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In the boot world, each brand has its own fan club. Few, however, have quite the avid following of 90-year-old Canadian boot brand Viberg. And though the company first became popular with loggers, it has recently become idolized by style-conscious men, earning a fresh generation of devoted fans. We’re diving in deep to give the essential rundown on the brand, from the history to the terms, to the products.
Edwin Viberg immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1914 and grew up on his family’s farm. There he first encountered the craft of leatherworking. He developed a passion for the craft and opened up his own leather goods shop in 1931, later developing his skills further when a British immigrant taught him how to make shoes. From there, the Viberg boots brand was official.
The logging industry saw a boom post-WWII as Europe began to rebuild and in 1949 Viberg moved its operations to Prince George in British Columbia to serve the workers in the industry.
A logger sits mid-tree, 1931 (left); Viberg factory floor (middle); Viberg’s logging-style boots (right)
In 1970, Viberg relocated once again to Victoria, setting up its workshop along with a storefront. Shortly after settling in Victoria, Viberg introduced replaceable spikes for its logging shoes which further secured Viberg’s reputation in the thriving timber industry.
In 1989, Edwin Viberg retired and passed the company down to his son, Glen, and the direction of the brand stayed the course for the next decade. But in 2003, Viberg received an unusual request for a custom pair of boots from Japanese retailer Nepenthes. Instead of using the smooth side of the leather, Nepenthes wanted a pair of Viberg wedge-sole work boots using leather with the flesh side out. Though the non-utilitarian request seemed strange at the time, it would be the first instance that Viberg saw potential for a new direction. “Seeing that somebody in another country was interested in the boots was a shock,” says Guy Ferguson, brand director at Viberg. “We were just selling boots regionally… All of a sudden, you have a company reaching out to you from Japan. And they wanted boots that actually weren’t for working… I think it was really the first time that the context of the product had shifted. It was a thing that expanded the possibilities.”
Today, the majority of Viberg’s customers aren’t loggers. The new generation still appreciates the rugged quality the brand is known for, but they’re also conscious of style. This shift in behavior is matched by brand, now run by Edwin’s grandson Brett Viberg, with a passion for experimentation and drive for perfection. This new market has given the brand a fresh direction, one where it’s ok to take risks and push the envelope without sacrificing the craft. Ferguson notes, “Brett wants to be a brand that doesn’t sit still and is willing to innovate and willing to try new things.”
A Viberg boot, made from upcycled leather in collaboration with Japanese brand Needles.
That drive has seen the brand try unusual leathers like electric blue tumbled shell cordovan and even a see-through leather. It’s resulted in slippers, mules, and even sneakers, a far cry from the brands logging roots. Its curated crew of bootmakers allows Viberg to be nimble, which in turn allows for more experimentation. This indie mentality allows Viberg to flex its shoemaking chops in nearly every style imaginable.
While the brand used to sit on the same shelves as other heritage boot brands from the Pacific Northwest, it’s now in its own category. Today, Viberg’s craft is compared to brands like Alden and traditional English shoemakers. Every component is meticulously considered, from the exclusive and rare leathers to custom nails. “Right now, there’s a general focus on refinement,” Ferguson says. “We know that the quality is there. But we’re tweaking things and seeing if we can take the product to an even more refined category.”
Now, Viberg is an enigma in the shoe world, sitting somewhere between its workwear roots, refined cordwaining techniques and focus on experimentation. But, its products speak for themselves.
Last: The last is a shoe form which represents the shape of the wearer’s foot and is used to shape the upper of the shoe. Many times lasts are made from wood or hard plastic. The last is what gives the shoe its shape.
Stitchdown: Stitchdown construction is a method of attaching the upper to the sole whereby the upper is stitched directly to the midsole and outsole.
Goodyear Welt: In this construction method, the upper is attached to a strip of leather, known as a welt, which is then attached to the midsole and outsole.
Shell Cordovan: A type of leather which comes from the rear quarters of a horse.
Side Wall Stitch: A method of shoe construction often seen in sneakers. Here, a rubber cup sole is fitted around the upper of the shoe and stitched directly to the upper.
Storm Welt: This is a type of Goodyear welt wherein the welt is folded in such a way that helps prevent water from seeping in between the upper and the welt.
Channeled Insole: In most Goodyear welt construction, the welt is attached to a piece of canvas which is then attached to the insole. With channeled insoles, a separate machine takes the leather insole and creates a channel which is then used instead of the canvas to attach to the welt. The result is a stronger attachment.
Toe Box: The area of the shoe from the widest part of the feet to the tip of the toes.
Instep: The area of the shoe between the ankle and the forefoot.
Fore Foot: The widest part of the foot.
Heel Counter: Located at the heel, the heel counter is a piece of rigid material (often plastic or leather) which is inserted at the heel to give the shoe stability.
Heel Drop: Shortened from “heel-to-toe drop”, this is the vertical distance between the heel and the forefoot.
Known also as its Cantilever Last, the 1004 fits a half-size smaller than Viberg’s other lasts. It’s based on vintage orthopedic shapes to follow the natural contour of the foot. The updated version, the 2020, has the same waist and toe shape as the 1004 but forgoes the anatomical curvature. Now, most of the shoes using the Cantilever design use the updated 2020 version.
The 1035 is one of Viberg’s widest-fitting lasts and is characterized by its low profile and round toe.
Based off of vintage Canadian military boots, the 2030 is Viberg’s most popular last and is featured prominently throughout the collection. It has a low profile like the 1035 and is generous through the heel and waist, but has a slightly narrower, almond-shaped toe.
