Depending on your age you probably know the brand “Nokia” as either a producer of indestructible mobile phones or of the meme about indestructible mobile phones. But who knew that the origins of the company go back over 120 years with the establishment of the Finnish Rubber Works which started producing their iconic rubber rain boots, the Kontio, from 1973 onwards? The boot became an instant hit in Finland as it combined excellent quality with modern design features like a tightening strap and a reflective band near the top of the boot. The total number of boots sold exceeds 4 million units by now which is a tremendous feature.
The Kontio rainboot was made for men with its rigid and manly shape and a variety of it was even adopted in the Finnish military (see picture below), and later the Swedish army, as standard equipment.
As no special boots were designed for women the rubber boots were worn by both male and female consumers. Even today the Nokian Kontio is only available in one model for both men and women, with the brighter colors available in sizes 34 to 42 while the black model is available up to size 50 as the only differentiating factor between the male and female version.
In 1990 the Nokia brand diversified its portfolio of unrelated companies and focused solely on telecommunications. The rubber boots production was put in a newly formed company: Nokian Footwear Ltd – Nokia with an –n added. Nokian Footwear can be translated as “Footwear from Nokia” making it an easily explainable name choice.
Like so many European producers of hand-made goods the labor costs were making the products too expensive and the manufacturing was moved to lower-wage countries in 2002. The high-skills jobs, like advertisement, design, and social media, stayed in Finland but the actual production is taking place in mostly Serbia and Slovakia. This story is very similar to Hunter boots who started moving its production to low-wage countries not long after Nokian, and the problems that have arisen since are also very similar. While the pre-2002 produced Kontio rubber boots seem to be almost as indestructible as Nokia mobile phones, the boots produced outside of Finland last much shorter and are prone to cracking after moderate use. It is hard to give a balanced opinion on the quality of the most current models of Nokian boots because the brand is much less popular as Hunter and therefore less information is available online. Plus, with the brand mostly being sold in Finland, the majority of reviews will be in Finnish.
Going through the social media profiles of the brand and their webpage it quickly becomes clear the main focus is still on rubber rain boots with the iconic Kontio rubber boots being more the exception than the rule with its serious and manly looks. A large part of the available range of rainboots is brightly colored and has a playful design that would mostly popular with women and kids.
These boots are supposed to stand out, meaning they work best if you make them the one factor standing out in your outfit. Think of having a relatively boring outfit, preferable with some tight fitting pants, and wearing a pair of these bright colored rainboots to turn your complete outfit around. In this case you should not hold back with the selection of the color of boots you pick: the more they stand out the better it works.
Very similar to what Hunter boots is doing, also Nokian Footwear is going a step further with creating raingear and related products besides just boots. They currently have a range of “Hai” products with boots, poncho’s, bags, and umbrella’s in the same colors and with similar designs which you can combine in one matching outfit. While I do like the idea and overall design, I don’t think it will work well for me as products in the range are all made of different materials: rubber boots, a polyester rain cape and probably a PU-coated backpack. If a similar material was used for all items it would work much better already (a rubber rain poncho would be a striking choice).
I have to admit that the brand was unknown to me until a reader of this blog pointed it out to me. While the Kontio boot would be the obvious choice for this brand given its history and significance, the boot does not really speak to me for as far as I can make any judgement based on mostly pictures. The overall shape is a bit too manly for me, especially compared to other brands of rubber rainboots like Hunter or Rockfish. I do have to admit that I like the lower type of rainboots, the Aava, Hai, and Reef boots, although I am not sure if I would prefer them over the Mouline rainboots from Aigle which have a very similar design. My general preference is still for taller rainboots making this brand less interesting for me at this moment. But I can imagine this is partly motivated by a lack of history I have personally with the brand. People who grew up in Finland, and have had these boots since their youth, would be much more inclined to prefer them over any other brand.
Picture below from the now defunct website www.123rubberboots.com
I am curious to hear your opinion on the Nokian brand, is this a brand that interests you and if so, why? In case you have more insights on the quality of their products please let me know also. For requests on discussing other brands, products, or raingear related material you can always contact me.