In 1970 radiologist Touko Ollila formulated a footwear solution now favoured by doctors and nurses throughout Finland. After finding the gruelling hours of working in the medical profession played havoc with his posture, he commissioned colleagues at Helsinki’s Meilahti hospital to redesign the insole contours of the traditional clog.
To the delight of hospital staff – and their feet – his clogs were put into production at a factory that he bought in Askola, southern Finland (aside from shoe-lasts, the factory had specialised in manufacturing rifle parts and prosthetic legs). Sadly, failing health meant that just 12 years later Ollila had to sell the business.
Erja Räty and Hannu Salminen, a couple with simple tastes who made their living from farming, saw this as an opportunity to do something different. Räty says, “It complemented farming perfectly. We could make clogs in the winter when there is less work to do on the fields.” Räty took on the project and she and Salminen moved the Talla “factory” to the barn behind their farmhouse in the remote village of Myrskylä.
Today the Talla factory has just one other employee, Paavo Puotila, who has been making clogs for over 40 years. He works on a single German copy-lathe machine to craft the soles of these shoes that are so good for the back.
The trio’s daily routine is idyllically rural; they work from 07.00 until the early evening, with a break for skiing in the winter months. Some mornings they chop birch and ash wood from the surrounding forest which they use to make the clogs. Other days they stretch individual strips of wet leather over wooden lasts or saw moulds. At full steam Talla can produce up to 60 pairs of clogs a day, ranging in sizes from a petite European 25 to a lolloping 55.
The business was ticking quietly over until Talla caught the attention of Japanese designer Nene Tsuboi who runs her brand Mitsumaru from Helsinki. In 2007 she teamed up with Talla to launch the Puukenkä clog intended for casual wear. When they went on sale at Stockmann, Helsinki’s main department store, they sold out in 10 days.
With this partnership Talla has found a new clientele who appreciate the firm’s artisanal approach. Tsuboi, who has put Talla on the radar of fashionable Finns, says, “I was struck by the small, domestic scale they were operating on. It is a very beautiful way of living.”
Like clog work
The raw materials
The wood for the shoes has to be treated for up to two years in a specialist drying room. It is taken from the local forest by Räty and Salminen.
Using a mould
The master template for a clog sole. This is larger than the actual shoe’s size and is used to produce precisely cut copies on the lathe.
The soles are made
Rubber is glued to the bottom of the wooden sole and then the soles are stacked up ready for the next stage – putting on the leather uppers.
The leather is prepared
The uppers are treated then wetted before being stretched into shape over a wooden last where they remain for up to two days.
Clogs are stapled
The leather, which comes from Lapua in western Finland, is now ready to be fixed to the shoe and is hand-stapled to the wooden soles.
They’re ready for sale
The finished Talla x Nene Tsuboi Puukenkä clogs sit ready to be packed. This design has a back whereas Talla’s more traditional models are slip-ons.
1970: Hospital worker Touko Ollila commissions his colleagues to design an orthopaedic clog. 1982: Ollila sells the Talla factory to Erja Räty and Hannu Salminen. 1986: Talla factory is moved to Myrskylä. 2007: Mitsumaru and Talla launch the Puukenkä clog.