A slice of France

Photo homme devant les toits de Paris pour Paraboot

Discover – or rediscover – the history of Paraboot: grounded in the historical background of the French industry, a human adventure, made possible by the encounters of passionate women and men; a family that linked its destiny to the company’s, since now 4 generations.
Safe journey in the heart of a preserved universe, where traditions, daring and innovation blend.

Paraboot turns a page of its history

The two historic factories, in Izeaux and Fures, close down. All business activities have been united, under the brand-new roof of the new factory, in Saint Jean de Moirans.

A modern and environmentally responsible factory, where activity is rationalised and information circulation simplified. Paraboot opens a store in Tokyo, in the famous Ginza district, and one in Sapporo. The brand is back at Le Printemps and Galleries Lafayette in Paris.

1945 – 2015: 70 years of Michael, crossing different periods of time, revolts and trends

Without ignoring its roots, the model Michael does evolve with society. It’s timeless and carries the brand’s values with pride, on 5 different continents.

Throughout recycling and collaborations, the model has known 70 interesting years, filled with emotions.
Paraboot opens its second store in Japan, in Osaka, where it reveals the new store concept.

The on-going development of the Paraboot network

Paraboot, located in Izeaux, Isère, has become one of the last emblems of “Made in France” and “sewn shoes” in the world of footwear.

The brand now operates all around the world, where it has opened its own stores: Antwerp (Belgium) in 1994, Tokyo (Japan) in 2001, Brussels (Belgium) in 2003. The brand is now globally present.

The family saga lives on

With the arrival of Marc-Antoine in Production, Paraboot enters its fourth generation.

A new, more urban orientation

The collections are from now on more urban, manufactured according to the age-old rules of shoemakers, using the most noble materials. The positioning was high-end but not luxury. Paraboot also diversified, creating a women’s line in its own right – not simply a female version of the men’s collection.

First Paraboot boutiques open at Paris, Lyon and Nice in 1987.

The plebiscite of “the” Michael saves Paraboot from disappearing

Whilst negotiating with the Trade Tribunal, Michel Richard went to Italy in search of more efficient equipment. He sought to understand the methods of his most formidable Italian competitors. In the end, he met “WP lavori in corso”, an Italian distributor of fashion garments, and negotiated a contract.

The Italian stylists had decreed that men needed to get themselves a new look: gone were the dark suit, shirt and tie and black thin-soled moccasins. Instead they were to wear tweed jackets, corduroy trousers and polo-neck jumpers. All that was missing was a thick-soled shoe, made from decent materials. Although they had all they needed in Italy, they chose the Michael model by Paraboot.

The plebiscite of “the” Michael saves Paraboot from disappearing.
The fashion quickly caught on, orders flooded in and the workload management schedule was assured. The historic suppliers, who had been spared when bankruptcy loomed, remained loyal! Paraboot had been working with the same tanneries for several generations – suppliers who were friends first and foremost, who shared the same passion for the job and enjoyed mutual trust… That made all the difference.

The dark years

In 1973, aware that he had been focusing on products and contact, rather than on management, taking little interest in profits or financial ratios, Julien called on his son Michel – a graduate with experience in the world of multinationals – to streamline the company that had fallen into the trap of the post-war years. Characterized by rapid expansion, racing inflation and easy credit. Times had changed again with the first oil crisis. Austerity was the order of the day – with labour and banking relations, forced to adhere to strict standards, the unions and bankers were no longer as accommodating as before. In late 1979, Julien handed over to his son, giving him a free rein. For six years, Michel had been trying to restrict the business to the “profitable” markets, cut staffing costs whilst improving productivity, roll out the use of computers, streamline manufacturing programmes, and cut costs without increasing prices. However, at the dawn of the 1980s, the small shoe factory (which made 45% of its turnover from export), was bowled over by the collapse of the dollar and the yen and the loss of its largest customers. The ones that remained had problems paying their outstanding invoices. After two years of major difficulties, Michel Richard filed for bankruptcy in late 1983 – but the unions and trade tribunal believed recovery was possible. The ruling was for business to continue.

