Solovair: Heritage, Craftsmanship, and a Whole Lot of Style

Solovair: Heritage, Craftsmanship, and a Whole Lot of Style

The term “classic” is thrown around a lot these days in the fashion world, so much so that it’s worth asking what exactly constitutes a classic. Is it a long history? Pop culture influence? Or simply mass style appeal? Whichever criteria you choose, Solovair footwear is inarguably it.

From 1960 to 1995, Solovair was the manufacturer behind Dr. Martens, as Docs became the go-to footwear for countercultures around the world. From mods, rude boys, and first-wave skinheads in the 60’s, to punks and goths in the 70’s and 80’s, all the way up to grunge in the 90’s, Docs were an irreplaceable part of the rebel uniform. While the initial appeal was their chunky, take-no-shit look, Dr. Martens retained legions of loyal fans because of their quality. That supreme durability was thanks to Solovair’s manufacturing.

Today, Solovair produces high quality shoes and boots using the same lasts and machinery that were used to make the original Docs in 1960. The DNA of the original Dr. Martens is clearly seen in the 3 Eye Gibson model: a sturdy derby upper with a rounded toe, Goodyear welted to a thick air-cushioned sole. The main difference between these and the original Doc Martens is the grey stitching instead of yellow, which gives these shoes a more understated look. This detail makes the Gibson super versatile, allowing them to be easily dressed up while their chunkiness keeps them from looking stuffy.

All Solovair shoes are Goodyear-welted, a 150-year-old technique for attaching the outsole to the upper which makes for a very durable, water-resistant, resoleable shoe. Another old school feature of Solovair shoes is that they have a wooden shank between the insole and outsole. A shank is a stiff structure that bridges the gap between the heel and ball of the sole, providing support to the arch of your foot. This prevents the sole from bowing after extensive wear and makes the shoes much more comfortable. Shanks are typically found in expensive dress shoes and work boots, but Solovair has included it in their basic models.

This kind of attention to craftsmanship can be attributed to the fact that the company behind Solovair, NPS, has been around since 1881. NPS (short for Northamptonshire Productive Society) was initially formed as a co-op between five bootmakers who wanted to stabilize their employment. To that point, bootmaking in Northamptonshire had been a cottage industry, but the industrial development of the nineteenth century was threatening this ancient profession. By bringing together the best craftspeople in the area NPS succeeded in protecting their jobs, and business grew steadily for the next twenty years. In 1899 the co-op moved into a larger purpose-built factory, and every pair of NPS shoes made since has come from that same factory. In 1960, NPS was approached by R. Griggs Group Ltd., another Northamptonshire shoemaker, to manufacture Dr. Martens. R. Griggs Group had recently bought the patent from Dr. Märtens himself but lacked the technology to manufacture the air-cushioned soles. For the next 35 years, NPS produced Docs under the title “Dr. Martens by Solovair” (sole-of-air, get it?). After 1995, Dr. Martens and Solovair parted ways and NPS trademarked the Solovair name, under which they continue to manufacture the same shoes using their famous Soft Sole Suspension technology.

In the fall of 2019, Solovair got a reintroduction to the North American market by releasing a multicoloured Gibson shoe in collaboration with New York kings-of-cool NOAH (check them out if you haven’t seen them, they are beautiful). Since then, NOAH has become the exclusive retailer of Solovair in New York City. We think NOAH is on the right track, and we’re proud to introduce Solovair to the shop for SS20. Along with the classic Gibson lace-ups, we’re excited to offer the Tassel Loafer, Single Buckle Monk Shoe, Burgundy Monkey Shoe, and for those who want some real shit-kickers, the 6 Eye Astronaut Boot. The Single Buckle Monk Shoe in particular is a favourite around these parts. The monk strap visually elongates the vamp, making for an especially elegant shoe that doesn’t have an ounce of stuffiness, thanks to that chunky outsole. All of these models occupy the perfect middle ground between punk and dressy, and Solovair’s 140 years of shoemaking expertise is apparent in the quality. Every pair is still made in the original factory in England, and we think that dollar-for-dollar they might be the best value on the market.