Mephisto Background - Part 1

Martin Michaeli, an engineering student of the Institut de la Chaussure in Pirmasens, founded the Mephisto shoe company after returning from a six-year stint in theUnited States. On returning to Europe with money saved while in theUSA, he designed a range of moccasin shoes with the brand name “Michaela”, a variation of his surname, marked on the insole in gold letters. He brought back American manufacturing techniques which he’d observed while inMaine,USA, and this was the start of the modern Mephisto shoe company, now based on the Franco-German borderland.

The infant “Michaela” brand immediately got customers, even before Michaeli had settled down with a location to manufacture them. This happened in 1964 when he opened a small shop in Dalhunden, which was just over the German frontier inFrance’sAlsaceregion. However, economic conditions in central Europe at this time did not favour his circumstances, as many workers in this area ofFrancepreferred to commute or even emigrate to nearbyGermanyas the post-war German economic takeoff had made that country a more attractive place to work. This made it difficult for Michaeli to find skilled labour ongoing.

Alsatian Town

In 1965, just outside of Dalhunden, Michaeli was staying in thevillageofSessenheim. Here he noticed that the hotel-restaurant he was staying in housed a small museum dedicated to Goethe, author of Faust. This got Michaeli thinking about the character of Mephisto, an important player in the Faust tale, which is itself a key part of Teutonic literary tradition.

There were two main factors in the name “Mephisto” being an ideal one for a brand:

1)      It is easily to correctly pronounce in every language

2)      Its recognisability to Europeans could give it tremendous advertising potential

Unfortunately, soon after this, Michaeli had to close his operations in Dalhunden because of the labour shortage due to emigration toGermany. He moved operations to Sarrebourg inLorraine, another French region slightly further away from the German border. Here the local mayor and municipal team rallied behind him, and they had a building in the form of an old stable which was ideal for Michaeli to move into.

Soon Michaeli was making 80-100 pairs each day in his new workshop in Sarrebourg. Michaeli himself hit the road as the company salesman, the boot of his car filled with the products of his workshop.

His and his staff’s hard work paid off: by November 1967, they were making 420 pairs daily. Employee numbers also rose, augmented by convicts at the nearby Sarreguemines prison, who Mephisto called in as reinforcements for manual stitching work. None of these measures were quite enough to allow them to keep up with increased demand, though, and the company had to move once more.

In October 1969 the new site, in Sarrebourg’s industrial zone, was ready. The town, which housed a garrison, made the soldiers available to assist with the move to the ultra-modern new 1500 metre squared facility, with its automatic conveyor in the stitching workshop and assembly line in the mounting workshop. The company was now well-poised to deal with the challenges of the approaching seventies!