Of interest: NPS Solovair, quietly making shoes since 1881

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I’m at the start of a series of posts about companies that for some reason or other interest me. Either due to unique products, some quirky aspect of their business, or because they have a background and history that is interesting.

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In the case of NPS Solovair, the interest starts with the company name. The NPS part dates all the way back to 1881 when 11 men in the village of Wollaston, Northamptonshire, joined forces and created a workers co-operative to make shoes. In the grand tradition of giving companies proper names, they called it the Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) Shoes Ltd. They got off to a good start by securing a contract to supply boots to the British Army.

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Time went, demand for quality boots and shoes increased, and thus company grew steadily. During the 35 year period from 1959 NPS also produced the Dr Martens range of shoes, and added the Solovair part to the company name. As in Sole-of-air, as in the air-cushioned sole used on the classic Doc Martens.

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After som tough years around the millennium the the company passed into private hands in 2006 and since then have been busy building up their own range, as well as producing for other brands. For this season they have their own “heritage” and “lifestyle” collections, which to my eyes looks to contain some splendid footwear. And  pretty realistically priced as well, at a touch over 200 pounds a pair.

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I’d love a pair of the new heritage-line brogues. What I’d really like is a pair of the original 1956 three-eye Gibson, or as we’d say around here, the OG Doc Marten. The original, by the people that made the original, and still made in Britain. Which is more than can be said of todays Dr Martens.

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More info and the full range can be found at NPS Solovair.

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11 Comments

  • jackelder 08/04/2016 at 01:02

    Any idea what’s with the plethora of domains for them? I forgot the URL and was googling for it the other day; they seem to have a load of websites, all of which sell a different range of shoes! So far I’ve found:
    https://www.solovair-shoes.com/ – UK site which includes Chelsea boots and monkey boots.
    http://www.aircushionboot.com/ – another UK site, selling the more classic DM replicas, including steelcaps and astronaut books (very nice!)
    http://www.solovairdirect.com – US site which seems to roughly combine the stocking from the two above
    http://www.nps-solovair.co.uk/ – finally, the link you include above, which sells the heritage & premium stuff.

    I guess it’s probably just that each one is marketing at a different segment of the population, but it’s a bit confusing that they all have basically the same name despite selling rather different shoes…

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 08/04/2016 at 07:12

      Aircushion and Solovairdirect at least are resellers. I think the two others are official, but the last one is their new site. Confusing though, indeed.

      Reply
    • Annabelle Tilley 17/05/2017 at 23:06

      Thanks for your feedback Jackelder.
      We have taken your comments on board. Now if you go to NPS-Solovair.co.uk you will reach a landing site with 4 squares which will lead to the following domains and areas of our business:
      1) solovair-shoes.com (our online site selling Solovair branded footwear we PVC air cushion sole which make in our factory NPS Shoes).
      2) nps-shoes.com (our newest online site selling NPS branded footwear with a leather Goodyear welted sole).
      3)nps-manufacturing (an informative website for trade and wholesale customers).
      4) Factory shop website

      AirCushionboot was a UK reseller which is now no longer in operation and we are owners of the domain.

      SolovairDirect is our USA distributor.

      The business has evolved over its 130 plus years so I do understand your confusion. Essentially, NPS is the factory in Wollaston Northamptonshire that Solovair are manufactured. However NPS are probably the biggest manufacturing of UK footwear for English brands. This is why both parts are included in the domain name.

      Reply
  • Jeff S 22/09/2016 at 00:13

    I just received a pair of Black 8 Eye Derby Boot (#8-551-BK-G) from the site http://www.aircushionboot.com. I don’t know why they have numerous websites, but I am leaving this reply because I wanted to share my thoughts on these new boots.

    First off, I have worn Doc Marten’s since the early 90’s and loved them. When they started outsourcing to India and other countries (around 1999) the quality took a huge downturn. The boots in the malls and local shoe stores dropped from $190 to $120 but that’s all I knew was available. After doing research on Dr. Martens, I found that the new cheaper boots were made from inferior leathers and they no longer held up like the older ones did. Then I discovered Solovair still makes them the RIGHT way, and in the same factory as Doc’s were made. So, I bought a pair of Solovairs a few years back. They were even better than the best pair of Doc’s I ever owned.

    Well, I damaged the top of one of my Solovairs last weekend, a long scratch in the top of one, but I was able to clean it up a bit. But I decided to buy another pair for when I dress semi-formal and want to wear undamaged footwear. The new pair just arrived (in one week from the UK to the US, amazingly) and I am beyond impressed. I ordered the “Solovair Black” sole not knowing what it was, and these new boots are better than any other pair I have owned, mainly because the soles are darker than the regular ones, and the horizontal ribbing is removed from the sides of the soles, so the sides of the boot soles are now smooth (thank God!!). My only complaint ever with Solovairs or Doc’s was the ribbing on the sides of the soles, and I had no idea there was an option to get a different type of sole.