A new direction – extreme shoes

Skiing was quickly abandoned but other sports were approached, leading to interesting new human encounters: in 1970, Gil Delamare and Colette Duval, fiancés from heaven, were at the origin of special models for the France parachuting team, holders of the world title. Then there was Paul-Emile Victor and his special Terre Adélie boots in 1971. Haroun Tazieff wore Paraboot to examine volcanoes and André Turcat, a Concorde and Airbus pilot, was the inspiration for a model that is still worn by Mirage pilots. The worlds of motorbiking, horse riding and cross-country skiing follow. Richard-Pontvert manufactured all sorts of technical shoes and even opened the Alviera ice skate factory in 1972. At that time, the company had 650 employees.

Mountain passion; the Galibier brand changed… and climbed!

Julien Richard had to find new outlets wherever there was a need for specific, technical shoes. He found what he was looking for in leisure sports activities, which were booming.

The Galibier brand, by then ousted by Paraboot for work shoes, became the leading light in the first ski boots, snow boots and mountain boots.

Julien discovered a whole new world featuring strong, sincere personalities. He supplied the greatest mountaineers: Herzog, Mazeaud, Terray, Desmaison, Pollet-Villard, Royal Robbins, and others.

He directed production towards mountaineering, climbing and rock climbing, moving out of skiing which had become fashionable and more downmarket. Richard-Pontvert began exports to Japan, the USA, Italy – in fact, everywhere where there were climbers. Galibier, rather than Paraboot, began to drive factory output. C’est pour Galibier que les usines tournent et non plus Paraboot.

A daring wager – stitching at all costs

Julien, Rémy Richard’s son, enters the company in 1937, he is 20 years old. The Phoney War, followed by the Occupation, obviously slowed down production due to a lack of raw materials. It meant a return to wooden soles and living by one’s wits. The workers alternated work at the factory and tending the fields, rented for the purpose, of which the product is redistributed.

Liberation, a thirst for recovering everything that had been done without during the war got the factories working again, but times had changed. The war led to the development of the chemicals industry. Synthetic materials appeared, as did glues, which were to revolutionise shoe construction methods.

New shoe factories opened, adopting plastic soles from the outset. These were simply glued to lighter uppers – a simpler construction technique requiring less qualified workers. These cheaper “disposable” shoes were better suited to a clientele that wanted to consume after having been deprived for so long.

The old manufacturing centres disappeared; they were incapable of making the change. At that time Richard-Pontvert had about fifty workers.

Julien, by then alone at the helm, was faced with a dilemma; should he change his manufacturing methods (and the company’s spirit) and adopt “gluing” as all the others were doing, or persevere, targeting his clients more closely?

Julien Richard, more passionate about nature, hunting and angling, did not care a lot for the city and tradeshows. He refocused production on impressive thick leather soles. Still using Goodyear or “Norwegian construction, these were aimed at people working in a standing position; farmers, horse dealers, lumberjacks, shepherds, factory and postal workers, and craftsmen who needed to be able to rely on sturdy but comfortable shoes.

Parallel with a technical lace-up boot, he created a few “light-duty” models for architects, surveyors and veterinary surgeons. And so, the “Morzine” model came into being. In 1945, it was the legendary “Michael” that saw the light.

As a public relations man, he leads the company with his encounters and his instinct. He opted for the “rustic” product. It therefore abandons the urban clientele on which its competitors concentrate.

The Paraboot brand registered

Rémy Richard registered the Paraboot name in 1927, from “Para” – a port in Amazonia, where the latex was exported from, and “boot” – the interesting new shoe he had discovered in the United States.

As you can see, it was a far more meaningful decision than simply creating a brand with a trendy English-language-sounding name. And so, the Paraboot technique and style were born!

Meanwhile, Rémy continued to make more elegant shoes with a thin leather sole for the softest of carpets, under the Extra brand. It was to be an unusual – and lasting – contrast.

