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
Facebook has deleted my original Page that had over 6,500 members. I spent 6 years curating that page and it was deleted without notification.
I have created a NEW -- private -- GROUP on Facebook and would like to invite you to re-join. This new page will be PRIVATE and you will need admin (MY) approval to participate.
I have decided to keep my group private so "BIG BROTHER" cannot monitor my posts…..
If you would like to join this group, please search Facebook groups for Gina Mama’s “I Love Birkenstock” Blog. Or click the link to the group below:
GINA MAMA'S "I LOVE BIRKENSTOCKS" BLOG
Be sure to answer all 3 questions.
Thank you for your continued support.
Without prior knowledge, Facebook has deleted my "I Love Birkenstocks" page. I will no longer be posting or sharing via Facebook, unless I can figure out a way to get help. Anyone using my blog name, "I Love Birkenstocks" is not me. My Instagram account is still active.
I have intentionally not written a blog in months. There are many reasons behind the silence. Pandemic life has been very chaotic and stressful. I have not bought a new pair of Birkenstocks since September 2020. And frankly, I have not had anything nice to say, so I have decided not to say anything at all.
I initially created my blog to share my love about Birkenstocks sandals. I felt like I needed to stay focused and only blog about all things Birks. But, I recently realized three things. First, Birkenstock is not listening to its long-time fans who are begging for more regular width Birks with their new releases. Second, since Birkenstock just sold most of their stake to a private equity firm, I don’t have high hopes for what is on the horizon for regular width devotees. Finally, I am the creator of this blog and I can write about anything I want. Thus, since I have nothing nice to say about all the ridiculous narrow width Birkenstocks being released, I thought I would write about something that I do have nice things to say about…..Duckfeet.
'DuckfeetUSA has a decent selection of shoes, boots, and sandals for people who require wide width shoes. While I have not tried Duckfeet sandals or shoes, I have tried one style of their boots and I have completely fallen in love with the Arhus boot. The Duckfeet Arhus are the most well-made and comfortable boots that this Birkenstock devotee has ever owned.
Over the years, I have completely given up on Birkenstock shoes and boots because they never fit me right. My regular size 38 were too small and the next size up, were too big. I always ended up with blisters on my heels when I wore them. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And it really upset me because I wanted them to work…so bad.
I noticed that once Birkenstock encloses its regular width footbed, it immediately becomes narrow. For me, going up a size causes two problems, it is still too narrow AND is way too long. Believe me, I tried everything to make Birkenstock shoes and Birkenstock boots work and I finally gave up. In fact, I have sold all the enclosed Birkenstock shoes and boots that I have ever owned.
As one of Birkenstock's top fans, I was saddened by how much I disliked their shoes and boots. Come Fall and Winter, this Birkenstock sandal lover reached for her Dr. Martens and Frye boots. But, since the onset of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders were in full effect in California, my Docs and Frye boots seemed overly dressy for my work from home routine. My Birkenstock Boston shearlings were great, until my kids stole them to wear during remote learning. I found UGGs to be too floppy and completely unsupportive. Wearing insoles with UGGs just doesn’t work for me either. So, when another Birkenstock friend recommended that I try a pair of Duckfeet Arhus, I decided to give them a shot.
The Arhus was exactly the type of boot that I was looking for in the mist of California pandemic living. It was wide, well made, and warm. Duckfeet Arhus are an investment type boot. While I don’t live in snow country, I do live in the Bay Area where it is cold all the stinking time, except for a handful of days in October. And during non-pandemic life, we do travel to Lake Tahoe for snow time fun with the kids. For these reasons, I felt like I could justify the expense, only after Duckfeet dangled a 20% off coupon in my face on Black Friday. (I don’t recall ever seeing a Birkenstock coupon on Black Friday or any other Holiday for that matter….just sayin’….)
