From Isère to Japan: Paraboot, the French working shoe

Paraboot is a brand of artisanal shoes mainly made in Isère and exported worldwide. Rich in its history and in its values, it particularly appealed to the Japanese public. The company’s director of marketing and communications, Pierre Colin, introduced us to Paraboot.

Can you tell our readers the story of the Paraboot brand?

The brand has a long family history of 114 years, beginning in the 19th century. Rémy Richard was a shoemaker, son of farmers, who lived and worked in Isère, where we are today. Isère is a huge basin for making shoes. Thanks to the great presence of water in the region, there are many tanneries. In 1908, Rémy Richard went alone and made leather shoes. After being wounded in World War I, he was sent to fix soldiers ’shoes. At that time, outdoor workers (mountaineers, farmers, soldiers) wore shoes with wooden soles planted with nails to cling to the ground. Rubber shoes from the Aigle company already exist, but there are no leather shoes with rubber soles. In 1922, Rémy Richard launched the Galibier brand, which produced mountaineering shoes for customers around his workshop in Isère, between Chartreuse, Vercors and the Alps.

Former advertisement of the company Richard Pontvert

Rémy Richard was a great traveler, did it influence his outlook on the brand, on the texture of the shoe?

After the war, Rémy Richard traveled to the United States and discovered the American custom of covering the soles of the feet with socks (“ boots ”) On the rubber to protect them. Therefore, Rémy Richard had the idea to create soles directly out of rubber. This natural material originated in the former port of For Brazil, hence the brand name he registered in 1927: Paraboot. What was the first name of the single then became the name of the shoe. His idea was to work with “cramponnage”, i.e., rubber crampons to replace studded soles. This resulted in thick work shoes, which is the DNA of the brand. The company already offers urban shoes with leather soles but work shoes remain its main asset today.

Paraboot workshop in the 20th century
Paraboot Factory in the 20th century

After World War II, Rémy’s son, Julien, took over Richard Pontvert’s company. Instead he has the profile of a merchant and launches the glorious Thirty with intelligence. He is a hunter, a bon vivant, he builds the brand image and makes contacts. The 1950s and 1960s were also periods of great mountain epics, especially in the Himalayas. Explorers like Pierre Alain; René Desmaison or Paul-Emile Victor fitted Galibier shoes. Of course, this has contributed to the company’s success around the world, especially in the United States where mountains are important. By the end of the 1970s, the company had exported much to North America.

At the same time, the Paraboot brand is thriving in the French basin along with people more rooted in work in the city: doctors, veterinarians, people (men and women) who have to walk a lot in their daily lives, with durable and resistant shoes. . Paraboot doesn’t make Dandy shoes.

Paraboot cult model: the Michael
Paraboot cult model: the Michael

Your brand has gone through a dark period, how has Paraboot been able to adapt to the market, to clients?

In fact, the 1980s came and the difficult times of society. The end of the Glorious Thirty, the election of François Mitterrand and eventually Ronald Reagan shook many companies. In 1983 the company filed for bankruptcy, despite having 600 employees at the time. But in 1985, a new phenomenon emerged, originating in Italy: sportswear. A Paraboot model is presented: the Michael, a model created in 1945. The model’s name comes from Julien’s son, Michel, who was born in 1945, at a time when the Americanization of first names was in vogue. Michael is torn in the city, and not just in the countryside. He was wearing a tweed jacket and corduroy pants. Paraboot then enters town.

90-2000 people are times of crisis for thick shoes, the general public is more interested in thin and flashy shoes, Italian style. Paraboot has turned to its traditional clients. But this 80s style is now coming back in 6 or 7 years. This is why Paraboot is in the spotlight again.

Paraboot Repair
Paraboot models require great technicality

What are quilted shoes? What is its certainty?

Worldwide, 90% of shoes sold have glued or welded soles. 7 to 8%, like moccasins, are sewn into one seam, the Blake assembly. Then, the remaining 2-3% of the shoes are under Goodyear stitching or Norwegian stitching. This is the most noble and intricate seam in the shoe industry. Most major shoe brands are made by Goodyear, we are mostly the only maker of Norwegian sew, this is part of our brand image. The advantage is to be able to unstitch the sole of the shoe to replace it, and thus increase the life of the shoe. This is our side sustainable and CSR. It requires 150 manipulations per shoe: it is dignified, authentic and solid.

Paraboot Factory in Isère
Paraboot Factory in Isère

Is it a real pride now to have products made in France?

We actually work in our workshops in Isère, especially shoes that require the Norwegian sewing technique. The lighter shoes in our summer collections are made in Spain, Portugal and Italy, but they only represent 20% of our turnover. The importance of Made in France is great for this family business. We recently invested 10 million euros to create a new factory here in Isère. But we have difficulty recruiting workers, as we also need to train them on site in the Norwegian sewn technique, there is no specific training and many sectors in France have had difficulty recruiting recently.

Paraboot advertisement 1997

Do you have to deal with counterfeiting like other high-end brands are exporting?

We face less counterfeiting than copying. When I joined Paraboot in 1998, Michael was said to be the most copied model in the world. Even today, many brands are taking it: small brands but also big names in luxury. This is both glorious and annoying because the shoe industry has no filing for patents.

What are your strategies for exporting your crafts around the world?

We have been exporting for a long time. First the North American market then from the 1970s along with Japan. The European market, and especially Italy, has been very important to us since the 1980s. We also work with the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.

Paraboot Store in Tokyo
Paraboot shop in Tokyo

How would you explain your success in Japan and South Korea?

We have a very strong relationship with the Japanese market, established over decades, in human relations above all, in friendship with our Japanese partner. The Japanese are interested in Made in Europe, the authenticity of products, the quality of raw materials. They also love the good stories we have, and we tell them. We have earned, together with our partner, the loyalty of Japanese customers thanks to long -term work that now allows us to stand out in Japan with the biggest luxury brands. Last week we opened a store in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district, opposite the Hermès store. We have a luxury brand image in Japan, whereas in France we maintain this image of tradition, of terroir. We work, specifically in Japan and South Korea, on partnerships between brands, which are very popular with these audiences. We were already doing this in the 1980s with Yves Saint Laurent or Yamamoto. We opened our first store in Seoul five years ago.

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