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 By: Jens Larssen  | Date: 2010-04-29  | Category: Other    | Comment  

The Birth of a “La Sportiva” climbing boot

Let’s discover the secrets behind the birth of La Sportiva climbing boot…

Produced in the company factory at Ziano di Fiemme (TN, Italy) - in what is considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Italy, the Val di Fiemme - a blend of manual skills and artisan techniques are carried out by a staff of 160 people.

La Sportiva climber/tester Pietro Dal Prà says,

“I sometimes have the opportunity to show visitors around the La Sportiva factory - climbers and non climbers, people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, and many different personalities.  However, one thing unites them all: their admiration and sheer amazement at the work carried out in the factory.  The most frequent, and definitely the most interesting comment is, ‘Wow - we didn’t realize the boots were handmade!’  There seems to be a misleading belief out there that production is some sort of super technological melting pot, into which various ingredients are poured, mixed together and blended to produce the perfect climbing shoe.  Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps), this is not the case”.

Every single component of the boot passes through the capable hands of a skilled professional who knows how to handle it and assemble it to the rest of the boot.  Each mounting phase requires utmost care and attention, as just one minor imperfection could compromise the final quality of the model.  There are some machines of course - in fact, the factory abounds in technology - but the vital ingredient will always be the human touch.  

In fact, the production phase is only the last link in a long chain.  Rock climbing is a relatively young sport and is still evolving.  Every year, new trends and styles are developed in response to climbers’ demands for new and innovative bootsIn such a niche market, word of mouth is the most effective channel of information.  Enthusiastic climbers can talk for hours about their boots and love to give their opinion and comments.  From this information, the blueprint for a new climbing boot can often be outlined.

Perhaps the most important quality for a leading brand in the climbing sector is to be able to capture this feedback and respond quickly, offering climbers a new product, guaranteed to please.  

So, production will result from both consumer demands and commercial needs.  However, once a new boot has been decided, production does not start immediately.  First, there is the long, roller-coaster process of prototyping and testing.  The first prototype is made and then tested to identify the pros and cons.  Initial changes are made to the model, leading to an improved prototype.  Sometimes these changes are satisfactory, but other times the process may have been rushed and it is necessary to step back and consider elements that may have been overlooked.  Fortunately, however, this delicate process usually leads to the production of the final prototype… the most important one.

The fine-tuning phases of the final prototype are the ones that cause adrenaline levels to rise.  At this point, everyone’s hard work and effort reaches a climax.  The project protagonists are called in to give the product the all-important finishing touches.

Different feet require different tests and each foot reacts differently.  At this frenetic stage, all types of suggestions and opinions flood in, often contradictory - Should we soften the toe or make it harder?  Should we change the midsole or not?   A host of dilemmas arise where everyone has a theory of their own.  It is at this stage that the expertise of the R and D department comes in to play.  These guys climb regularly and are able to give the appropriate degree of knowledge to their personal preferences along with those communicated by the testers.  This is the moment when consumer needs and final product must meet in perfect harmony.  

We are however, human, and a margin of error naturally occurs.  It is impossible to eliminate all the factors that might lead to complications.  For this reason, up until the time when the final prototype is handed over for mainstream production, you feel as though you are standing on a cliff top facing an immense ocean, from which you are going to have to dive sooner or later - and you hope for some luck.”