I love these shoes.
As a child in South Africa, everyone wore veldskoens. The name is derived from the Afrikaans words for skin or hide (“vel”) and shoe (“skoen”). The Afrikaans word “veld” or field may also be part of the name.
Anyway, these are the quintessential southern African shoe, worn throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia by everyone from the poorest migrant workers to the richest doctors and lawyers.
They are analagous to the famous western cowboy boot- footwear that was tough, comfortable and able to handle the rigors of every day use.
A few months ago I approached a man in town who used to make these in Zimbabwe. He now owns a custom boot shop here in Abilene, and since he had the know-how and the materials, I wanted to see what he’d charge to make up a pair before I leave town. He quoted me a price, and then asked if I knew anything about websites. I told him I did, and we did some old-fashioned bartering — a website for his shop in exchange for a pair of vellies.
But, these aren’t just any veldskoens. These are definitely made from the traditional South African pattern (Al said he could make these in his sleep), but the “vel” is from a real West Texas wild boar. Al made severa measurements of my feet before he made the shoes. When I put them on today, for the first time, they fit like a glove. The leather is already soft and supple, and will only get softer over time. It’s also thick, and Al said these could last a decade. The Vibram sole is designed to last for years, too, and these shoes can definitely be re-soled.
These are also special to me because the last pair of custom-made shoes I had were a pair of veldskoens, made by Al, in Zimbabwe, maybe 20 years ago. We were headed there on a trip to visit family, and Mom drew all our feet on some paper and mailed them off to Al. When we arrived in Zim, we picked up the shoes and had a great time breaking them in trekking around the bushveld around Matopos and Victoria Falls.
Al said he’s thinking of adding the veldskoens to his line of offerings. I think once some of these West Texas cowboys slip their feet into a pair of these, he’s going to have a long list of future customers.