Allbirds merino wool shoes

It’s autumn in the Southern hemisphere, and there is a definite nip in the air as the weather gets colder. As it’s getting colder, I thought I would write about these New Zealand merino wool shoes that can keep your feet warm.

The fairly new label is called Allbirds, and they make footwear out of merino wool. Allbirds is a New Zealand label, and they call the shoes ‘from the land of 29,221,344 sheep’. Allbirds was founded by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger. Tim Brown was a former professional football player who played for the All Whites, the New Zealand football team. He retired from professional football in 2012, and in 2014 used crowd funding to produce their first wool runners shoes. Joey Zwillinger is an engineer and renewable materials expert who helps develop the sustainable materials the shoes are made of. This includes the textile and insoles for the shoes. The shoes are made from 16 micron merino wool (micron is a measurement of the diameter of wool fibre in micrometre) with the textile woven in Italy. The insoles are made of a vegetable oil-based polyurethane and can be machine washed.

To me, machine washing shoes is a very alien concept, though I know that people do it and I guess it’s very convenient. Allbirds shoes are super comfortable and can be worn without socks with no worry about odour. Hey, the shoes are made of wool. It’s a bit like wearing woolen socks, but they are shoes.

Personally, I find Allbirds shoes a bit plain both in design and range of colours. Allbirds shoes only come in 2 styles: sneakers, called ‘wool runners’; and slip ons, called ‘loungers’. And both styles come in very limited colours. Allbirds market that as a selling point, preferring to focus on simplicity in design and premium, natural materials. It is also a very new shoe company, so I’m excited to see more from them in the future.

An Allbirds merino wool shoe. This is their sneaker (wool runners) design.

Photo by Dora Yip at


Red Socks Day

This month, I’m writing about Red Socks Day. No, this is not related to the Boston Red Sox baseball team. This is Red Socks Day in New Zealand, and it is related to the late Sir Peter Blake.

Sir Peter Blake was a New Zealand-born yachtsman. In 1991 he was conferred an OBE, and in 1995 he was knighted for his services to yachting. He is most famous for leading Team New Zealand to victory in the America’s Cup yacht race. He led the team to victory in 1995, and again in 2000, becoming the first non-American team to successfully defend the title. He also set the fastest time for sailing non-stop circumnavigating the world.

After Sir Peter retired from competitive sailing, he focused on the environment and looking after the earth’s waterways. In December 2001, he was shot and killed by pirates in Brazil while on an expedition to examine the effects of global warming and pollution on rivers in South America.

Sir Peter Blake was known for his red socks. In 1995, his wife gave him a pair of red socks, and they became his lucky red socks. Every time he wore the red socks, he won his race, and when he didn’t wear the red socks, he lost his race.

red socks

An official pair of Sir Peter Blake red socks.

Today, red socks are a tribute to Sir Peter Blake. On the 8th of July this year, it is Red Socks Day in New Zealand, and this year marks the 21st anniversary of Red Socks Day. People are encouraged to buy and wear a pair of red socks. On this day, Kiwis wear red socks to remember Sir Peter Blake, to celebrate the success of a small country, and to support the work of the Sir Peter Blake Trust. The Trust was set up in 2004 to honour Sir Peter’s leadership and love for the environment. The Trust works to inspire and motivate young Kiwi leaders, adventurers and environmentalists to dream big. You can buy an official pair of red socks here.

To find out more about the work of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, go here.

The packaging of the red socks, inspiring you to 'dream big'.

The packaging of the red socks, inspiring you to ‘dream big’.

Promotional jandals

My friends and family will tell you that I’m a bit of a sucker for advertising-type promotions. I’ll buy things I don’t need just to get a free gift. There doesn’t even have to be a free gift. Sometimes I’ll buy things just for the chance to win something, or to enter a competition. The most extreme case was when I bought something I didn’t need, to win something that I couldn’t use. Funnily in that case, I actually did win, and I ended up just giving away the prize.

