It is the case that 99% of outdoorsmen have to descend into the crowded city streets at least once a year. It is becoming increasingly taboo to wear your Arc’teryx Proshell to the pub and even my mountaineering boots have drawn odd looks at my favorite roast house. In trying times like these, we need companies supplying top-quality goods for those odd moments in the city – Oliberté is doing it in unique style.
The story of the goods
I first heard of Oliberté simply through word of mouth. That trivial fact is, in reality, an indicator of the sort of product that this company produces. Not every brand can get their customers to go out into the world and proclaim the virtues of their new footwear or latest backpack – Oliberté, on the other hand, thrives on street-level brand evangelism.
This is out of the ordinary for a Feed the Habit review, but I am very keen on companies that are doing things differently in a way that treats workers and the environment respectfully. I got in touch with Beau, their PR literati, and he sent over the Gando boot and the Krabu backpack. Both products feature Ethiopian leather and a hand-stitched craftsmanship that I rarely see nowadays.
What was it about Oliberté that caught my eye? When I first heard about the company from a friend (toting their Sogal slip on), before I even caught a look at his shoes he was filling me in about the brand’s epic story. Their ethic is simple, and I’ll let their own words speak for themselves:
So that’s what Oliberté does – we work to create fair jobs and lead the charge for workers’ rights, supporting this effort.
Oliberté creates handcrafted leather goods in the world’s first Fair Trade Certified shoe factory which just so happens to be in Ethiopia. Their products are employing and empowering people in a sustainable, ethically sensitive way. This is not charity, of course – the company espouses the ‘trade, not aid’ philosophy; this does appear in the price tag, with the boots and the pack I tested clocking in at $160 and $240 respectively. Their goods are regularly on sale, though, and the Gandos are currently marked down to $175.
I could go on about their story for the whole article and I’d encourage you to learn more about it here. That said, I need to spend some time talking about the boots and pack that have been with me throughout Spokane’s dreary winter. The Gando is a handsome combat boot which I’m testing in the rich red/black color scheme. These boots have been faithful companions on long hikes by the Little Spokane River and many rainy days up on the benches of Boots coffee shop downtown.
The foundation of the boot is a natural rubber sole sourced locally (relative to the Ethiopian factory) which is married to the boot by a technique called the ‘stitchdown.’ This technique helps seal out water, which is essential in the Pacific Northwest. I purchased the company’s Gorilla Wax waterproofer to keep the leather in good shape and it has been an invaluable companion. The boot itself is a simple design – a light, fluid combat boot with Oliberté’s signature half circle leather accent at the arch. The heel of the boot features an inverted leather panel that helps the boot stay with your foot when moving down trail, or negotiating some of Spokane’s more treacherous sidewalks.
The inside of the boot is lined with African goat leather which provides an excellent next-to-foot layer. The goat hide helps deal with sweat and is more comfortable than the durable leathers used on the outside of the boot. It has also helped the Gando maintain a wonderful leather aroma despite two months of frequent use. The lacing design makes it easy to get a secure fit, and Oliberté’s custom insoles are both comfortable and remind you of the brand’s Ethiopian heritage. On the whole, the boots are very soft and pliable (there is no such thing as a ‘break-in’ period with these) but they still offer enough support for day hikes. Don’t plan on carrying any weight or navigating technical terrain in these, though.
The backpack is in a different realm entirely. It’s not suitable for an outdoor product, but it’s commendable for the outdoorsperson in that it is built to last an absolute lifetime. The foundation of the Krabu is a durable leather that still manages to have a very refined hand. The pack features an exterior snap closure pocket and a sturdy metal D-ring to which one might whimsically attach a carabiner and a cam or something silly. I did happily parade the backpack around Seattle one day with a clunky Black Diamond locker and no one seemed to think that the combination was excessive – I suppose it says something about the versatility of the bag, at least in terms of style. My only complaint about the Krabu is that it has two metal knobs which hook up to leather straps to reduce the volume of the pack; that’s great, but the metal knobs can unscrew from their backing and fall off. Tighten them when you think of it.
Twin leather belts secure the main flap of the Krabu and the carrying straps attach by another D-ring, attached to the bag by a bombproof leather tab. The straps themselves are broadened by an extra strip of leather to disperse the load, but it’s not intended to carry heavy weights for long. A very durable haul loop adds much to the bag’s prospective longevity. The straps are completely adjustable and are secured by two metal friction locks which offer virtually no chance of failure. On the whole, this bag is built with absolutely uncompromising construction standards.
In the spirit of this review I’ve used the Krabu for a wide variety of activities. It’s seen use around the town, of course, but it also accompanied me for a few weeks in Leavenworth, Washington to climb some of the southerly faces that have been favored by this mild winter of ours. The climbing, it turned out, was minimal, but the Krabu again proved its faithfulness as I ventured around the state. Washington really is a wonderful place to test gear like this – the Krabu saw everything from sleet to sand and the leather still looks and smells like new. It’s the right size to haul a laptop, a few books and assorted knicknacks, or you could fill it with a rope. Your choice.
- Excellent construction quality
- Stitchdown on the boots helps seal out water
- Goat skin lining contributes noticeably to comfort
- The D-rings on the Krabu are as sturdy as anything
- Did I mention the construction quality?
- Natural leathers demand a little more care than most comparable ‘outdoorsy’ ones
- Metal knobs on the Krabu can unscrew and fall off
- Boots don’t offer support for serious hiking
The Bottom Line: Oliberté Gear
On the whole, both products subscribe to construction standards which are rare to find nowadays. The story of the company is really quite remarkable and I was pleased to be able to join the community of people who have discovered Oliberté and are able to support their mission. The gear is expensive (unless you snag the boots on sale) but it’s built with a lifetime of use in mind.
The Gando is available from Backcountry.com