nd the subtitle for this post should be: What I Did on My Memorial Day Vacation. Last month I featured a different Sven Clog style each day. And then as May ended, I launched the actual 30 Days of Sven Giveaway (see the graphic at the top of the blog). And somewhere in there, my partner in footwear fanaticism, Melissa K., joined me on a road trip to visit the Sven Clogs factory. Yes, it was a kid in a candy shop experience. But along with all that, I also had a chance to sit down with the owner and visionary behind Sven Clogs, Marie Rivers, and talk to her about the shoes that make our world go around. And not just her own line, but also the wood soled shoes she manufactures for other designers. It was a lively conversation frequently punctuated by her ready laugh. I left in awe of the things she has already accomplished with her company...and the things she is about to make happen. Ms. Rivers is clearly in her zone, an artist reveling in what she's able to create, driven not by the need to achieve, but the joy of doing the work.
ECHID: Why the clog business? Out of all the things you could have done, how did you end up…not just getting into it, but staying in it?
Marie: Well, when I was young my sewer broke. And I needed a job. And I loved to sew. And when the clog factory came to town, and I knew that they needed sewers so I went there and got a job and fell in love with it. And that's how I ended up there.
ECHID: Are you saying one clog led to another?
Marie: (laughs) Yes! I followed in their footsteps.
ECHID: But obviously you have a passion for footwear.
ECHID: Why is that?
Marie: I don't know. Well, I love to sew. I've always loved to sew. And when I first started, I was probably the best seamstress there. And then Sven [the original owner] was working with samples all the time so we started working together that way. But I just loved it. It got in my soul right away, and I never got tired of it. And it's been 34 years and I'm still not tired of it!
ECHID: Is it the sewing? Or is it….
Marie: It's the creating. The creating. When I can have the time to sit and design, I just love it. It's just neat. It comes out like…(cradles imaginary new shoe in her arms)…you have a beautiful baby! And my husband's like: "You're insane!" But I love it.
ECHID: Why don't you design more? 'Cause you've got ideas….
Marie: Why don't I design more? (pants as if exhausted)
ECHID: Just trying to keep up with demand?
Marie: It's gone from…in 2009 we did 11,000 pair of clogs. In 2012 we did 26,000 pair of clogs. Do you know how hard it is to train in people and grow at that rate? It's insane! Just insane. It's just something going faster and faster and faster.
ECHID: In the time you've been in business, how have you seen the use of clogs evolve?
Marie: When we first started in the '70s, it was more just the fad. And then the fad kind of went away. And you always have your diehard clog wearers. And then the nursing industry became huge for us. Just huge.
What killed the clogs the first time is that a lot of Swedes were out of work and the Swedish government bought a clog factory, Troll Clogs, and put these people to work constantly. And they were dumping clogs over here for like $8.00 a pair when the bases cost us more than that. And they were beautiful clogs. So that really knocked us down.
And then the Danskos came along, and that knocked us down.
And then the Crocs came along, and that knocked us down.
But…those are all plastic. So now when clogs had a resurgence in 2008, 2009, there were like zero clog makers left. There might be 5 or 10 in Sweden and a few here or there. But this huge demand for wooden clogs came, but there's only a handful of people that make wooden bottoms. So since we were such good customers, when I buy from the company in Austria [that manufactures our wooden bottoms], they don't make for anybody else because we've been keeping them so busy, plus they make their own shoes there, and then the people in Sweden. It used to be, you know, three weeks they could turn around [an order], now it's three or four months. So you have to anticipate what you're going to buy. And all these other designers over here that would order 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, or 100,000 pair of shoes,…they can't get wood because there's nobody making wooden clog bottoms. And it costs so much to get a factory going, that there's not someone that's going to jump into it and jump out when the fad goes. Because it's a couple millions dollars just to get machines to do the work.
Marie: Well, it could. I think at Dansko they've got an incredible marketing department. And for some people Danskos are great shoes, obviously, because they sell thousands and thousands of pairs. But the thing between their soles and ours is that the wood absorbs moisture from your feet. And it keeps your feet from burning. So a lot of these people who ran to Dansko because they are more widely advertised, are finding now that they don't feel as good as their wooden [clogs] so they're coming back.
And the fashion industry is incredible for us right now. It's just going wild. Did Lisa show you those up there? (indicates a new Loeffler Randall sandal clog that Sven Clogs has just manufactured)
ECHID: The Loeffler Randall platform sandal clog? Yes! I was just coveting them a moment ago.
I think you have amazing design ideas, and as a fellow creative person I want to encourage you, "Please! Please! Be creative! Find a way to give yourself one day a week to just sit and play with leather."
Marie: But I don't have one day for anything. I haven't had a weekend off, I think, in three years. It's just solid go, go, go, go, GO!
ECHID: What did you think when Karl Lagerfeld introduced clogs in his Chanel line a few years back and the demand for clog exploded?
Marie: I didn't know much about that. I just had my nose to the grindstone here.
ECHID: Really? Did you just suddenly notice there were a lot more orders?
Marie: My No. 6 people (Ed. note: Sven Clogs manufactures the No. 6 line, too), they're the ones that really are going faster and faster with it. I don't we even realized how big they were until one day we started seeing things all over in magazines, and I looked at Lucy [my accountant] and said, (sounding stunned) "I think this is bigger than we know!" (laughs) But we've been just trying to keep up. I don't stick my head outside for very long. I try to get home by 10:30 at night.
ECHID: 10:30!!! (gasps in disbelief)
Marie: Well, you say give myself a day. I'd be happy with a night! (laughs)
(to be continued)
Marie...and Dakota, too!
[On my feet as I blog: "Da-da, da-da, da-da, da. Bateman! Da-da, da-da, da-da, da. Bateman!" Yes, I'm running around in my Bateman wood soled booties from Madison Harding. They're a sure fire way to make standing in line for a burrito at Chipotle so much more enjoyable!]