Designed after the Munson last, a shoe last developed by the US military to fit a wide range of soldiers with a natural toe box, the 2045 features a generous forefoot and deep toe box.
This is Viberg’s most narrow last and was built for its Chelsea boot. Based off of Argentinian riding boots, it features a high instep and almond-shaped toe box. Viberg recommends sizing a half-size up if you prefer a wider fit.
Made for its range of hiking boots, the 240 takes into account thick hiking socks. It’s got a roomy toe box and higher instep.
Not used often, the 310 last’s main feature is its sprung toe box which creates a natural rocking motion with each step. It’s quite roomy compared to Viberg’s other shoes.
Roomy all-around, the 2005 was built for Viberg’s Engineer and Roper-style boots, designed with a wide heel, forefoot and toe box, as well as a high instep. Size a half-size down if you have narrower feet.
The 2010 runs a half-size larger than Viberg’s other lasts and was originally designed for its Slipper. It has a round toe and a very minimal heel-to-toe drop.
Calling back to vintage WWII boots issued to the US Navy, the Boondocker features a reproduction of Horween’s original Natural Aniline Chromexcel roughout leather, an exclusive for the Viberg brand. It’s built upon Viberg’s 2045 last, a Munson-style last which was used for military boots, and uses an unstructured toe box stitchdown construction to attach to the natural corded rubber soles.
Viberg’s Chelsea boot comes in several iterations including some pairs with leather soles, natural lactae hevea crepe soles or Dainite soles. Some will have a Goodyear welt or a storm welt. But each one will come with a one-piece upper and strong elastic side gore details.
Based on British hunting boots, the Country Boot stands at six inches tall. The 360-degree vamp helps prevent water from leaking into the shoe while a hardy Ridgeway sole keeps each step surefooted. It’s built on the 1035 last and features a full leather lining, leather heel pull, brass eyelets, waxed flat laces and stitchdown construction,
The Derby Boot is quite similar to Viberg’s most popular boot, the Service Boot. However, the Derby boot is a bit more pared down and dressier, incorporating a narrow backstay as well as French binding at the quarters, giving the shoe a finished look. As the dressed up doppelganger, some Derby Boots feature blind eyelets or even tasteful gold-toned eyelets and speed hooks. It’s built on the 2020 last and comes with stitchdown construction as well as a soft kip lining.
The Service Boot is certainly Viberg’s most famous and most popular boot. Based on the brand’s original work boot from 1934, it’s built upon the 2030 last which itself takes its cues from Canadian military boots with its low profile and almond-shaped toe. It’s a classic work boot with Viberg’s signature stitchdown construction and has been rendered in an array of beautiful leathers from its core Chromexcel leathers to rarer shades of shell cordovan, kudu, horsehide and more. While most iterations come with a plain toes, others will have brogued cap toes.
Though the Derby Shoe was first dreamed up by founder Edwin Viberg, it didn’t see production until after his passing. The Derby Shoe was created from the original paper patterns and is perhaps the brand’s most dressy shoe, with its streamlined aesthetic and French binding. Using the 2020 last, the Derby Shoe can be seen with metal eyelets, blind eyelets, stitchdown, Goodyear and storm welt construction.
Standing at eight inches tall, the Engineer boot is a shorter version of a traditional motorcycle boot. It’s built on the 2005 last, featuring a high instep and roomy toe box. It comes with deep gussets, a heel tab, nickel roller buckles, stitchdown construction and grippy Tygum 700 soles.
If this boot looks familiar, it might be because of its history with another famous bootmaker. Edwin Viberg traded boot patterns with Bill Danner, of the Danner shoe company back in the 1970s and still uses produces that same boot today. It features a naturally water-resistant one-piece upper, lace-to-toe design for a custom fit and stitchdown construction.
The other hiking boot in Viberg’s collection, the Pachena Bay boot was designed by Glen Viberg, after Italian hiking boots. The most noticeable difference of the Pachena Bay is the padded collar as well as the gusseted tongue.
A sleek and super-stylish boot, the Jodhpur uses the 2050 last and features the classic two-piece upper and wrap-around strap distinctive of the style. It comes in both Goodyear welt and storm welt constructions with kip lining and rubber soles.
The most relaxed of the collection, the Mule takes the Slip On’s casual nature one step further with a backless design. It’s quite elegant with its unstructured toe, wholecut upper and French binding. And though it may look like a mere house slipper, the storm welt, leather lining, insole, midsole, outsole and stacked leather heel lets you know it aspires to venture beyond the home.
Akin to riding boots, the Side Zip boasts a slick silhouette with a full-length antique brass zipper. It features a heel tab, kip lining, Goodyear welt and Commando Club soles.
The Slip-On takes after skate-style sneakers and punches up every detail. It uses premium leather uppers, French binding, as well as padded collars and it’s one of the few pairs in the Viberg collection that uses sidewall stitch construction.
In contrast to the bulk of Viberg’s collection, the Slipper is made to collapse, literally. It’s designed after traditional travel slippers and comes with an unstructured toe box and a collapsible heel. But it’s still built to last thanks to the wholecut upper and Goodyear welted construction.
When Viberg made its first sneaker, it would also be the first Made in Canada sneaker. Modeled after running sneakers, it’s a classic-looking marathon sneaker that’s been given the Viberg treatment. It uses full-grain leathers for the paneled uppers which are lined with a soft kip leather and feature a leather insole that will mold to your feet, just like their boots. It also comes with a removable leather-lined foam insert and a thick Vibram sole attached with cement construction.
Built on the same last as the popular Service Boot, the Wholecut Boot is cut using a single piece of leather for the upper. Channeled Goodyear welt construction attaches the upper to the Dainite sole.