Rémy was one of a kind – a self-taught man, full of common sense, whose only education was the great school of life. He always had his eye on the outside world, and in spite of his humble beginnings, he did not hesitate to rent the Lido to present his collections, to have his photo taken at Harcourt and to get suited up if needed. For his last, somehow crazy invention (which in the end got nowhere), he went so far as to invite the President of France to attend a demonstration of his “floating man” -wearing a rubber suit- crossing the Seine.

Rubber becomes the DNA of the Paraboot brand

From Paris to London via Amsterdam, Rémy Richard loved travelling and tradeshows, where he collected plenty of medals.

In 1926, although he didn’t speak a word of English, he set sail for the United States. With an eye for innovation, he noticed the rubber “boots” worn by the Americans, and above all the assets of this brand-new material, also known as latex, hevea or gum. This was an epiphany for him. He returned with this material and knowhow to Tullins Fures, a small town close to Izeaux, where he had just bought a new factory building.

Rémy began manufacturing boots that were guaranteed to be waterproof, with “layers” of latex added by hand on wooden lasts and vulcanised in stoves.

Rémy Richard, however, is not innovative. In France, in 1853 the Englishman Hiram Hutchinson had already created a rubber boot factory, ancestor of the Aigle group; he bought the patents of Charles Junior Goodyear, the inventor of vulcanization, and those of his father, Charles Goodyear who a few years earlier had developed the sewing machine, which bears his name.

However, eleven years before Vitale Bramani, the creator of the “Vibram” brand. Rémy Richard invents notched soles for mountain shoes. History loves to cross destinies!

Then the idea came to him to use this rubber to replace the wooden soles which were so inexpensive, but so uncomfortable, and… which wore out so quickly.
Lacks technique; as far as he knows, the leather uppers of shoes (uppers) are either nailed to the wooden soles or sewn to the leather soles. Impossible with rubber soles.

He therefore developed a system of thin rubber soles, which could be sewn to the upper and then glued with liquid latex to a thicker rubber sole.
There remains the problem of vulcanization; an old walnut oil press (another local specialty) will cook, and therefore vulcanize, these soles in steel molds, according to the principle of a common waffle iron.

Work shoes now all have rubber soles, a distinctive sign of the production of the Richard Pontvert workshops.

« Chaussures Extra » takes its first steps

Throughout another agent he had taken under his wing, Rémy met Juliette Pontvert, the daughter of a wealthy notary in the Sarthe region. He married her in 1910, and founded Richard-Pontvert. He provided his knowhow, designs and equipment; she contributed her dowry money as capital. Rémy launched the “Chaussures Extra” brand – and a collection of fine high-end shoes.

Being injured during war, he has been sent away from the front. Rémy was put in charge of repairing the army’s shoes, harnesses and other equipment.

At the end of the war he returned to his business, which was quite successful. He rented and then bought premises and a warehouse close to Les Halles market in Paris, bringing him closer to his clients: department stores and small boutiques, frequented by butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers at Les Halles.

In 1920, he purchased his first factory in Izeaux, to gain better control of the manufacturing of sophisticated shoes with leather soles, as well as work boots with nailed wooden or leather soles. He registered the “Galibier” trademark for these boots in 1922.

The audacity and entrepreneurial spirit of Rémy Richard

End of the 19th century. it all began in the late nineteenth century in Izeaux, a small village at the foot of the Alps. Rémy-Alexis Richard, born in 1878 into a humble farming family, became a semi-skilled cutter at Chevron, one of a score of shoe factories in this Isère village. These factories received orders from contractors “in the city”, bought the leather, cut it and had the pieces assembled at home by farming families at home in the surrounding hills, before fixing them (by nailing or sewing them) onto wooden or leather soles, depending on the product in question.

Rémy Richard soon realised that these contractors from the cities earned more money than his own boss, and decided to try his luck; he went up to Paris with the designs for his own models to sell them as a “factory agent”.

His plan worked! Rémy had “his” first shoes manufactured by the factories in Izeaux – including the one he had just left – and sold them to the “major” clients in Paris. In 1908, he began to hire his own staff.