Felt boot factory in Belarus

The Smilovichi Felting Factory in Belarus was founded in 1928, when Smilovichi was a small Jewish settlement of craftsmen. Five of those craftsmen organized a small artel (a cooperative association of craftsmen who all live and work together), which produced warm boots called ‘valenki’ for cold weather. Later the artel was transformed into the enterprise 'Red Star', which was to supply Germany during the Second World War, when Belarus was occupied by the Nazis.

Much of the work performed at the factory today is still handiwork. Three to five days are needed to turn the fleece into ‘valenki’ with about 36 manufacturing processes. Some of these processes, like wool washing and combing, are mechanized, others are solely performed by hand. The lambs’ wool boots are eco-friendly and keep the feet warm even at temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. Today’s modern Smilovichi-made felt boots come in a range of different designs. Customers can choose from over 20 models, from simple versions to stylish fur-edged boots with appliqué decorations and polyurethane soles.The boots produced at the factory are made of 100 per cent wool, without dyes and other chemical additives. The raw sheep’s wool is imported from Dagestan, Central Asia and Belgium, with only five per cent produced domestically. The production of the factory is exported to Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Baltic States and to the countries of Western Europe. About 800 pairs of felt boots can be produced every day at the factory, which makes about 200,000 pairs of ‘valenki’ per year. (EPA)