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DUTCH CLOG MAKERS HEARING FOOTSTEPS : FABLED WOODEN SHOES FACING SURVIVAL TEST.

Byline: William J. Kolen Associated Press

Through famine and flood, the Dutch have worn it for more than six centuries. Now bureaucrats may do what time so far has not: eliminate the wooden shoe from Holland's workplaces.

The European Union says traditional clogs - still worn daily by thousands of Dutch workers - must meet the same standards as the steel-toe safety shoes that began replacing clogs decades ago.

Without EU acceptance, the wooden shoe - a symbol of the Netherlands as enduring and endearing as the tulip or the windmill - could fade into folklore.

``It would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower,'' said Eelke Schereon, owner of a small company that machine-carves wooden work shoes in the northern Dutch town of Noordbergum.

``I have to admit these new regulations surprise me,'' he said. ``What's the matter? Our fathers and grandfathers wore these shoes. Now all of a sudden there's something wrong with them?''

In their quest to standardize thousands of consumer products ranging from computers to condoms, European Union officials have set a variety of guidelines that challenge European traditions.

Bureaucrats have outlawed exports of a popular Spanish brew known as oruju. They set minimum bacteria levels for cheese made with raw milk - a move French farmers contend could lead to a ban on Brie. They even tried to regulate the ingredients of British ``bangers'' - the sausages that serve as a national symbol - but were forced to back down.

Wooden shoes, which date to the mid-1300s, technically have been illegal in the workplace since 1995, when the 15-nation EU began requiring tests and certification. Some Dutch companies since have been asking employees who wear them to sign disclaimers saying they bear all responsibility for injuries they might suffer in an accident.

Clog manufacturers claim wooden shoes have never been proved to have caused an injury. On the contrary, they say, clogs have protected farmers when cows stepped on their feet, and shielded road workers whose toes might otherwise have been crushed or severed by the collapse of a steel boot plate.

Intent on making sure the footwear of the past has a future, clog makers have hired the Netherlands' top research institute to see whether wooden shoes measure up to EU expectations.

This spring, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research will run a battery of tests on clogs at its high-tech lab in Waalwijk in the central Netherlands shoemaking region.

If they pass, ``wooden shoes will go on,'' said project leader Jan Broeders, recalibrating machines so test clogs can be squeezed, bashed, scorched and dunked in fluids.

If they fail, work clogs could vanish forever from the field and the shop floor.

``They'll only be able to make shoes for souvenirs,'' Broeders said. ``It would be a pity, as people have worn them for centuries.''

And still do. In this soggy country, wooden shoes remain the footwear of choice for thousands of farmers, fishermen, road repairmen, gardeners and artisans who swear by their durability, breathability and comfort. One recent German orthopedic study even declared properly carved clogs downright good for the feet.

Wooden shoes are environmentally friendly - a plus in a nation known for its environmentalism. And they're cheap - about $15 a pair - no small selling point in a country where frugality is a virtue.

Yet they have fallen on hard times.

Their popularity peaked after World War II, when 1,800 small factories turned out about 9 million pairs a year. Today, only about two dozen manufacturers remain, and many of the 800,000 pairs they make each year from native poplar and willow are for tourists, not workers.

``It's already a dying industry,'' said Schereon, the wooden shoe maker. ``Without EU certification, working clogs are forbidden - and I've got no future.''

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Photo

Photo: Leo Beehuiszen, 41, demonstrates the art of clog-making in his central Netherlands shop.

Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 23, 1997
Words:642
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