Currently, there is one shop here that has a promotion for V energy drink. Buy any 500ml bottle of V energy drink and get a free pair of jandals. Jandals is a New Zealand term for thonged sandals or flip flops. This term was believed to originate in the 1950s, an amalgamation of the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘sandals’, as the style of these sandals with thongs is similar to traditional Japanese footwear. Personally, I call this type of footwear ‘slippers’, as this is the term that I grew up with. The V promotion kind of made no sense for this time of the year, as it is now winter in the Southern hemisphere, and people will not want to wear jandals in the cold.

The V promotion - Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

The V promotion – Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

As I said, I’m a sucker for promotions. So I bought a bottle of V energy drink, even though I don’t even like the drink. Just so I could get a free pair of slippers that I’m not going to wear now in the winter months. I also don’t really like advertising for V energy drink on my footwear. But apart from that, these slippers are quite soft and comfortable. I just have to wait a few more months for warmer weather to be able to wear them.

Strange sports and boots

There are some sports that sound so bizarre that I think how can they be real? There is a handbag throwing world championship that’s held in Germany. I kid you not. This championship is already in its 4th year. Participants from around the world compete in teams of 4 by throwing a handbag with weights inside. There are different handbag throwing events, such as over-arm throwing, long-distance throwing, freestyle and discus.

On the subject of strange throwing sports, there is also a boot throwing competition. I have always thought that boot throwing competitions are just for fun, but now I know that it is pretty serious. In New Zealand, there are local gumboot throwing competitions, which then allow a contestant to qualify for the nationals. Winning at the nationals then allows the contestant to compete at the World Championships.

This year, the International Boot Throwing Association World Championships will be held on 12 and 13 September in the town of Ascoli Piceno in Italy. The rules of the competition state that the official throwing equipment is a rubber boot, either a left or a right side boot. Women throw a size 38 boot while men throw a size 43 boot. Only five brands of boots are considered to be acceptable throwing equipment for the competition. These are boots by Siili, Duudson, Skellerup, Sulman and Kontio.

redband gumboots

Skellerup gumboots, official throwing equipment for the Boot Throwing Association World Championships.

GOCO boots

Not official throwing equipment for the World Championships, but a pair of Malaysian made rubber boots by GOCO.

New Zealand and gumboots

One thing I have learned about living in New Zealand is that small towns in New Zealand like to have big, huge sculptures of what the town is famous for. For example, in the North Island of New Zealand, Te Puke (it’s pronounced Tay Poo-kay, not Te ‘vomit’, as I first thought) has a giant sculpture of a kiwifruit as the town is famous for growing kiwifruit. Ohakune (pronounced oh-ha-koo-nay) has a humongous carrot because the area grows a lot of carrots. Paeroa has a giant bottle of a soft drink called Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) because the soft drink was originally produced in the town of Paeroa.

There are sculptures in small towns in the South Island of New Zealand as well. For instance, Cromwell has a giant fruit sculpture made up of an apple, pear, nectarine and apricot. Sometimes the sculptures even start to look the same. For example, the tiny town of Rakaia has a large fibreglass salmon that looks a lot like the gigantic brown trout sculpture in the town of Gore about 400km away. It is as if they used the same giant fish sculpture, but just coloured them differently.

In the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, there is a town called Taihape. It is known as the ‘Gumboot Capital’ of the World’ and of course the town has a sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron. Taihape is a little town that supplies the rural community, and gumboots are the staple footwear for farmers.

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

Taihape has an annual Gumboot Day, first celebrated on 9 April 1985. Gumboot Day celebrates the rural lifestyle, and on Gumboot Day, there are activities like decorating either a paper or real gumboot, and a gumboot throwing competition.

Gumboots are known by many names. In New Zealand, they are called gumboots, sometimes shortened to gummies. They are also called Wellington boots or wellies. In other places, they are called galoshes, rubber boots or rain boots.

