Sometimes it’s hard to trace where an obsession began; many begin in some murky past with poor definition. But my obsession with a certain Canadian shoe designer and his remarkably unusual creations began in 1984.
It started with a friend who had purchased a pair of boots while she was in Vancouver. At that point in time in the 80s there is no doubt that I was part of the new wave movement, a sort of post punk precursor to what is now called Goth; it was all black clothing and hair and make up and attitude. The challenge is that I was growing up in a small western Canadian city, and being different was considered more strange than avant garde. After years of being bullied in elementary school for not fitting into the norm, I was rebelling completely, deciding if others thought I could not fit into the box society had created, then I would not only step out of the box but make my own box, paint it black, and defy others to enter it.
But while my exterior attitude was rough and tumble and dark, on the inside I was still that bullied kid who was deeply hurt by their inability to fit in. What was lacking in me that the others had, I wondered?
And then along came a pair of boots that changed my life.
They were black and definitely designed to resemble bondage wear; lots of straps and buckles and fierce attitude. And when my friend realized they pinched her toes, she gifted them to me, and my love affair with John Fluevog began.
You can read the history of Fluevog here. I think it is quite likely that Fluevog, like me, realized early on that he wasn’t like others, particularly when it came to designing shoes. And so instead of trying to fit into a box, he made his own box. In fact, thousands of boxes, blue shoe boxes filled with shoes of the most incredible design and diversity. And somehow, his shoes told me, that kid in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, that I wasn’t alone and that being different wasn’t only okay, it was good.
I wore those boots until they fell apart; until the straps broke and the buckles would no longer buckle. And while I didn’t get another pair of Fluevogs for years after that, I never forgot how the boots made me feel or how they allowed me to recognize that being different was good.
Over the years as I became an adult I lost some of that difference. I found myself trying to fit in and losing some of the unique qualities that made me who I was. It wasn’t really until I begin writing again a few years ago that I began to rediscover that “different” girl inside, the one who had her own box painted black and who defied others to enter it.
And with that rediscovery came the rediscovery of Fluevog shoes. Once again I embraced the love of difference and just as I rediscovered myself, I rediscovered my love of those shoes.
Fluevog is known for some fairly unusual marketing techniques. One of them is the tagline “no, you’re weird”. It’s like the ultimate bully come back, the thing you say to all of those bullies when they say that you’re weird. And for those who love Fluevog shoes it’s become an anthem of why it’s not only OK to be different and weird, but good.
When I became a parent I decided that I wanted my daughter to understand that she didn’t have to be the same as everyone else. I wanted to make her bully-proof, so she would never experience what I had. And so I taught her that it was OK to be different. In fact I taught her that being eccentric and strange and weird was more than OK. It was good. The people who change the world are the ones who aren’t afraid to get outside of the box and, even more importantly, to make their own boxes.
That’s likely how I ended up with a daughter who is fearless, pursuing her dream of mechanical engineering with a hope to one day work in aerospace technology. She has chosen a path that is challenging, but one in which she believes she can make a difference.
And of course she also loves Fluevog shoes. When she moved to university this year she took with her several pairs of shoes, almost all of them Fluevogs. And for all of the major events her life she has worn Fluevog shoes, ever since she’s been able to fit into them. She crossed her high school graduation stage in Fluevogs, she attended her father’s remarriage in Fluevogs, she graduated from junior high in Fluevogs, and they are always at the top of her gift list for every occasion.
In September of this year I learned that John Fluevog, the shoe designer who had helped me to learn that it was OK to be weird, was going to be visiting the new shoe store his company had opened in Edmonton for a public meet and greet. I knew I had to go.
They say you should never meet your heroes; I suspect they say this because sometimes our heroes can disappoint us. Sometimes they are not who we think they will be or maybe they’re not who we want them to be.
John Fluevog was everything I thought and hoped he would be.
In my very brief conversation with him I told him how many pairs of Fluevogs I own, how many years I’ve been wearing his shoes, and how he helped me to understand that it was OK to be different.
And when I told him those things I could see the look in his eyes; it was the look of someone who understands the challenges of being different. He gave me a hug, he thanked me, he signed a pair of my favorite Fluevogs, and he signed a postcard for my daughter to hang in her room at University.
To meet John Fluevog, I took two days off work, drove 4 1/2 hours one way and then back again, paid to stay overnight in a hotel, and found a pet sitter for all of my pets at home.
It was worth all of it.
Even to just have a moment to tell someone that they have made a difference in your life is worth everything it takes. I know there are some who think he’s just a man who designs shoes, someone who sells things for a living. But to me John Fluevog has always been a sort of hero.
During a time in my life when I needed to know that it was OK to be different, I needed role models I could look up to. What could be better than a Canadian shoe designer who was brave enough to not only step outside of the box but to make his own?
And make his own he has. In a time of economic downturn and financial uncertainty, the Fluevog empire continues to grow. New stores are opening up, the latest one in Amsterdam, and the message of being different – in fact being weird – is spreading around the world.
When I posted a photo on my Facebook page of John Fluevog and I, a friend commented that the guy looked weird. I could only laugh. I responded back “no you’re weird” and explained that in the world of Fluevog, being weird was perfect.
It’s been a very long journey from that young girl in Saskatoon who struggled with being different. Along the way I have found many mentors and role models and developed profound respect for those people who are brave enough to be different – and especially those brave enough to be weird. And now I occasionally count myself among them, having rediscovered a box that was always there and the one that was just right for me. It’s no longer painted black, and that girl with the ferocious attitude has instead become an older woman with ferocious compassion, understanding and belief in the value of helping others.
I recognize that you don’t need to wear Fluevog shoes to be different. And I understand there are people who can be different and weird and not need reassurance to know that they are not alone. I have achieved those things now that I’m older, but there was a time in my life when I needed that reassurance. For me it came in the form of musicians, artists, actors and a Canadian shoe designer.
“No, you’re weird”.
It’s like a mantra now. Because in that weirdness, in that willingness to be different, is beauty. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. My Fluevog shoes do not define my difference, and I no longer rely on them for the reassurance I once did. But they are an external manifestation of that girl within, the one who recognized long ago that she wasn’t going to fit into a box and so she made her own.
Because it’s not only OK to be weird. It’s beautiful, just like a pair of 1980’s Gothic black boots, covered in straps and buckles and with the name John Fluevog stamped on them.