Valenki: from Russia with warmth

Keeping the winter snow from freezing your feet is something Russians mastered centuries ago. Valenki boots, made from lambs’ wool, have been worn by generations of people to protect their toes from the chills.

­It is even suggested that they can help maintain good blood circulation. And today's wearers are keen to make sure fashion is not sacrificed for function.

In the fast paced world of fashion, those in the know like to always be one step ahead of the crowd. And now, Europe’s fashion-forward are looking to Russia’s past for their style inspiration.

Valinki, the centuries-old style of Russian lambswool boots, are easy to find in Russia, but fashion fans in Europe have found it harder to get their hands on the unique footwear.

With Europe feeling the chill the last few winters, they have certainly been in demand.

“Valenki keeps growing in popularity. As well as being warm and stylish, they’re also environmentally friendly,” a valenki shop owner, Olga Chernikova, explained to RT.

But whilst Olga’s business goes from strength to strength in Russia, she does not have the capabilities to meet the high demand from foreign countries. Luxury goods dealer Mattias sees a huge gap in the market.

“For some decorated valenki you could sell them for about a hundred euros, or 5,000 roubles – no problem. And as a wholesaler you can buy them for about ten euros, or about 400 roubles – there’s a beautiful margin on that,” says Mattias W. Wintzer, a luxury goods trader.

But with no big exporter, valenki remain rare outside Russia.

One stylish duo, however, have taken advantage of the opportunity and have had huge success taking their Valenki business to the world's fashion hub – Italy.

“They’ve proved extremely popular. A while ago no one even knew what the word ‘valenki’ meant,” Julia Voitenko and Daria Golevko of the valenki online shop told RT.

But they too acknowledge that when it comes to valenki there are still many barriers to trade.

“Russian factories that stock valenki operate the way they did 50-60 years ago. Even little things like there are no English speakers at these factories. The first delivery we ordered arrived three months late. European standards just wouldn’t tolerate this,” the girls explain.

In the past, valenki adorned the feet of peasants and tsars alike – these days you are more likely to find them gracing the pages of fashion magazines.

Olga Chernikova counts President Medvedev’s wife Svetlana among her customers and knows that to keep up with the times businesses will have to buck up.

“Russia should come up with a concept for choosing the best producers and upgrading equipment. Develop the strengths in our industry and eliminate the weaknesses,” she said.

Fashion truly does cross borders. Now Russia needs to put its best foot forward and ensure that it does not let this lucrative national product slip out of its hands.