Published on January 12th, 2010 | by Greg0
OSPOP Steppe: From China, and Proud
Labeling one’s products as “Made in China” isn’t your typical marketing strategy, but OSPOP (or “ospop” — the capitalization standard has been mixed) has defiantly branded their footwear just that. With the Chinese character for “labor” or “work”, gong, they are proudly trumpeting the origins of these humble shoes, which are worn by millions of “miners, farmers, and construction workers,” as they say. Now, we’ve spent a fair bit of time throughout multiple provinces of China (including Henan, where the Tian Lang factory is based), and can safely say that these shoes certainly have the look so often seen in the past. Though the feel, well that’s slightly better than the originals (which are not so easily found on the streets anymore).
We’ve been trying out the Steppe series for this review — the newest model in a line that has included the Skywolf and the Departure — and they come in a few color options ranging from slate to “caution” orange to gobi army camouflage and are available for men, women, and children. Every pair comes with two sets of laces. In our case we tried out the slate shoes and so received both red and black laces. Our pair appeared to have come straight from the factory in a sealed box, complete with a release of noxious fumes upon opening. For quite some time, the shoes and the area around them smelled precisely like an industrial rubber facility (we’re familiar with them as well, unfortunately).
The company also rebrands the Chinese style in several other new ways, starting with their site that includes photographs of typical Chinese construction workers and ending with deeper socially progressive ideas. A donation is made to the community surrounding the factory for each pair of shoes made, and they have some pretty neat documentary footage on their site (which you’ll have to find yourself as Flash forbids direct linking to it).
While the indirect donations are great, you probably don’t typically buy your shoes for their revolutionary credentials. You probably want to feel comfortable, not to mention protected from the elements and secure in your durable shoes. And we’re happy to report that the shoes perform fairly well on that front. They were reasonably rugged and, thanks to the sheep’s wool lining, decently warm in cold temperatures. They handled as well as could be expected in uneven and rocky terrain. The sole was surprisingly cozy, but the shoe is fairly heavy and a bit awkward when trying to jog or quickly change pace, so it’s a great city shoe, but obviously won’t be replacing your running shoes anytime soon.
For canvas and rubber mid-tops, they feel a bit overpriced at $93, but they pose an interesting alternative to the typical Chinese-made shoe. And their courageously fresh take is a trend I hope to see more of in the future.