Unty: Reindeer Fur Boots

Custom made reindeer hide boots, made with a smile.

For between $566 and $700 dollars can get you into a pair of unty.

Winter Khatan Khan (Queen Winter) has gracefully spread the golden steppe, the viridian green taiga with her mink mantle of snow. As temperatures sink, Siberians bust out the fur in droves. It has become trendy again here in Irkutsk to sport reindeer fur boots, known locally as “unty”. Just a five minute walk from our apartment, Firma Kamoos is a small company that constructs unty. Everyday as I walk by, I wonder, just what they do in their workshop? Winter has come again, so I decided to go meet the workers and learn about their craft.

The Firma Kamoos team, keeping your tootsies warm when the thermometer freezes. Nickolai, Igor, Maria, Lyuba, Aleksei, Natasha.

Entering the front door, I was greeted with warm smiles, taking an edge off the cold, and suggesting they just might reveal a few boot making secrets. Svetlana Yurievna, one of the owners, said she would be happy to explain her boot making. Svetlana has been in the business 18 years. She cut her teeth in the Irkutsk boot factory that ran aground after the fall of the Soviet Union. She and her business partner left the factory and struck out on their own in 1994. While we chatted, customers kept filing in from the cold to check the fit on their recently completed boots. After helping customer # 3, and with more waiting for help, we acknowledged the futility of continuing our chat, she took me into the shop and delivered me into the deft hands of her boot making crew.

Where it all happens.

Maria joining hides.

Unty are made of “northern Deer” hide, or caribou (reindeer) as they are called in North America. Only the hide from the legs of reindeer can be used, and it takes eight pieces to make a pair of boots. Two reindeer/pair. Reindeer hides are shipped in by hunters in the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, Evenkiya, Norilsk, Tymen etc. Unty can also be made of elk or moose hide which are hunted in the Irkutsk region.

Siberians adapted unty from the Evenk people who are a native Asian nomadic people to Siberia. Much like the plains tribes of North America and Bison, the Evenk people, and other tribes such as the Tofalar, Soyot, and the Tsaatsan of Siberia and Mongolia respectively, live entirely off the reindeer.

Some excellent photography of the Evenk people and the Tsaatsan (or Dukha) can be seen at these links:

http://www.chrislinder.com/portfolio_reindeer.html

http://www.behance.net/gallery/Dukha-Lords-of-the-Taiga/585800

A new shipment of reindeer hides.

Reindeer hides were spread across the floor as the women sorted and matched them by color. Making quick work of the job, the women were back at their sewing benches in no time, sewing together skins, or trimming them for proper shape.

Nickolai is meticulous about his work.

Blade sharpening.

I sat down next to Nickolai, a silver haired fellow adroitly pounding nails into the soles of unfinished unty. Patiently, he explained the process of constructing reindeer hide boots from A to Z. There were many boot making terms I was unfamiliar with in Russian; Nickolai kindly elucidated each. Thank you Nickolai! In turn I sat down with most of the workers who shared their part of the boot making process. Maria and Tamara showed me how to trim the skins and how to sew them together with bee’s waxed heavy thread. Igor regaled me with tails of decending the white waters of Siberian rivers, bear and wolverine encounters while he sewed soles to boots. It takes two days to craft one custom pair of unty. With demand high and months of winter ahead, the Firma Kamoos crew will be cutting, pounding and sewing well into summer’s light.

Igor sews on a leather band, to which he will sew on the sole.

Igor working his magic.

And now, for your consideration, the steps to making unty:

  1. Wet skins
  2. Stretch skins
  3. Cut skins to shape
  4. Sew skins together
  5. Add boot lining
  6. Add felt liner
  7. Nail it to a form
  8. Sew on leather band around bottom (you sew the sole to this leather band.)
  9. Glue on felt sole
  10. Glue on rubber sole
  11. Sew all layers of sole to boot
  12. Add decorative motif and your reindeer hide boots are ready for Queen Winter’s worst!

    Lots of options to give your boots some flavor.

On my way out I stopped to shoot the breeze with Svetlana Yurievna. She told me how she loved her work, and how her crew was like family, how they truly enjoyed spending time together. Her crew has a great attitude, and I could see that they valued working at Firma Kamoos.  A feeling of warmth and goodwill followed me out the door as I stepped into the fresh snow still falling from a Siberian sky.

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20 thoughts on “Unty: Reindeer Fur Boots

  1. Wow! Can can people afford these? They’re incredible though, seem perfect for long winters.
    I’m glad you went into the shop and learn about the craft. Thanks for sharing.
    You should start a business in collaboration with them, seeing that several people would like a pair, maybe you could ship it to them and possibly gain a commission ;)

    • Dear Riita, just curious, do they make anything like this in Canada? I have had several queries about how to order boots. These boots are always custom made, and people come in for at least one fitting, and often two. Possibly they could make a pair off a tracing of your feet, I don’t know, and have never asked. Would you like me to find out? Keep in mind, boots like this run several hundred dollars.

      • Oops, my wife has corrected me, you can buy them pre-made. I could look into it for you if you would like. If we actually were to send you some, I wouldn’t count on them until after most of this winter is over.

        • Hi there Alex,
          There is absolutely no way to find any additional information about those guys. Do they have an email? I could send a pigeon but that would take a while….

          • Hi Yann, I too would like a pair of these boot. Any chance I could get into the loop? Will F. Antigo ,Wisconsin, USA

            Will Fisher,CRNA,MS

            ________________________________

          • Will, I am willing to look into it upon return to Siberia. It will take some doing. None of the makers of these boots have websites, and they make each pair specifically to the specs of the buyer. That includes trying them on a couple of times. So, if we got a pair made, without your presence, alterations would be impossible. If that is a risk you are willing to take, we could see about having a pair made. Alex

    • Hi Colin,
      A pair of deer fur boots cost about 17000 rubles last winter. That was about $560. There were cheaper ones too, not as fancy though. Shipping using the Russian post could take a few weeks. If you’re very interested, we can find out more information for you. Cheers!

  2. Pingback: World Wide Siberian Infatuation | Trans(form) Sib(eria)

  3. Hello
    The pictures of the boots are lovely. Myself and my family are going to spend the winter next year in an outdoor wilderness programme in north america where the temteratures will be -15 to -30 C. I have two small children and our ability to stay in the programme will depend on their well being. Reindeer boots seem the best option. How could I get a pair made for them? I live in Scotland.
    Thanks a million for your time

    ruth

    • Dear Ruth,

      Hmmmm . . . Reindeer skin boots are a bit tricky. People always come in to try them on before the finalize them, to make sure of proper fit. It would be easy to order them, since I live right down the street, but getting them to you? I am not sure how we could get them delivered. They easily could go missing in transit. Where are you going in North America? What do the locals wear there? I kick around Siberia in a good pair of hiking boots and thick wool socks and that usually does the trick. I grew up in Montana, it gets cold here to. Sorel boots usually did the trick, and they must make a pair handles extra cold weather.

      Alex

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