    Anyway, sorry this has been such a long response but I do want to put the word out about Solovair boots because they are made even better than the legendary Doc Marten’s boots were, and these boots last forever. I will still wear my older pair of Solovairs almost every day that I’m not working and they look as good as they did when I got them, except for the gash across the top. I’ll wear the new pair when I need to “dress up”. And I plan to keep both pair of these until they’re falling apart, or I’m in the grave.

    If you want to know which boots to buy to get the Doc Marten’s style but an even superior boot, search that website above for the SKU I put at the top of this reply. I assure you that you’ll be impressed. Just remember, a US size 13 is a UK size 12, etc!

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 22/09/2016 at 07:31

      Pleased to hear you have discovered the quality of Solovair! It is truly great to find that the original maker of the “Doc’s” is still making them, and better than ever, while the actual brand have taken a tumble down the toilet in the search of increased profit.

      Reply
  • Magnus Holm 22/09/2016 at 13:08

    First of all, I don’t exactly think Doc Martins have taken a tumble down the toilet. Perhaps the quality is not quite up to the old standards (my first pair lasted 13 years), but it is not utter rubbish either. My Vietnam-made 1461s are well into their fourth year, and still look almost like new.

    Then, a question about the actual soles of air of Solovair. I really like the look of the derby boots in their premium collection. However, I am a bit wary of their soles. The boots are equipped with “blown PVC soles”. To me, they look somewhat like a crossover between the standard Solovair soles and the famous “commando” sole.

    Do you have any hands on (or, should I say feet on?) experience with these soles in winter conditions? My main complaint about Doc Martens (old and new alike) is that their soles are absolutely lethal on snow and ice. I don’t know whether it is the (almost non-existent) tread or the rubber mix, but these things will make you look like Bambi in typical Norwegian winter conditions.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 22/09/2016 at 13:21

      With regards to the first matter, whether Dr Martens are notably worse now that they are no longer a family-owned company and have their shoes made in random low-cost countries (China, Vietnam etc) than when they were made by Solovair in the UK, I think there is an overwhelming consensus that whereas the shoes used to be good, now they are very much less so. They are cheaper, yes, but the leather is poorer, the soles split and their reputation has taken a hit. My own experience confirms this:

      http://welldresseddad.com/2014/12/20/consumer-advocate-how-long-should-shoes-last/

      http://welldresseddad.com/2015/02/20/update-the-dr-martens-solegate-saga/

      I will give them credit though for finally relenting and sending me a fresh pair of shoes.

      Solovair make several different soles, but I’ve not personally tried them on snow. Unless they are made for Nordic-style winter use, I wouldn’t really expect them to have very much traction on show. You really need commando-style soles for that use, in my opinion. I will ask Solovair about their soles though.

      Reply
      • Magnus Holm 22/09/2016 at 13:36

        Thank you for your swift reply.

        I am really sorry – and a bit angered – that your Dr Martens failed so miserably. I have to agree that your experience seems to confirm the general opinion that the quality has taken a plunge.

        My pair, however, are still holding up rather well. I do not know if I have just been lucky, or if the Vietnam-made shoes are better than those from Thailand, but my shoes have so far been able to take all the abuse I’ve subjected them to.

        I guess Solovairs and Dr Martens aren’t exactly made for Scandinavian winters, so I cannot really blame them for not being great in snowy conditions. I am just curious about whether or not these particular boots will fit my needs. I usually wear boots in late autumn, winter and early spring, so I need my boots to have at least a decent grip on the white stuff.

        Reply
        • Well Dressed Dad 22/09/2016 at 13:47

          I think something along the lines of my Fracaps would suit you. Light boots with a commando sole. If you search the blog there is a post about them.

          Reply
          • Magnus Holm 22/09/2016 at 14:06

            Thank you again. The Fracaps look great!

      • Jeff S. 22/09/2016 at 13:46

        Regarding the quality of non-UK Doc’s, I will say that they are definitely inferior. I still have a pair of Chinese-made Doc’s that I no longer wear, and the thickness of the leather is considerably thinner than my Solovairs. But more important than that, I have had the leather uppers peel and crack on non-UK Doc’s fairly quickly, whereas my old Solovairs have not aged much at all and still look very good. My first pair of Doc’s lasted years but the second, third, and fourth pairs lasted about two years each. My first pair of Solovairs are five years old and still look great, except for a huge slice in the top of one of them. My second pair of Solovairs are brand new and I just got them trom the UK.

        Even with using Wonder Balsam every 6 months or so, nothing seems to keep Chinese/Vietnamese/India Doc’s from disintegrating if their boots are used daily and in harsher climates.

        And speaking of climates, I never had problems with my Solovairs and Doc’s holding traction on ice (and even oil), but only before the soles get worn down. I have tested this out over many years walking through snow/ice when I lived up north and never had much of an issue. But if you’ve had boots for a long time and the sole treads are worn, they will not be able to grip well.

        Reply

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