in the 10 plus years I have been wearing them.”
Aesthetics meet comfort
Another way of ensuring the maximum comfort and longevity of their shoes is by working with premium-quality leather.
The Crusader Black Boot for Women, for example, is made using vegetable-tanned calf leather which has been dyed through to permeate the thickness of the hide and enhance the natural beauty of its grain. Treated with a wax finish and tumbled for softness, the leather will burnish over time and get even softer with use.
Tungay's own Crusader boots have definitely stood the test of time. "I invested in a pair of these roughly 10 years ago," she says. "Every winter it’s like being reunited with an old friend - one that has aged incredibly well and still manages to look modern.”
Trippen also work with thick and robust vegetable-tanned buffalo leather, used, among others, to make their smart Boxer Espresso Ankle Boot for Men. The buffalo leather offers a distinctive natural grain and subtle sheen because of its lightly oiled surface.
The Boxer Espresso boot features an innovative grooved sole designed to ensure not only flexibility, but also excellent support of the spine and back.
Combining functionality and innovation, Trippen’s classic yet distinctly contemporary designs are made to last.
“Over the years, we have developed our own design language which we feel bears no relation to conventional shoe patterns,” says Spieth. “Our durable designs are infused with a timeless elegance.”
It’s a unique combination which has gained the founders critical acclaim and numerous international awards over the years, including the Baden-Württemberg International Design Award for longevity, several Japanese and American Good Design Awards, and the prestigious international Red Dot Award for product design.
“Our silhouettes transcend traditional ways of seeing,” says Oehler. “But despite the delight we take in experimentation, our designs are also invariably based on functional considerations, always resisting the throwaway nature of trends.”