Two decades after the end of communism in Eastern Europe, two Czech students have redesigned a classic sneaker from 1966. It's become a top seller among those too young to remember communist history.
Now, Botas are available in lots of different color combinations
Before the Velvet Revolution put an end to communism in what is now the Czech Republic, Botas running shoes were one of very few sneakers on the market.
After years of practically no fashion options, people quickly traded their Botas shoes for Western brands once they entered the Czech market after the revolution. The old Botas sneaker was quickly forgotten about.
That is, until two young design students in Prague gave the shoe a makeover as part of a school project. Now, many young Czechs sport the newly issued Botas Classic 66 models, and some even own multiple pairs.
"I have one pair in a rather classic style; they're black and white and all leather. And I also have another pair in red and pink," Anna Kopecka, a 20-something who lives in Prague and works in the film business, described her Botas collection.
Botas forgotten after the revolution
Western brands flooded the market after the Iron Curtain came down
Kopecka added that while the shoe brand is very well known in the Czech Republic, few thought a renaissance was possible.
"I think everybody knows Botas. And everybody remembers them as the old-style sports shoes. I think it was a great surprise that they found someone to redo them in a new and fashionable way," she explained.
Once communism ended, Botas ceased being an everyday shoe and athletes were virtually the only customers of the company.
"I think Botas were quite well known during the communist era, where all of us wore Botas. After the revolution in 1989, Botas turned into only a sports shoe. I think there was no plan for it to become really fashionable," design expert Jana Zielinski told Deutsche Welle.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Czechs looked to the West as a fashion influence.
"People just stopped caring about Czech products because they wanted something that was new, that wasn't available before. So everybody went for the foreign products and Czech brands were dying out," said Prague resident Hela Balinova.
An unlikely renaissance
The Czech company Botas first issued its sneaker model in 1966 - the only such shoe on the market in what was then communist Czechoslovakia.
Prague residents protested communism in November 1989; many may have been wearing Botas
"I think it was an ordinary, everyday shoe. I remember I also got a pair of Botas shoes. They were white and green, and kind of boring. And I got them after my older sister had already worn them, so they were worn out already," remembered Hela Balinova.
Fast-forward to 2007, 18 years after the Velvet Revolution. A whole new generation has grown up without ever having experienced communism. Asked to choose an old Czech product and revamp its design for a school project, two students from the Prague School of Design picked Botas.
The result was so well executed that the Botas company decided to produce some of the students' designs as part of a new line: Botas Classic 66.
"We wanted to recreate something with my friend that was here and could be as big as some other foreign brands. For example like Onitsuka Tiger, which was almost unknown four or five years ago, and now it's in every city," Jan Kloss, one of the two design students, explained. "I think Botas had the same potential, but it was not used."
Since their major success, Kloss and his co-designer Jakub Korous have opened a concept store in the center of Prague, where they sell Botas shoes in colors ranging from classic white to vibrant shades of green and pastel pink. Their customers are mostly under the age of 30.
Young Czechs want Czech-made
"I think it's also about the new generation," Balinova said. "They don't have the prejudice their parents had that Botas is a really boring shoe. They just see something Czech, something cool, and they say, 'Yes, I will go for it.'"
And maybe the shoes have more going for them than just the cool design.
"To be honest, I always bought these Western kinds of shoes, but I was never quite satisfied, because after a year, they were gone. And these, I stuck with them because they stick with me," Anna Kopecka's boyfriend Jakub Felcman said. He eventually followed his girlfriend's lead and bought a pair of Botas, instead of the well-known Western brands he used to always wear.
Botas' popularity has more to do with support for Czech products than nostalgia for communist times
A comeback for retro brands
Botas are not the only product from communist times that has made a successful comeback. Other items, mostly from the food and drink sector, are also re-entering the market.
"I think it started with Kofola, which is the Czech version of Coca-Cola, and I think Kofola started making the lemonades again some 10 years ago," said Balinova. "And it was a big boom. People were like, 'Wow, Kofola is back.' And it became cool to go out and drink Kofola."
Other products were not as fortunate and never managed to reenter the Czech market.
"Pedro was a favorite, and Bio - two very good chewing gums," Zielinski reminisced. "Unfortunately, they didn't last for long, but at least you could make very good bubbles with it."
Pedro chewing gum disappeared from the Czech market for good. Botas, however, seem to be maneuvering the capitalist market quite well. Jan Kloss and Jakub Korous are coming back this fall with a third collection of Botas sneakers in even more unusual colors.
Author: Sarah Borufka
Editor: Kate Bowen