Moccasins are traditional slipper-like leather shoes that have been worn by Native Americans for hundreds of years. The design of moccasins varies by geographical location, tribe, and time period, but the basic construction has remained relatively unchanged. While modern-day footwear is typically made up of a separate upper material and outsole, moccasins are cut from a single piece of deer or elk leather, often brain-tanned, that comprises both the upper and outsole material, and is typically stitched above the instep (referred to as a 'gathered toe') and down the heel with sinew.
Despite the seemingly primitive construction, these shoes are highly utilitarian, and helped Native Americans keep their feet from freezing during the harsh North American winters. The ankle flaps seen on some moccasins that at first glance seem superfluous can actually be flipped up and wrapped around the ankle for additional warmth. For tribes living in the coldest regions, rabbit fur or sheep skin was added as an insular lining. Although moccasins do not possess typical outsoles, tribes that lived in desert areas often used thick pieces of hardened leather on the bottom of their moccasins to protect from rocks or cacti, while tribes located near forested areas were able to wear soft-soled moccasins for use on the primarily grassy terrain.
Vamps (an additional piece of leather on top of the instep) allowed for even more design freedom. Beading, embroidery, and porcupine quillwork were common techniques used for decorating moccasins, and by looking at a pair of moccasins,
one could tell what tribe someone was from, a person's economic status, and even the gods that a person worshiped.
Zoomorphic designs, such as buffalo or thunderbirds, were common, as well as abstract symbolic designs. Fringes on ankle flaps were seen as primarily aesthetic, although some argue that the fringes, which hung low and dragged on the ground, functioned as a way for the wearer to cover his or her tracks in the dirt.
Moccasins had developed both a stylistic and functional appeal over the years that had crossed over Native American borders and spread to all corners of the globe.
At the age of 17, I was discovering the same functional benefits and beauty in the shoes that Native Americans had worn for centuries before me. They were unlike any shoes I had ever worn before: an upper that covered the foot and wrapped around the whole outsole area, made from natural tanned elk leather that was incredibly soft and well-aged from years of wear. This particular pair that I was wearing were already modified for city life with an add-on rubber outsole; like the plains and desert dwelling Native Americans who had added an extra layer of hard leather to the bottom of their moccasins, I had learned that a rubber sole is an absolute necessity for someone living in an urban environment.
Years later when I founded visvim, I wanted to introduce a groundbreaking product that the market had never seen before. What I thought of was to create a shoe with a classic silhouette that paid homage to the vintage items that had inspired me from my youth, paired with a modern, highly technical sneaker outsole suitable for modern day wear.
The basic concept was fairly simple: to keep the raw appearance of Native American moccasins, but with the added functionality of being wearable in the city. Being suitable for city life entailed more than just adding a sneaker sole; I was also concerned with the styling of the shoe, and the ability to mix and match with different outfits. This is where the idea of a removable fringe was born. I spent quite some time with my pattern cutter perfecting the silhouette of the shoe, both with and without the fringe, because it was important for the new creation to be stylistically versatile. To maintain the feeling of the original Native American moccasins, I decided to use natural tanned elk hide for the upper material. A sneaker outsole, combined with EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) phylon midsoles and a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) heel stabilizer added modern performance elements.
There was a great deal of excitement when the FBT was released over ten years ago, but my team and I have never stopped trying to improve upon the original design. While the outward appearance of the shoe - a leather moccasin-inspired upper with a removable fringe, combined with a sneaker outsole - has not changed, many of the materials have been upgraded. The midsole is now made from polyurethane and the outsoles for certain models are custom made by Vibram. Pigment-free, natural tanned leather uppers are used to make sure that the material does not irritate one's feet, while a natural cork insole molds to the wearer's foot over time. Feet, and by extension, shoes, bear more of a daily burden than any other part of the body, so it is crucial that anything that touches the feet should be made of extremely breathable, natural materials.
For us, the FBT is very symbolic. Our original goals were to make products that are long lasting, that age well with time, and that have staying power in the market. The FBT is an embodiment of all these things, but it also serves as an inspiration for my team and I to continue to pour all our energy into the development of new, groundbreaking products.