Joachim Gabor, the co-founder of Gabor Shoes, died on April 6, 2013, at the age of 84. Making shoes was his lifelong passion.
Gabor grew up in a shoe-making family in Germany, where his parents operated a shoe and leather trading business. In 1945, in the last months of WWII, 16-year-old Joachim and his brother Bernhard fled to work in a shoe factory while their parents stayed behind and perished. Soon after, that company was threatened with nationalization so the Gabors took apart their machines and smuggled the individual components in rucksacks across the “green border” into West Germany. Joachim traded his father’s gold pocket watch for a Singer 34 sewing machine, and the B. & J. Gabor Ladies Shoe Factory in Barmstedt (near Hamburg) began producing Jedermann shoes on Feb. 1, 1949.
Jedermann shoes, which translates as “shoes for everyone,” were simple constructions at a time when supplies were hard to come by. The leather was provided as part of the Marshall Plan, and the shoes were sometimes sold for Deutsch marks and sometimes traded for sausage or ham. During the ensuing economic upswing post war, people increasingly began to raise their level of fashion and the simple Jedermann shoes no longer fit this self-image. The Gabors were faced with the prospect of having to give up their business for the second time. However, following a trip to the United States to gather information, Bernhard brought back a new way of producing shoes to Germany: the California method. It was a simple process for making quality shoes with the limited use of machines. Meanwhile, Joachim was exploring fashion trends and developing a real nose for styles that sold well. He began selling shoes to local retailers, making his rounds by bicycle and building a name.
By 1951, demand for Gabor Californias became enormous. The first Gabor factory was built in 1952. Soon after, additional production facilities were added in Germany and abroad. The company began entering new markets as well, initially in Austria and Switzerland, and later Scandinavia, Great Britain, Russia and the U.S. In 1966 the company moved to its headquarters in Rosenheim in Bavaria, which involved moving 63 families into company housing Gabor had built in the Upper Bavarian town. Bernhard died that year, leaving Joachim in charge.
Joachim began making the collections more fashionable, offering a range of shoes for different age groups and fitting needs, all the while ensuring they stayed affordable. “We make shoes for the millions, not for millionaires,” was his credo. With his keen sense for business and exceptional vision, Joachim built Gabor into one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of women’s shoes. Over the course of his life, he built 14 factories, three of which remain in operation in Germany, Portugal and Slovakia. Today Gabor supplies more than 5,000 retailers in 60 countries. It includes men’s shoes and licenses for Gabor handbags, shoe care, children’s shoes and slippers. In 2005, Joachim passed on the management of the company to his son Achim while he moved onto the company’s Supervisory Board.
Joachim received numerous awards for his life’s work. He was honored with the City of Rosenheim Medal of Merit, the Medal of Honor from the Republic of Austria, the Mantle of Honor of the Consorzio Nazionale Santi Crispin e Crispinian (Italy), the Bavarian State Medal and the German Federal Cross of the Order of Merit. Despite al the accolades, Joachim always remained modest: a shoemaker since 1949.