It’s the sole of the Jewish state.
The large black-and-white pictures of men on an Israeli kibbutz making shoes, Israeli music playing over the store’s speaker system and a large antique sewing machine in the front window suggest that this new store in Woodbury, L.I., isn’t any ordinary shoe store.
The Jericho Turnpike shop is the first foray into the U.S. market for Naot Footwear, a shoe company started on Kibbutz Naot Mordechai in 1942; it opened its doors here in October. The company today is Israel’s largest shoe manufacturer.
“The idea of this store is to show Israel in a totally different way,” said Steve Lax, the company’s CEO. “Israel is considered the start-up nation, but here we are doing something with shoes that is not high-tech but innovative and wonderful.”
“Israel is considered the start-up nation, but here we are doing something with shoes that is not high-tech but innovative and wonderful.”
Picking up a shoe, he then explained how these shoes are made to “mold to the wearer’s foot, creating a personal orthotic. The difference between us and every other shoe company is that when you first put on their shoes, it is the best it is going to feel. With us, it gets better with time. We use a cork and latex mix for the insole along with a latex pad so it feels 1,000 times more comfortable than our competitors.
“They are designed to put less stress on your body — your knees and back. If you are on your feet all day, we make your feet feel better than a massage.”
The company started out making sandals exclusively. In the 1980s, it began making more fashionable sandals and now has 700 styles and colors. It also began making shoes. Men’s shoes sell for about $200; the women’s collection ranges from $120-$199.
Naot sandals are sometimes called “Israeli Birkenstocks,” because its original hippy-esque look and cork insole design were similar to the German brand. While Birkenstock has made some moves toward producing more fashionable shoes — including hosting a lavish event at French Fashion Week last summer — Naot’s move from ‘fugly’ to fashionable has been broader; the brand even offers 28 varieties of high heeled shoes.
Before he bought the company five years ago, Lax had been its distributor, “working out of the basement of my condo in Woodbury.”
He started in 1988 as the company’s distributor in the Northeast and later expanded to the rest of the nation.
“I did 60 percent of the company’s worldwide business,” Lax said.
“We tell the story of the kibbutz in a story on our wall. It tells how we have Muslims, Christians, Ethiopians, Africans, Russians, Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews all working together as a family to make these shoes. We call ourselves the Naot worldwide family, and we are very proud to have created all these jobs.”
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At the kibbutz today, Lax said, there are 1,000 people making the shoes and in the West Bank city of Hebron there are 1,000 Palestinians working to sew together the upper part of the shoe to the base.
“There are six or seven factories in Hebron and because they are owned by the Palestinians themselves, BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] has left us alone because we are creating jobs for Palestinians,” he said. Naot is still listed on a few BDS boycott lists, however, including the Vermonters for Justice in Palestine site.
“Fifty souls touch each shoe, and they are from all over the world. It takes us about one month to make a shoe because there are so many processes involved. … We make 1 million pairs of shoes a year. Our goal is to have shoes for every need, for those from 12 to 97 years old. … Last year our sandals won the industry award for best sandal comfort in the U.S. And we won a national award for the best vendor of the year, reflecting customer service, product availability, shipping and sales.”