Beth, our Bristol store assistant manager visited the Meindl factory in Germany to take a look at how some of the best footwear we sell is tested and produced..
This September, I was lucky enough to represent Taunton Leisure at the Meindl retailer's trip to Germany
Under the organization of Nick from Bramwell International, our UK distributor, around 15 participants from stores in the UK and Ireland flew to Munich and travelled through beautiful Bavaria in order to meet the Meindl's and visit their factory and headquarters.
As we drove through the quaint villages outside Munich and crept closer to Laufen-our base for the next two days-the Alps came into sight, and the countryside air was fresh and clean. Clearly a perfect setting to make mountain boots and shoes designed for adventure.
We spent a full day with the Meindl. Starting with a tour of their museum, we met Lars, one half of the Meindl brothers, who now own the company. He explained the history of the company, and that there have been seven generations of Meindl shoe makers making various forms of footwear in Bavaria over the last few hundred years! He showed us some of Meindl's original mountain boots, made in the days before the invention of the rubber sole. These were constructed using leather soles covered in metal studs. Some of the studs looked like teeth... these can't have been so comfy, and I definitely count myself lucky to live in the era of Vibram!
Next, we took a tour of the factory and got to see how the boots are made. It was fascinating to see each step of the boot's journey, from moulding the upper onto the last, to securing and smoothing the rubber rand, to the very impressive task of stitching the upper on to the sole. This requires a large amount of strength and coordination, as the boots at this point are heavy and the industrial-size needle must go through a thick layer of rubber and leather.
Some of the walking boots are made by gluing and vacuum forming the out-sole to the mid-sole, which is just as cool to watch. The way the bootmakers pay such attention to detail and quality was extremely encouraging. It was also nice to hear that many of the employees had been with the company for decades, some even celebrating 40 years of making Meindl boots.
One of the most interesting aspects of the process was a machine that had robotic 'feet', wearing a brand new pair of boots. The 'feet' would pace 300,000 steps back and forth, simulating real walking, and in order to test the waterproofness of the boot, they were placed in a tray of water. It takes around 3 days for the boots to complete their step cycle, and after this time, if no water has soaked through the boots, they are good enough to be produced and sold. I thought this was a fantastic test and just goes to show how much development goes into a pair of Meindls!
After lunch, and a discussion with Lukas Meindl on their huge range of shoes and technologies, we drove across the boarder to Salzburg. It was here that we had the chance to test out the 'Tereno' boots, first on a lovely, sunny hike up Kapuzinerberg, the site of an old monastery not far from the city centre. This was a steep but rewarding test of our new boots, where we trialled the fit, stability and grip, which come under the umbrella of 'trail and activity' footwear. Secondly, the Lars-led walking tour of Salzburg that followed was the test of comfort, which even after hours of pounding the streets, they had passed!