The Unlikely Evolution Of The African Veldskoen Chukka Boot
7 min read
The evolution from a humble farm shoe to high fashion and worldwide streetwear chukka boot star.
From leather, feet wraps to the fashion catwalks around the world, Vellies (Veldskoen or bush shoes) march on as education of what it is to be hip, cool and most importantly comfy.
Their appearance provokes grassroots conversations that inspire critical thinking. Who would have ever thought that the humble shoe originating from the KoiSan tribe of Southern Africa centuries ago would redefine what it is to be hip and cool in 2022?
Lesser-known history of Veldskoen chukka boot
Clothing through the civilized ages of man began as a practical necessity, but at the same time, it also distinguished between classes where the civilized aristocracy dressed above "ordinary people."
Dress code conveyed status, and the more refined the fabric and quality of a clothing item, the higher the status value.
History as we know it has always been written by the victors, and their perceptions of the truth sadly become our truth.
Where did the original Chukka boot come from?
Such is the case of the Veldskoen chukka's (bush shoes). The general perception of these shoes is that they are the mark of the colonization of Africa, specifically related to the early Cape Dutch settlers of 1652.
Black Africans were considered savages or uncivilized by early western settlers because of their near-naked appearance.
Very little historic literature focused on the indigenous people's clothing choices, including shoes, but they were only worn when necessary.
Early drawings depict near-naked and barefoot Khoisan people standing on beach dunes curiously watching strange white people wearing feathered hats embark from their landing boats.
One lesson that the early Dutch settlers learned was that Dutch shoes were impractical and downright uncomfortable for life in Africa.
But working their fields had to be simplified, and the Khoisan, more commonly known as Bushmen, were able to travel the terrain with ease, sometimes barefoot and on other occasions wearing shoes.
Interestingly "Bushmen" is now considered derogatory by many South Africans; however, the San Council has testified that it had no objection to its use in a positive context.
The Original Chukka boot made perfect sense
So, the Dutch adopted the Khoisan's practical shoe sense and called them Veldskoen or bush shoes after their namesake the Bushmen.
Interestingly, the Khoisan had been wearing shoes for over 1000 years.
The shoes they made were a practical solution to overcome specific circumstances - to protect their feet from thorns and rugged rocky terrain.
Veldskoen Chukka's became the worker's shoe of choice. There were still horse-riding boots and Sunday church shoes, but the Veldskoen formed the daily dress code.
The Original Veldskoen Chukka boot was a work horse shoe
They were never intended to be nice-looking shoes because of their rugged, durable work shoes.
The Groot Trek (Groot meaning great) of 1836 was the migration of the Voortrekkers from the Cape into the interior of South Africa by ox wagon.
Their classic trek shoes were veldskoen-type shoes and riding boots. The Veldskoen Chukka's endured as a necessity; besides, they were made to be a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
Their breathability and soft leather meant that stink foot and blisters did not upset or slow the Boer wagon train down.
The Veldskoen Chukka soon become part of the South African culture
The Chukka was perfect for the harsh African climate
Veldskoen was married to the image of the South African Boer (farmer), and their dull grey-brown color complimented the safari suit, khaki shorts, and two-toned khaki shirts. But in the 1980s, there appeared to be a rebellion against the status quo.
Bright red Vellies became a fashion statement in the early 80s, not so much a statement of defiance but more a statement of individual creative thought.
David Kramer, an iconic South African singer-songwriter, received a pair of red Vellies as a gift from a friend, and he liked them so much that they became his signature trademark.
In essence, this was the beginning of "breaking the mold" about the true identity of the ugly duckling veldskoen.
The Veldskoen Chukka has come a long way
Fast forward to the 2020 Toyo Olympic games, Veldskoen pops up again to further break the stereotypical mold of the ugly duckling veldskoen, which has now turned into a beautiful swan that has recently been established a migration route to the United States.
The South African Olympic team's official off-field attire was designed by four young black designers who know the accurate and unbiased history of the land and its people.
Every aspect of the teams' official off-field attire speaks for the beauty of South Africa and its cosmopolitan mix of cultures and heritage.
