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Shoemaking

It is generally known that in the 20th century shoemaking was the main economic activity in Žiri. However, it is less known or unknown who were the beginners of shoemaking. In the Škofja Loka land register from 1501, a Petter Schuestar is mentioned, who, according to his surname, is assumed to have been a shoemaker. A large number of shoemakers and other craftsmen in villages in the centuries before 1800 was not possible because they were not allowed by the Škofja Loka guilds. This was the case till the last decades of the 19th century, when in the Žiri area shoemaking and lacemaking appear and come to flourish in a relatively short period of time. These were two basic economic activities that enabled better and more permanent employment for both men and women, and thus a better earning and lifestyle for the local people. The beginnings of shoemaking in Žiri are quite vague. The first masters supposedly learned this craft elsewhere (since they could not learn it at home). When they returned, they mainly made heavy work shoes. These were precisely the ones they needed themselves to work on marshy and wooded land. Later, they started to sell these shoes on their own or via brokers to workers in Hungarian mines and Bosnian forests. The most probable, although insufficiently supported by written sources is the explanation that the Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 enabled the expansion of shoemaking in Žiri. After the occupation, extensive works in construction of roads and railways began, as well as in mining and forestry. These are works that demand durable shoes though they might look cumbersome and unfashionable; the shoes from Žiri were exactly like that. Since the first ones proved to be useful and of good quality, new orders followed.

Tomaž Kopač from Dobračeva was the first modern shoemaker known by his name, attested in 1877. Even before World War I, in Žiri, there was a number of craftsmen, masters, assistants and apprentices. During the two wars, they merged into cooperatives due to the economic crisis and industrial competition; some were already real entrepreneurs (Anton Gantar, brothers Nace and Polde Naglič (Brana), Ivan Zajc). Immediately after World War II, a large part of the prewar shoemakers, about a hundred of them, merged into the cooperative called Žiri Shoemaker’s Shop (Čevljarna Žiri). On April 30, 1947, 269 shoemakers together with their new apprentices switched to the state sector and set a new name Žiri Sport Shoes Factory (Tovarna športnih čevljev Žiri), which became Alpina in 1951. Later on, Alpina became a world renowned brand, especially for sports footwear; today, the company is among top world producers of shoes for cross-country skiing. Alpina reached its peak production quantity around 1985, when the number of employees in Žiri and in numerous plants and shops throughout Yugoslavia came close to 2000; that year they produced for the first time more than 2 million pairs of shoes, and in 1986, 2.4 million shoes, the most so far. They will probably never be able to make more of them. However, in the 21st century, it is no longer a matter of having a lot of workers and measure their effectiveness in the number of pairs produced. Now it is about how to make and earn as much as possible with as few workers as possible.