Di­a­mond ju­bilee for boots that shine in the mud

ICONIC KIWI RED BAND GUMBOOT KEEPS ON KEEP­ING ON

The Shed - - News -

The Aussies have their dan­gly cork hats and the Brits their waxed cot­ton jack­ets, and this month marks 60 years since the creation of one of New Zealand’s iconic out­er­wear essen­tials — the Red Band gumboot.

John Clarke, aka Fred Dagg, ce­mented our iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with prac­ti­cal rub­ber footwear in his al­ter­na­tive na­tional an­them, The Gumboot Song. To be fair, Clarke bor­rowed freely from Billy Con­nolly’s If It Was’Nae for Your Wellies, which he in turn adapted from an older song.

Even if the song isn’t orig­i­nal, Red Bands can claim to be a Kiwi in­ven­tion. Tra­di­tional gum­boots topped out just be­low the knee, like rid­ing boots. Skellerup says that its Red Bands were the first short gumboot mar­keted in New Zealand, and pos­si­bly the world. They were also de­signed from the start to fit the slightly wider Kiwi foot.

“No one is quite sure who it was at Marathon Rub­ber Footwear — the fore­run­ner to Skellerup — who had the idea to create a shorter boot but some­time dur­ing 1958 the new con­cept was tried out,” said Skellerup’s na­tional man­ager footwear Perry Davis.

The first pair of Red Band gum­boots rolled off the pro­duc­tion line on 21 Oc­to­ber 1958 and be­came “an in­stant hit” around the coun­try, Davis said.

If it ain’t broke

Sur­pris­ingly, the mod­ern Red Band gumboot is vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to the orig­i­nal model, apart from the ad­di­tion of a sponge in­ner­sole. Skellerup made the boots in its Wool­ston fac­tory in Christchurch un­til the late ’80s. It con­tin­ues to make all the com­po­nents and the boots are still hand­made the same way in Skellerup’s fac­tory in Jiangsu, China.

They are as­sem­bled from 38 in­di­vid­ual rub­ber com­po­nents us­ing six dif­fer­ent nat­u­ral rub­ber for­mu­la­tions, with UV in­hibitors added for New Zealand con­di­tions. The pan­els are rolled and pressed and cut, rather than just moulded, to make them more flex­i­ble and ro­bust. A cot­ton liner cov­ers a rub­ber-in­fused, heavy-duty can­vas, which adds struc­ture to the boot, pro­tect­ing them from tear­ing or sep­a­rat­ing like cheaper boots. The boots are as­sem­bled on metal lasts, then baked in a vul­can­iz­ing oven to cure and set the rub­ber.

Davis ex­plained that Skellerup has worked hard to pre­serve Red Band’s rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity and ex­cel­lence. It has also ex­panded the brand into sev­eral mod­els of gum­boots for chil­dren, as well as socks, work boots, and cloth­ing.

“Red Bands have be­come part of the Kiwi land­scape be­cause they are the no-non­sense gumboot that works, and last a life­time,” said Davis.

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