The Khoisan are acknowledged for the Veldskoen, and yes, the farmers are framed in khaki shorts while the top is a zebra print shirt.
Veldskoen chukka's have remained unchanged for centuries for a reason
You see, vellies are not the ugly farmer's work shoes. Yes, they served the farmers well, but vellies have remained unchanged for centuries.
They still hold their basic appearance but sport a more aesthetically pleasing plumage, a great ice-breaking conversation starter.
Veldskoen Chukka's in Contemporary culture
Rewind to the 80s, and David Kramer anchored in his red Vellies. David used his music, writing skills, and satire to speak his mind.
His first record album titled "BAKGAT" (South Africa, slang for Great, good, fine, excellent) Was released in 1980 and banned outright because it did not comply with the government's standards of the day.
But when you appeal to the soft underbelly of conformists as David did, you become a household name. He sang about past rugby heroes, drinks with the boys at the Royal Hotel, girls without socks, and other everyday snippets of life in South Africa.
Red vellies featured as David's trademark both on and off stage. They were an instant attraction to the creative few who began switching the color of the shoelaces.
Hell, there were even red vellies with Rasta-colored shoelaces. And so, the appeal of red vellies grew possibly on the back of the 60s hippie flower power era with everything simple but psychedelic and laid back.
Veldskoen get the hollywood treatment
E-commerce experienced a relatively recent boom that paved the way for online business, and Veldskoen attracted the interest of Mark Cuban, a Shark Tank investor, to get involved.
Steve and Angela Watts had featured on Shark Tank in 2016, showcasing Slyde Handboards, their bodysurfing and water sports company, and met Mark Cuban on that occasion.
But first, the typical Veldskoen of old and the bold red revamped version had to be placed in museums along with other relics of the past; however, the colorful laces had some sticking power and feature in the new look Veldskoen.
The Unchanged Chukka Style with a dash of color added
Veldskoen has kept the age-old recipe by using non-toxic rawhide leather and has introduced color-coding in the new design.
The shoe casing comes in different natural earth hues, while the sole, stitching, and laces come in attention-grabbing bright colors.
Traditionally Veldskoen was predominantly worn by men, but the many women who worked the fields opted to wear them as well.
Today, Veldskoen is made for men and women in stylish designs that turn heads, not in disgust but out of curiosity and admiration.
The Veldskoen is probably the least evolved footwear in the history of fashion, but why change it if it works so well?
Composite leather is not used for a uniform look. Instead, Veldskoen or vellies are made from 100% genuine African rawhide bovine leather, and the pattern is cut from a single hide which all have characteristic shade variations. This adds to the uniqueness of each pair of vellies which may vary slightly in texture and shade; plus, it defines the character and rich history of vellies.
Do I need to break in a new pair of Veldskoen?
Yes, like any pair of new shoes, vellies need to conform to the shape of your feet. A week or so of casual wearing will be enough time to wear them in.
Vellies are a wide shoe that easily fits most feet types, and as long as the size is not too small that will scrunch up your toes, wearing in the shoes is much easier than most other shoes made from stiff leather or other materials.
There are hacks like using a hairdryer to soften the leather or freezing water bags overnight in the shoes to stretch them out. These hacks may work, but the idea is to allow the shoes to conform to the shape of your feet. I'd stick to the conventional method if I were you.
Can I order new sets of laces or change the color as I wish?
Yes, to both queries. You can order new sets of laces, or you can mix and match lace colors to suit your mood or outfit.
The beauty about vellies is that they serve as an expression of who you are as a person, and it all begins with being practical and taking comfort seriously.
You can even use glow-in-the-dark or neon-colored laces if you're so inclined. Just be prepared to draw attention and get roped into conversations with new and different people.
The cherry on the cake.
Vellies have been around for well over 1000 years. We are not sure when the Khoisan learned how to sew leather pieces together as the art was simply a functional part of life.
But we know that they had great respect for the animals that made their lives a bit easier, and shoes were not an essential item of clothing. They were a means to an end and had no great significance in everyday life.
Functional and practical were made possible by the need for comfort, and the veldskoen recipe has remained unchanged for centuries. With or without socks, your feet can breathe all day long in a pair of authentic vellies.