Believe it or not, I have not purchased a new pair of Birkenstock in months. Well, that’s not 100% true, I have purchased a few pairs and returned them all due to quality control issues. While Birkenstock brand figures out how to go back to its roots and produce high quality products, I am enjoying my non-Birkenstock shoes and boots this Fall.
A couple months ago, I posted this picture of my Docs to social media.
One of the members of my private Facebook group asked if anyone had tried Solovair boots. No one in the group had. I got curious and began to research Solovair. What I learned was astounding.
Solovair has been making boots in England since 1881. A whole lot longer than Dr. Martens has been in business, but not quite as long as Birkenstock has been around. Solovair made Docs from 1959 to the mid 90s, up until Dr. Martens moved their production to Asia. Apparently my first pair of Dr. Martens (circa 1990) were made by Solovair! To learn more about the Solovair company, read this article from Business Insider.
I still regret donating my first pair of Docs several years ago because they were fantastic boots (even though they no longer fit post baby). After reading the Business Insider article, I now know why my first pair of Dr. Martens were so amazing, they were made by Solovair!
During my time researching Solovair boots, I came across Weston Kay's YouTube channel, Rose Anvil. His videos helped me better understand the similarities and the differences between Dr. Martens and Solovair. This guy literally cut a pair of 1460 Made in England Dr. Martens and a pair of Solovair Derby boots in half. You got that right, he cut the boot IN HALF to see how it was constructed. If you don’t believe me, check out his video for yourself.
After watching his videos, I had to try a pair of Solovair boots. While I absolutely adore my Dr. Martens – every single pair – none of them have ever felt quite like my first pair. I took a peek at Solovair's webpage. I was delighted to learn that Solovair offers free shipping and free returns to/from the US. What did I have to lose with free shipping both ways?
Solovair shipped my boots in less than 24 hours from the UK and they arrived on my door step, in California, six days later. How is THAT for service?! When I order from Birkenstock USA, it takes 7-10 days (usually 10 days) to get my orders from their US based warehouse in Kentucky.
My beautiful Solovair Derby boots in cloud gray rub off were spectacular in person.
I had a Cinderella moment when I slipped my foot into the boot. They felt exactly like my original Docs! Thick leather, amazing soles, and enough room to add my half blue Birkenstock insoles. Just for the record, I opted for a UK 5.5, which is equivalent to a EU 39 and US 8. I think a UK 6 would work as well because sizing up would provide a little more wiggle room to add a full insole. (To learn more about Birkenstock half insoles, read this blog).
The Solovair boots fit perfectly. The inseam was not too tight, like often is the case with brand new Dr. Martens. Most surprisingly, I was not getting a heel rub like I do with almost all my Docs. In other words, I did not have to put tennis balls in the boots to stretch the inseam or add heel pads to the back of the boots to prevent blisters. Two tips that I learned from my friend Marion in Germany who has the most incredible Dr. Martens collection that I have ever seen.
One of the biggest differences between Dr. Martens and Solovair is that Solovair uses a shank in their boots. Since moving production to Asia, Dr. Martens no longer includes a shank in their offerings. If you wear Birkenstocks regularly, you will likely have a hard time wearing Docs without a supportive insole. A shank, like found in Solovair boots, provides a little extra support and structure right where one's foot craves it.
I could feel the shank support when I placed my foot in the shoe. After I laced up my Solovair Derby boots, I took a quick spin around the house. While my feet felt like they were in heaven, my heart began to sink with every step I took because all I could hear was squeak, squeak, SQUEAK!
The leather was squeaking so bad that it sounded like I was walking in wet rubber boots on a slippery wood floor. This is what the boots sounded like when I first put them on.
Solovair Derby Boots Squeaking
I really wanted these boots to work out because they felt AWESOME. I just didn’t know what to do about the squeak. I emailed Solovair customer service and guess what…..(are you sitting down??)…. they actually responded to my email with sound advice....
I followed the tips provided by the experts to stop the squeak. I first started by adding some baby powder to the insoles. The squeak was still there, so I opted to apply some leather conditioner. I had mink oil on hand, yet was reluctant to try it. The mink oil had darkened one of my lighter color leather boots. However, the mink oil also worked wonderfully on all my dark color leather boots. And then there is the whole animal rights issue with mink oil…..but that’s another story.
I was determined to make these boots work since it is not every day that someone with a wide foot can find something that fits well and feels comfortable right out of the box. I tested a corner of the boot with the mink oil and there was no noticeable change in the color of the leather. I decided to go all in with the mink oil, but before applying anymore of it, I placed the leather boots in the sun to warm up for about 10-15 minutes. Warming the boots a little allows the pores in the leather to open so that the mink oil has a chance to really sink in and be absorbed by the leather.
Once the boots were gently warmed, I took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and went to town covering the leather uppers in mink oil, both inside and out. Please note that I only applied mink oil to the leather uppers of the boot, NOT on the leather soles. I let the mink oil soak in and manipulated the leather on each boot for several minutes. I figured out exactly where the squeaks were coming from and re-applied another layer of the oil, paying special attention to the noisiest areas. I let the mink oil soak in overnight before a third application in the morning.
About 10-15 minutes after applying the morning coat of mink oil, I buffed them with a cloth and I put the boots on. I wore my Solovairs around the house for a few hours doing chores. In the beginning I heard a few squeaks and was concerned the boots might be defective. But, within a few hours the squeaking disappeared. The mink oil worked.
Here’s what they sounded like after a little baby powder, some leather conditioner, three applications of mink oil and a few hours of breaking-in.
After Mink Oil Treatment
It was like night and day. My Solovair Derby boots no longer sounded like I was walking in rubber boots! These beautiful boots were keepers and lived up to all the great reviews that I have read.
Check with a cobbler before applying mink oil, so you don’t accidentally darken your boots. Or just use Dubbin or Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam on lighter color leather because these products do not tend to change the color of the leather. I wrote a blog about Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam here.
I don’t know if this technique will work on getting the squeak out of your Birkenstock boots since I sold the few pairs of Birk boots that I did own. Birkenstock boots never worked for me (too big, too small, no toe bar, lots of heel rub, tons of blisters) and I won’t recommend them.
On a positive note, Birkenstock does use a a shank in their boots. If you would like to see exactly what kind of shank they use and what is really inside Birkenstock boots, check out the video on the Rose Anvil YouTube Channel. Weston Kay cut a pair of Birkenstock boots in half just like he did with the Solovair and Doc boots. Spoiler alert: you aren’t going to like what you see.
WHERE TO BUY INSOLES:
Check out Michelangelo's webpage for Birkenstock insole options
To learn more about the topics highlighted in this blog, please read my other posts:
How to Break-In Dr. Martens, the Birkenstock Way