Soles Made from Natural Rubber: What Exactly Is Crepe?

When we read the term „crepe“, most of us probably think of a very thin pancake garnished with sugary delicacies, that you can get at the fair. With the German way of spelling „Krepp“, a roll of masking tape or a selfmade school cone will manifest itself before the inner eye of most people. It has almost been completely forgotten by now, that this word also stands for a whole type of textiles.

In the context of fashion, crepe denotes a woven fabric with a coarse surface, which is mostly matt due to its structure. Depending on the production it gets its texture from the use of strongly overtwisted yarn and a specific weaving technique. Chiffon or crepe-satin are some of the many subcategories of crêpe. But the term is also used for another material: soles made from natural rubber.


Success story of a natural material

In the western world Crepe soles first appeared in the forties of the 20th century. At this point the indigenous tribes of middle america had already been using the material for thousands of years to make clothes weather-resistant; as a result European colonial powers exported the plants necessary for production to Africa and Asia. During the second world war the soldier Nathan Clark¹, who coincidentally is also the heir to a footwear empire, brings home a raw version of the desert boot from an Indian stationing. The robust boot helps the company get back on track – and provides a fashion statement to generations of teenagers.

Crepe: sole of subcultures

The rockabillys of the fifties either present themselves with blue suede shoes, that were immortalized by Elvis, or in extravagant creepers, which stand out because of their especially thick sole. This is where the crepe sole even becomes political: In 1954 a ministry in Prague allegedly orders the production of the western-influenced footwear to be stopped². British mods, American students and German 68s are united not just by the pioneering spirit of the sixties, but also by the thin, light soles of the desert boots.

At the latest in the sixties demand for the natural material increases significantly; among others Vivienne Westwood and the London punk scene discover the crepe sole for themselves. The competition through synthetic alternatives increaes consequently, since their production and logisitics are cheaper and there is less fluctuation caused by nature. But at ekn we still use natural rubber with great enthusiasm.

Crepe x ekn

Models like the desert boot Pear or the Max Herre Signature get their raw, earthy charme from their crepe soles, but we find crepe especially hot because of its heat-regulating properties. As a natural product rubber reliably adapts to ambient temperature; so do not be surprised if the sole of your boots feels harder during winter and softer during summer. But rubber does not only harmonize perfectly with its environment when the shoe is worn. Extraction and production are sustainable as well with short supply chains.


Rubber: a pretty perfect natural product

Crepe has always been made from the juice of rubber trees. In its natural form it is a milky latex liquid, that is harvested from the tree by making fine cuts and collecting it in buckets. This process does not harm the tree; actually it develops new shoots as a result and simply reproduces the sticky juice. During further steps of production the liquid is thickened, similar to the processing of milk in cheese production. With the help of a specific acid the latex-milk curdles. The resulting rubbery mass is put into a press before it gets dried to form sheets, which now have the typical amber color of the final product. Air bubbles, that are enclosed during drying later work as natural cushioning. The grippy sole can already be punched from the finished sheets.

If the trees are not grown in monocultures, but sustainably integrated into their surroundings and if for instance biodegradable formic acid is used for coagulation, the extraction of natural rubber is mostly harmless for the envirmonment. Crepe is also a sustainable investment for you: if you have worn out the sole of your shoe, you can replace it with our crepe spare sole set.


Crepe sole: desert boots, creepers and more

To be fair one should consider, that even a product, which was almost perfectly designed by nature has its weak spots. Due to their porosity rubber soles are relatively vulnerable to dust, lint and staining. For fans of the cult product this is part of the charm, and only the patina really makes the crepe sole presentable.

We wholeheartedly stand by our crepe soles and feel reassured in our mission during every inspection and quality control of the material: sustainable natural products are no anomaly, they rather deserve a fixed place in global production- and trade-chains. After all they have already been part of fashion enthusiasts´ wardrobes for almost 75 years.

Photos by Tim Peukert