Teva Naot, a name familiar to all of us when it comes to shoes and sandals, is based on Kibbutz Neot Mordechai in the Upper Galilee and can today boast of being our leading manufacturer and exporter of footwear. Thereby hangs a tale of determination and perseverance that typifies a number of success stories that were developed by our kibbutzim in the Israeli world of business. The story starts in 1940 when Gideon Schwiyar arrived in Israel - part of the second Aliya; this new life had been his dream and he prepared himself for it by learning shoemaking. His first cobbling jobs were for residents of Nahariya who would bring their boots and shoes along to the deserted chicken coop which became his place of work. As the months passed, the work multiplied and more cobblers joined him. Then in 1942 there was a move towards a different life within the kibbutz system. One of the gathering-in places for this was in the Western Galilee and they opened the first proper workshop on the mount where first kibbutz Evron and later kibbutz Gaaton were developed. There they began to manufacture children's sandals – their easiest option with minimal facilities.

During the War of Independence of 1948, when the isolation and dangers in the area threatened their existence, they had to stop work, pack up the machinery and transfer it to Tel Aviv by boat and road. However, in the meantime ties had been made and interest shown by the newly formed kibbutz Naot Mordechai and in 1949 their final move was carried out and a 240 meter production workshop was put into operation under the management of Gideon. Production lines were expanded to shoes and adult footwear. An ongoing goal was quickly established, and that was to produce comfortable, strong, hard-wearing goods and thus build a name for quality which would expand their markets. The late 60s and early 70s saw their entry into the export market where they faced international competition, and, coming into the 80s they realized the importance not only of the comfort and quality of their product but also the importance of design and color choice which changed and upgraded their line of products.

Their shoes and sandals feature a unique anatomical footpad that is a copy of a negative print of the foot – just like the footprint left in the sand when we walk on it. The pad is flexible, soft and shock absorbent and supports the heel, which alleviates tiredness and pain. In spite of financial problems within the kibbutz system, Teva Naot managed to survive the 90s exporting mainly to the USA and Canada; indeed export overtook sales on the local market when 70% of their production went abroad. Again the continual upsurge in leisure and sport across the world prompted them to introduce 'active' designs and also to concentrate even more effort in complying with the ever changing demands of fashion whilst ensuring the comfort approach.

The 90s saw changes in a number of fields of business in Israel when foreign investment multiplied and it was realized that many Israeli products held worldwide appeal – apart from their fruits and vegetables. Shamrock Holdings, which is affiliated to the Disney family investment firm, purchased a major share of Teva Naot in 2006. The company has been investing in Israel for some years and is a major shareholder in such companies as Koor, Sky Vision Holdings, Ahava, Tadiran and Ginegar Plastic Products. Their take-over provided the required oomph to push Teva Naot footwear across Europe, widen sales to Australia and Japan and increase the work force. Today the company can boast of 42 outlets across Israel itself. They exhibit in top international footwear exhibitions such as Düsseldorf and Vegas and have been short listed for design awards.

Shamrock Holdings have just extended their investment in the Galilee with the acquisition of Kibbutz Daphna Shoes and now the challenge of competing with the lessening demands of the export market faces them – competition will be fierce with less money to spend in world markets. Still children grow, multitudes across the world will not stop their sporting activities of walking and running, women will still want some relaxing glamour for their feet and many of us grow old and look for that extra comfort for our aging feet.

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Barbara Abraham-Vazana

Barbara Abraham was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her studies include: Cours de Civilisation Francais, Sorbonne Paris; Queens University Belfast - B.A; Dundee University - Creative Writing cou...

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