Black gumboots with a red band are almost synonymous with New Zealand rural footwear. Gumboots are great to wear on a farm because they keep your feet dry. The best gumboots are waterproof. Gumboots also work well when walking through farm hazards, like mud and animal poop.

redband gumboots

Black gumboots with a red band by Skellerup, the staple footwear for New Zealand farmers.

A popular brand of gumboots is Skellerup. Skellerup was started by George Skellerup who opened his first shop in Christchurch, New Zealand on 12 September 1910. Back then, the shop sold tyres and rubber products to the dairy industry. Today Skellerup is still based in Christchurch and sells to the world. They are best known for their gumboots. In a completely unscientific poll (conducted by me), a group of New Zealanders were asked ‘What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the brand ‘Skellerup’; 100% of the Kiwis said ‘gumboots’.

Confusing name for a shoe shop

Last year, a new shoe shop opened in Dunedin, a little city in the south of New Zealand. The name of the shoe shop is Tango’s, and there are a few branches in New Zealand. The shop in Dunedin is their southernmost branch.


Tango’s shoe shop in George Street, Dunedin.

I think the name of the shop is such a misnomer. If the name of a shop is Tango’s and has a logo of a couple dancing, what would you expect this shop to sell?


If a shop’s name is Tango’s, and has a logo of two people dancing, what would you expect this shop to sell?

I was disappointed to find out that Tango’s Shoes does not sell dance shoes. This shop sells neither tango shoes nor shoes from Argentina. In fact, they don’t even sell any shoes from anywhere in the Americas – North, Central or South America. So why the hell are they called Tango’s? The reason why the shop is called Tango’s is because the owners spent some time in Argentina and came back from the trip with an additional 35 pairs of shoes in their luggage.

After I had got over the initial disappointment, I found that Tango’s Shoes sell some beautiful European shoes, mainly from Portugal, Italy, Spain and France. One of my favourite labels stocked by Tango’s Shoes is El Naturalista, which is made in Spain. El Naturalista shoes are comfortable, eco-friendly and inspired by nature. El Naturalista even manufactures a line of vegan shoes, which contain no traces of animal products.


A selection of shoes sold at Tango’s shoe shop.


School shoes

Late January and early February is back-to-school time in Australia and New Zealand, and the start of a new school year. So, this month I thought I would write about school shoes.

I was educated in Malaysia where all schools have a school uniform, and government schools all have the same uniform across the country. For all my school years in Malaysia, I had to wear short all-white socks with all-white canvas shoes, which were hard to keep clean. After 11 years of being forced to wear white shoes and white socks every school day, I now refuse to wear shoes or socks that are completely white.


Shih Yen in primary school, forced to wear white shoes and socks – the fate of all Malaysian school students.

This got me thinking about school shoes in other countries. The only other country where I have been a student is in New Zealand, where different schools each have their own uniform. In New Zealand, I had to wear black shoes to school. I’m guessing most schools that have a uniform will make their students wear black shoes. And there’s nothing wrong with black shoes. It’s basic, it looks smart, and it’s so much easier to keep clean than white. A few schools have brown shoes, and I think if I had to wear brown shoes everyday, I would be depressed. Brown is such a blah, nothing kind of colour.

This brings me to Southland Girls’ High School in Invercargill, a small city in the south of New Zealand. Southland Girls’ is a school with a long history, first founded in 1879. A school uniform was introduced in 1913. I find their school uniform to be very unique because red shoes are part of their uniform. Red shoes were introduced by the principal after World War II, and became uniform by 1954.

The Southland Girls' High School summer uniform with red leather shoes.

The Southland Girls’ High School summer uniform with red leather shoes.

I think red is a funky and cool colour for shoes, but I wonder if I would feel the same way if I had to wear red shoes every day. Would I feel like Dorothy from the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ wearing magic ruby slippers? Or would I feel like a clown, like Ronald McDonald in red shoes? And would it put me off wearing red shoes forever after I have left school?

The Southland Girls' High School winter uniform with red leather shoes.

The Southland Girls’ High School winter uniform with red leather shoes.