by: Janet Aslin, Assistant Editor
In recent years Israel has become known as the “start-up nation.” It is an incubator for companies that have been born out of the new and innovative Israeli technologies developed in a wide variety of fields. However, it is also the land that produced Teva Naot—a company whose humble beginnings 70 years ago have led to its current position as the Israeli producer of some of the most comfortable shoes in the world.
Neot Mordechai is a kibbutz in the Hula Valley of the upper Galilee region, not far from the Lebanon border. It was established in 1946 by immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria. Kibbutzim are collective communities which were traditionally agricultural. However, from its very beginnings, Kibbutz Neot Mordechai also included Teva Naot, a small factory that produced work boots.
From work boots, Teva Naot expanded with the addition of sandals to its line of products, but it remained a small Israeli shoe manufacturer with little exposure in the world at large. In the late 1980s, shoe manufacturing in Israel was facing the challenge of imports from the Far East and Neot Mordechai considered shutting down its factory. However, instead of closing its doors, the next step taken by the kibbutz would radically change the future of Teva Naot.
The situation at Teva Naot became part of a study of failing companies at the economics department of Tel Aviv University (TAU). As part of a class exercise, Ami Bar-Nahor was assigned to be the consultant for Neot Mordechai’s struggling business. He decided to modernize the product to attract the new health-conscious shoe consumer. “I aimed at a sort of Israelization of Birkenstock,” says Nahor. In the end he spent four years at Neot Mordechai, transforming the company from one that produced traditional biblical sandals into a stylish internationally-known brand.
Biblical sandals had stiff, inflexible soles. Under Nahor’s guidance, Teva Naot began to produce a flexible sole that combined cork, natural rubber and leather. He also hired young designers from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and Tel Aviv’s Shenkar College. They added color and interest to the old style sandals which were mainly beige, brown or black.
Today the Naot factory is still located in the small kibbutz in northern Israel where it began so many years ago. It currently employs 160 workers and designs a new line of footwear each year, keeping abreast of global fashion trends. Products include a variety of shoes, boots and sandals for men, women and children. Eighty percent of the multi-million-dollar company’s sales are overseas.
In keeping with Nahor’s vision, comfort as well as style is still the company’s primary focus. Special attention is given to the soles. Natural cork from the bark of oak trees and natural latex made from wood rubber are used to create a comfort solution for your feet. The insoles conform to the shape of the wearer’s foot, making them fit like a glove.
Recently I was speaking with my sister, a hairdresser who lives in Alaska. She told me she had purchased a pair of Naot shoes because they were made in Israel and she felt a connection because I am here. After wearing them, she said, “It’s not often that I find a pair of shoes that are still comfortable at the end of a ten-hour day on my feet.” So, if you haven’t checked out Israel’s iconic brand of footwear yet, what are you waiting for? Your feet will thank you.
Photo Credit: www.tevanaot.co.il
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