Improvising with shoes

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Shoe shod with wood

Wartime meant that not only individuals, but also industries, including shoe manufacturers, needed to improvise. The outbreak of Winter War between Finland and Soviet Union in late 1939 brought new kind of challenges to Finnish shoe manufacturers.

Leather and rubber footwear was reserved for the army, so the shortages were felt mostly by civilians. At first,shoes were rationed. A prospective buyer had to present a coupon and guarantee that he or she did not have more than one pair of leather shoes that could have been fixed. As supply problems drew on, shoe makers had to seek substitutes.

Soles were made from recycled rubber, but also from domestic wood like spruce, pine or birch. The elasticity of such soles was increased using various solutions, such as notches cut into the bottom of the otherwise stiff wooden plate. The uppers, lacking leather, were made of paper, cloth, laces, or pieces of tent canvas or fabric.

How to cite this page


Slawomir Lotysz, 'Improvising with shoes', Inventing Europe,


  1. Well Heeled: The Story of the Finnish Shoe, edited by Ritva Palo-oja. Tampere: Tampere Museums, 2005.

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Waste not, want not? Re-use campaigns from 'autarky' to recycling

Both the First and Second World Wars created shortages for the civilian populations in various European countries, when many imports were stopped and supplies were diverted to the military. For governments and military occupation authorities, this became a careful balancing act between civilians and the war effort. Apart from rationing what was left, propaganda campaigns were mainly addressed to housewives, encouraging them to make nations "autarkic" - self-sufficient. Such campaigns might well be considered the forebears of our current efforts to recycle.

What's like this?

Mending shoes

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