In 1830 German Rhenish missionaries, Theobold von Wurmb and Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt, founded the settlement of Wupperthal in the Cederberg Mountains, north of Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape.
A shoemaker by trade, Leipoldt quickly realised the terrain demanded suitable footwear. In 1834 he established a tannery and a nearby factory that was soon producing velskoene (traditional rugged leather shoes).
So began South Africa’s oldest shoe factory; a remarkable enterprise that has remained in the same family for four generations, has defied major setbacks including the Great Depression and is renowned at home and abroad for its quality leathers and workmanship.
The Wupperthal factory produced numerous skilled craftsmen and in 1921, another German missionary, Willy Strassberger, took over the reins.
In the early 1950s, a new manufacturing base was established in the business district of Clanwilliam under the Strassbergers banner, though the original factory continues to operate – albeit on a modest scale – and has become a tourism magnet.
Now led by current chief, JJ du Plessis, Strassbergers produces boots and shoes for men, women and children, and while certain aspects of construction have been mechanised, 80% of the manufacturing process is still done by hand.
Contemporary versions of “vellies” (velskoene) remain perennial favourites and sharp design should ensure a strong position in the youth market.
Along with classic styles in natural tones, Strassbergers’ latest collection for men includes boots that feature two-tone leathers, plus eyelets and laces in contrast colours.
The emphasis on “adventure” footwear extends to women – a great selection of boots, short and long. There’s also a range of sneakers and flats featuring floral designs that impress as fresh and original.
Visit the Strassbergers team and see their range at the South Africa Pavilion at the Footwear & Accessories Show on 21 – 23 October 2023. Registration is free for those in the fashion industry.