Posted in good design, things we like, tools of the trade by hemmant jha on January 26, 2010

Camper Wabi.

Not everyone has or uses shoes, but practically everyone across the world is familiar with the concept of footwear. There are shoes for all sorts of applications – ones that ensure a lofty perch, others demonstrative of athletic prowess, good or bad taste, shoes that sparkle and glow with every step, yet others that melt into the background. There are shoes that protect from the elements, and others that demand protection at the first sign of rain. There are shoes for wading, shoes for warring, anti-bacterial shoes, all-encompassing boots vs. wispy nothings. To describe others still, the immortal words of James Willie Dixon come to mind – I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed.

Most shoes are designed to insulate against immediate surroundings. There are also a few that are designed to serve as communicators [or translators] between the foot and the outside world – these ensure a degree of protection and separation, while offering the reassurance of connection with the environment.

The Wabi shoe, by Camper, belongs on that short list. Introduced in 2005, this model is now out of production. But it must be mentioned that this model is the closest I’ve come to finding that perfect shoe, for all but the most demanding of formal occasions. According to Treehugger, this is what Camper has to say about the Wabi series :

“The name WABI is a Japanese word, which can be translated as ‘rustic, simple, without artifice, modest, unpretentious, and inwardly oriented’…..‘Wabi is a natural shoe, useful, and designed to be used in interior spaces. It is a shoe developed from a concept of simplicity, a modest life, comforting, and full of satisfaction.’ “

The Wabi that is the subject of this piece [there were / are others in the series] is comprised of 3 parts : an outer shell moulded of a kind of TPE, similar in feel to a blend of silicone and neoprene in use, a very flexible and resilient material that retains its shape quite well even after repeated and prolonged use. This outermost layer provides protection, ventilation, a bit of support, and just the right amount of ‘give’ and feel against the pedals of a car, a sandy beach, or concrete pavement. Nested within this later is a flexible sock, again very neoprene like – washable and tough, with insulating properties. Laid into the sock is a semi-rigid footbed, that appears to be made of coir, the layer of dense and springy fibrous material that protects coconuts from 50′ falls onto the ground. And that’s about it – there’s no separate sole stitched onto an upper, no bonded layers of calfskin or suede, no laces, no velcro.

No slaughter of animals. Easy and complete recyclability.

The materials and forms have been carefully chosen, with each serving to maximize the potential of the others, and of itself. All of this effort would mean nothing if the result did not work – and it works very well indeed. The appearance is polarizing – some love it, some cannot stand it – but most come to appreciate it for what it does well. I wear these in all kinds of weather, under all conditions, except in deep snow, where the generally useful ventilation holes become weep holes that let in moderate amounts of chilled water.

But most of all, these are fantastic driving shoes. Driving a fast, responsive and well balanced car can be enormous fun, especially if communication with the car is two way. To hear the change in tone of the engine with the rapid changing of gears, to feel the vibration and hum as the machine slows or surges, to be able to push the pedals that invoke these changes with enough transparency to feel where it’s almost bare foot on metal without a desensitizing layer of foam inbetween – it’s fantastic. Of course, with a manual transmission, there are more pedals, and more frequent use of said pedals – and more need for, and appreciation of, proper footwear.

The Camper Wabi : would you file these under designey appendage or essential tools for living? Take your pick – what you do with them is entirely up to you.


One Response

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  1. 198 « thinkmore said, on August 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    […] the readers of this diminutive blog know, Camper makes the perfect driving shoe. Unfortunately, it is no longer in production – and this is bound to happen with a company […]

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