Some people are able to trace back the origins of their interest in rainwear to a specific moment or piece of gear. And while a few are lucky and fell in love with raingear that is not only long-lasting but possibly still available today, many are not that lucky and might be holding on to a limited number of vintage items that are slowly deteriorating or worse, they only have the memories left of the last time they could experience their favorite gear. One of the few exceptions might be the Mackintosh raincoat, as there are still some shops with artists around that produce high-quality products the traditional way.
The longing for these specific items, and all the pleasant feelings associated with experiencing that gear, leads to regular recurring discussions within the online rainwear community. This often goes together with the wish of a manufacturer deciding to reintroduce some of that specific raingear they stopped producing decades ago, stumbling upon a cache of their favorite gear in perfect condition somewhere, or finding a supplier in a far-away country that can make perfect copies with the exact same properties as the original gear. Below some “new-old stock” of Kaufman Black Diamond rubber rainwear from Canada, how exciting would it be if this would be available on the market again today?
In most cases these discussions are fairly innocent with people sharing how much they would like their favorite gear to become popular (again). But every now and then a more nefarious post appears where someone claims to be able to deliver perfect recreations made somewhere in Asia; they only need to get a sample item from one of the community members so it can be copied, or people can already place orders for different sizes and colors together with a small down payment. These projects almost always end the same way with the poster suddenly disappearing and leaving the rest of the community behind with dreams shattered and/or less money.
There is a very noticeable exception to this story and that is Martin from Switzerland who recently created “Vintage Wellies”. Like so many others he regularly wore rubber boots while growing up and quickly figured out his interest for the then plentiful available rubber work boots. Unfortunately many of the manufacturers from that time stopped producing their iconic wellies or changed the materials, design, and production place in such a way that the more modern wellies were as good as uncomparable to the vintage models. His plan would be simple: find a manufacturer of rubber boots that is willing and able to produce small batches of boots that would closely resemble some of the more famous wellies from decades ago, enjoy them yourself, and start selling them online. Below a picture of an original pair of Bullseye Silver King rubber wellies in the middle that were the inspiration for the Black King wellies, in regular and extra tall size, on either side.
The whole process from first idea to having a pair of custom boots in his hands took almost 2 years. Maybe the hardest part was to find a workshop with craftsmen that could custom make rubber boots in small batches, as most rubber boots are nowadays produced in large factories in China that would require large minimum orders before they would even consider creating something unique on demand. Next a long period of back and forth followed with designs, specifications, and small changes that were needed to come to an end result that would closely resemble the vintage wellies the design was based on.
All boots currently available are inspired by different brands and types of vintage wellies. Where there is a clear break from the original wellies is in the height of the “xtra tall” wellies. The standard height boots are what you would expect from a pair of wellington boots: they stop below the knee with an inside height of 40 centimeters. The xtra tall version has an additional 6 centimeters added at the top, which means more protection, more boot, and a lot more to experience.
It is important to notice that the taller version of the boots has an increased circumference at the top, which is due to the fact these boots are produced on the same last as the waders. You could say the taller boots are not an extended version of regular wellington boots, but a shortened version of waders. And since upper legs are much larger than calves, the width of the boots steadily inclines to be able to be worn around the upper legs. This is something that is impossible to change due to the production process of rubber boots. The only solution would be to order new lasts specifically for the taller wellies, something that would be time consuming and expensive. Pictured above the production process where the aluminium last is being covered by sheets of rubber. In this picture the soles still need to be glued on. And below a picture of Martin wearing a pair of xtra tall wellies. The extra space around the top of the boots will result in the top of the boot flapping around more with every step, something some people hate while others absolutely love that in rubber wellies.
The final step in the production process is vulcanizing the rubber. This is a treatment with sulfur and heat which changes the properties of the rubber making them more durable and resistant to warmth and cold. Dozens of boots are stuck on a rack and rolled into the large oven which is all done on-premises of the workshop, as shown below.
Prices of the available wellies are comparable with higher-end brands, and range from 159 euros to 199 euros for wellington boots and 229 euros to 239 euros for waders. These prices seem rather steep, especially when keeping in mind that the inspiration for these boots were typical work boots and not high-end fashion creations. The main reason for the price point is simple: these boots are hand-made in small batches. On a regular basis orders are collected and put through to the manufacturer in Argentina who will then make the requested models in the requested size. That will mean a processing time of 4 to 8 weeks before you can expect to receive your boots at home. So far two large orders have been placed already, with the first in January of 2022, for 80 rubber boots in total. While 80 pairs of boots sold is a great accomplishment already, it certainly does not mean this project is a goldmine for Martin. The initial costs to get the first boots created and the high costs per pair to produce new boots means he still has to go a long way before covering all costs and investments. But as mentioned at the start of this article, at least he is one of the few who has been actually able to produce his own vintage-inspired boots and start selling them to other interested people.
For total disclosure, I have not bought any boots from Vintage Wellies (yet), and I am not getting paid to write about the company. I did have contact with Martin though, as the recreation of vintage rainwear is something I think is tremendously interesting. And while I am not really his target audience, as none of the original wellies he based his design on are known by me, I do have to admit that a pair of black rubber boots with a strong rubber smell sound interesting. In case you are interested in purchasing a pair you can visit the Vintage Wellies website. More pictures and information can also be found on the Facebook page of Vintage Wellies.