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How Gabor is Redefining German Comfort

No one does tradition like the Europeans. Among footwear brands, Gabor stands out. Preferring to take a quality over quantity approach to shoemaking, the German company isn’t focused on competing in the fast paced fashion market. Instead, it prefers to stick to traditional methods that have worked for centuries. Despite its operational methods, the brand isn’t stuck in the past. Gabor is introducing a new line of casual sneakers, Gabor Sport, for Fall ’17. Vamp spoke with Gabor President and CEO Edward Kanner on how the brand is reinterpreting European shoemaking traditions for contemporary consumers.

VAMP: This issue of our magazine is all about “tradition.” What does it mean for Gabor to be based in Germany?
Kanner: “Designed in Germany” and “Made in Europe” are messages which clearly convey that the consumer is looking at a superior quality product. When it comes to quality, Germany still has the best image worldwide, an almost legendary reputation. This gives discerning consumers the confidence and knowledge that they are investing in a meticulously designed product built to last—an assurance of quality. In an age when the vast majority of footwear is produced in the far East, we take great pride in European production. Every Gabor shoe is designed at our Bavarian headquarters in Rosenheim. No external sources or outside agencies are used. Having centralized design and product management teams in Germany, in the heart of Europe, allows us to react quickly to market demand. Production in our very own European factories in Portugal and Slovenia allows us greater quality control.

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VAMP: What are some of the traditional shoemaking techniques used in your manufacturing?
Kanner: We specialize in supremely comfortable, lightweight and flexible fashion footwear. We utilize several traditional techniques: One is AGO construction, whereby the uppers are cemented to the soles. We also specialize in lightweight sacchetto construction, a traditional old-world technique where linings are sewn into the shoe like an envelope. This results in a soft, highly flexible and virtually seamless glove-like fit, allowing your feet to move naturally.

VAMP: What is Germany’s specialty in footwear?
Kanner: Comfort comes first even in our most fashionable shoes. We invest considerably into studying the perfect fit. In-house last development, well balanced heels, sensible heel heights and proper anatomical support are critical factors. Our shoes are defined by particularly soft, supple and luxurious leathers, highly flexible latex and multi-component soles, and lightweight and shock-absorbing air cushioned soles we call Hovercraft. Our designers prefer soft materials that provide good functionality and ensure a high degree of comfort. The art of designing interesting, commercially successful fashion shoes without compromising on fit is a Gabor specialty.

VAMP: Is there pressure to move toward more automated manufacturing for faster or cheaper product?
Kanner: Footwear manufacturing is a fine art. It is an inescapable fact that modern technology and automation assist us in production, however it will never completely replace the footwear artisans who specialize in meticulous old-world craftsmanship. The making of a Gabor shoe can involve over 150 separate hand-operated steps. A great deal of sewing, stitching, cutting, gluing and inspecting will always be done by hand. Speed to market is crucial, but we will never compromise our high standards to cheapen our product in the name of speed. We are not competing on price as much as we are on quality and comfort. Superior quality is worth the price.

VAMP: What are the main differences between European and American footwear?
Kanner: North America is heavily influenced by sport. It is a market where casual and streetwear dominate, whereas Europeans generally still seem to “dress up” more. While American influences have certainly spread globally, we tend to see more sophisticated looks overseas. In Germany and Western Europe, proven classics are in demand year after year. That’s not to say that the American woman is not sophisticated. Rather, she may choose to reserve her most stylish shoes for special occasions while Europeans may wear them regularly. Then again, our world is changing rapidly and nothing remains the same for very long.

VAMP: What’s new for Fall ’17 from Gabor?
Kanner: We are launching a group of extremely comfortable casual sneakers (there is the undeniable American influence) under the name Gabor Sport. Despite the lack of snow in many parts of the world, tall boots are making a comeback. We are even seeing increased demand for over-the-knee boots. Rich, earthy color palettes, gorgeous effect materials and exquisite Italian leathers will round out the next fall collection.

This article originally appeared in the February issue of VAMP as part of a series “The New Traditionalist”. Check out the complete issue here.