Haunold felt slippers are produced by the Zacher family, who have been carrying on the tradition of craftsmanship since 1560.
In 1880, the family's great-grandfather started a workshop in San Candido, at the foot of Mount Haunold (Rocca dei Baranci in Italian) in South Tyrol, where he produced felt hats, traditional felt soles and slippers.
At that time it was a large workshop with 20 craftsmen and apprentices.
The predecessor Leopold Zacher gave his products the name "Haunold" and the five brothers and sisters of the current generation have joined together to remain faithful to the tradition of handmade felts and carry out all the processing steps from wool to the final product in their own laboratory.
Haunold felts are made with pure virgin wool from the best Tyrolean sheep, using only water, steam, pressure and soap, according to traditional techniques.
When I write "high quality Tyrolean wool", it seems a little obvious formula in advertising, but the sheep it comes from are really special and precious.
Val Senales, about 150 km from San Candido, is the name of a valley along the river Senales, in the southern part of the Alps, near the Austrian border.
It has been famous for 600 years for the traditional transhumance. Even today, the culture of transhumance is so deeply rooted in the life of the inhabitants of these valleys that it has been declared a cultural heritage by UNESCO.
In June, shepherds walk thousands of sheep and their dogs on a two-day journey through the 44km valley at a 3200m ascent and 1800m descent to Austria.
After spending the summer in the highland pastures, they return in September to the Val di Senales by the same route. And every year there is a large traditional festival to celebrate the return of the shepherds and their sheep.
I feel a strong affinity with sheep for no apparent reason. When I go to the countryside, I often meet cows, goats and sheep, but I feel that the cows look at me with suspicion and I feel that the goats might attack me simply because I am in a bad mood. So I avoid direct eye contact with them and pass them by looking the other way. The sheep, on the other hand, do not stare at you, they seem meek and shy and, above all, their faces are kind.
Lambs are so lovable that I would almost like to keep them indoors.
If I had been a little younger, I would have liked to have participated in this Great Migration of the Val Senales. Two days of walking with thousands of sheep in the midst of nature, eating simple food, sleeping under the shooting stars, simply walking and contemplating the mighty beauty of those mountains while the sun shines...
Who knows what it would be like to live in the mountains with the sheep, alone, for three months...
It's a question any person could ask. I read a very nice interview with a pastor from Val Senales, and one day I will ask him for permission to translate it here.
The "first quality Tyrolean wool" used for the Haunold felt comes from the sheep of Val Senales, who spend their summers in this cool, vast and stress-free environment, if not for the possible squabble flocks between them...
The wool of the sheep of Val Senales is particularly hard and resistant, therefore it is used above all for the soles of slippers.
Felt, a natural fiber, is warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, and is a good temperature regulator, absorbing and releasing moisture. The pure wool felt is very comfortable on the feet and does not itch.
I personally use these slippers all year round, except the very hot months of July and August.
Natural felt is very easy to maintain. This wool cleans itself when exposed to air and neutralizes odors. It can be hand washed gently with mild soap and warm water and even after several years of use, it still looks like new. It is sustainable and is one of the most wonderful materials humanity has ever created!
Let's go back to the Zacher family workshop.
In this generation, five of the six brothers and sisters are involved in the Haunold laboratory. The two sisters Hedwig and Christina take care of the sales and marketing, the twin brothers Alois and Friedrich of the production and Hannes of the wool. There are also the sisters-in-law and 15 grandchildren who come and go.
In the manufacture of felt, the wool from its natural state is broken down into small flocks. With the use of the carding machine, the wool is combed into loose fleece. With only the help of water, heat, steam and friction, this fleece is pressed in a first step - a very soft and not very compact felt is obtained. In a second pressing, in the so-called fuller, the felt is beaten and cooked a second time with even more water and energy. This is the moment in which their historic fulling mill comes into play, a machine that their great-grandfather bought back in 1901. After this final fulling, the felt must have obtained its right consistency: it must be nice compact but at the same time soft and elastic.
Christina proudly tells us that in today's world, it takes a lot of effort to deliver on Haunold's commitment to using traditional methods and local wool to make their products.
It is certainly not an easy task. But when I think of the wonderful smiles on the faces of the five Zacher brothers and 15 grandchildren, I am sure that in decades they will still repair the mill their great-grandfather bought in 1901 and will continue to pass on traditional techniques.
Not just the quality, but also the history of the people is woven into these slippers, and I feel a sense of security as I use them every day. It's something you can't feel from industrial slippers. This is the beauty of handmade products, right?