Even with the Black Friday coupon from DuckfeetUSA, the boots were still pretty pricey. Therefore, I sold off a few pair of gently loved Birkenstocks to pay for them. I tried sizes 38 and 39 in the Arhus. I seem to be in between sizes with this boot. After consulting DuckfeetUSA customer service directly, I decided that due to the shearling, I had to size up for comfort. Sizing up afforded me some space in the boot and I was able to insert a Birkenstock insole in the Arhus. The Birkenstock blue insole worked beautifully in my boots because Duckfeet are made with a neutral footbed, meaning there is no arch support.
With the neutral sole of the Duckfeet footbed, one can use any type of insole that they desire, or no insole at all. I personally found that the Duckfeet Arhus paired well with the Birkenstock blue insoles and created the absolute perfect Fall/Winter boot for me. I bought the Arhus in November 2020 and have worn them for THREE straight months. EVERY! SINGLE! DAY! And I have never, ever, ever worn the same pair of Birkenstocks for three months in a row.
When I found a pair of Arhus “returns”, for a fraction of the cost of a brand new pair, I jumped at the chance to add another color to my rotation. This time, I only had to sell one pair of Birkenstocks to pay for them.
As Spring approaches, I know that I will be able to wear the Arhus for awhile longer since it will remain cold in the Bay Area. However, eventually I need to pack away the shearling lined DuckFeet until next Fall. Before doing so, I am thinking about selling off even more of my Birkenstocks to make room for a non-shearling lined pair of Duckfeet boots. You know, something to get me through the chilly early days of Spring.....since I refuse to wear socks with my Birkenstocks. At the moment, I am eyeing these Duckfeet Roskilde boots…..
You might be thinking that I am disloyal wearing a different brand other than Birkenstock. And maybe even crazy for selling off some of my Birkenstock collection. But, to be honest, I really only need a handful of my Birkenstocks to last me a lifetime. For now, I am letting go of all my Birko-Flor and every single pair of narrow width Birkenstocks that I felt forced to purchase because the particular sandal was not released in a regular width.
Which Birkenstocks stay and which Birks go? Well, that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post. Just the fact that Gina Mama is selling off some of her Birkenstocks to pay for a different brand speaks volumes about the absolute comfort, craftsmanship, and the warmth of Duckfeet boots. More importantly, it highlights my level of dissatisfaction with the Birkenstock brand…and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. I highly recommend that you give Duckfeet a chance. They are way easier to break in than Birkenstocks. I promise!!
I have intentionally not blogged in months. The pandemic has changed everything and I have not found the time, nor had the motivation, to write about Birkenstocks. To be honest, writing a blog about shoes, when millions of people are out of work and small businesses are suffering, feels completely insensitive. So, I have offered only radio silence….until today.
Today’s blog will be short and sweet. In fact, because it is Halloween, I am offering you a real treat. I am going to share with you my top three favorite small businesses in the U.S. What I ask from you in return, is to support your favorite small business and maybe check out mine.
My top three favorite small businesses in the US are (in alphabetical order):
1. Birkenstock Attitudes
If you are not in El Paso, the best way to reach Paul or Mona at Birkenstock Attitudes is to send them a Direct Message (DM) via their Instagram page. I have written about Birkenstock Attitudes and their stellar customer service in this blog.
2. Custom Made Birkenstocks
Call Michelangelo, (708) 453-4900, at Custom Made Birkenstocks, he can help you create a custom pair of Birkenstocks, repair your Birks, sell you a pair of Birkenstocks and do a million other amazing things. I have written a number of blogs about Michelangelo’s handy work, this is my most recent post.
I am reluctant to share this gem of a small business with you because I want to keep it my little secret. Competition is fierce on a Harveys release day and so much fun when you score a new bag. Harveys seatbelt bags last a lifetime and they are made in California. I love these bags so much that I wrote a blog about this small business last year. Check it out here.
With many areas shutting down again, please reach out to a small business and help support them during these very uncertain times.
What are your top three favorite small businesses? Send me a message, I would love to learn about places that I can help support.
Happy Halloween & Stay Safe.
And don’t forget to GO VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!