Novesta: The Star Sneaker of Slovakia

White Novesta sneakers on a mosaic floor
Image is my own / All rights reserved

Every year without fail the daffodils in my garden sprout and bloom prematurely. Just as soon as they perk up from their wintery dos at the first signs of warmth and sunlight, the last snow of the season inevitably buries them up to the neck. My heart always goes out to them when this happens, but I can’t help but admire their pluck and grit, not least because they often make it out of the cold spell somehow still relatively intact.

I bring this up because I’ve realised I have an annual springtime habit that’s every bit as foolhardy as that of my yellow-flowered friends. As soon as there is even the slightest hint of a rise in temperature, I will all but run to my closet to pull out the warm-weather wear that has been languishing in its darkest recesses for the length of winter. Similarly, all of the thick coats and heavy boots will get a brisk brushing down before being stuffed unceremoniously into the back of a wardrobe where I’ll relish in forgetting about them as I bathe myself in sunlight…that is until the rain and snow invariably come down again all too soon and I’m summarily forced to drag them back out. 

One of the main ways in which I’m duped by the false signs of spring is in my eagerness to start wearing sneakers and plimsolls again. I’m always so desperate to switch out my Bean Boots and Blundstones for something featuring a bit of colour and canvas, that as sure as spring follows winter I will get caught in a freezing downpour while wearing nought but a pair of woe-fully ill-equipped CVOs or similar.

When the weather does actually catch up to my preemptive wardrobe reshuffle, I really try to get my money’s worth as far as sneaker season is concerned. Canvas has always been my weapon of choice and I’ll usually wear my cotton-based kicks ragged by the end of autumn. It’s rare for a new pair of plimsolls to survive longer than a year or two without the soles running thin, the rubber splitting at the sides, or the uppers beginning to look like they’ve been through the Blitz.

Such prolific churn means I’ve made my way through a good few sets of canvas sneaks over the years. While at school and university these were mostly All Stars, Vans, and their various budget-friendly imitators, in more recent times I’ve been sampling some other canonical choices like canvas Top-Siders or, most recently, a set of Novesta Star Masters

Jan Antonín Baťa the King of Shoes
The ‘Kingof Shoes’, Jan Antonín Baťa, pictured above (centre) in 1938
Image credit: Sludge G / CC BY-SA 2.0

Novesta was founded in 1939 by Jan Antonín Baťa, the so-called ‘King of Shoes’ and co-founder of Bata, the footwear giant that still bears his family’s name. The brand’s HQ was originally set up in the small town of Partizánske in Slovakia as a rubber factory that has spent decades doing private label manufacture for other shoe brands and the rubber industry at large. As of 1992, however, they have sold shoes under the in-house label Novesta, which has since become one of Slovakia’s most popular exports and a firm favourite among retro and minimalist sneaker enthusiasts.

All these years later, Novesta still operates out of the premises originally set up by Baťa using essentially the same equipment and traditional manufacturing techniques (which you can see photos of here) all while emphasising a forward-looking adherence to contemporary environmental standards (which you can read more about here). 

The brand’s signature model is the Star Master, a retro-styled plimsoll inspired by the military sports shoes formerly worn by Slovakia’s armed forces. A pair of Star Masters is characterised by an instantly-recognisable chunky, textured rubber sole, oversized metal eyelets, and canvas uppers, all of which come in a wide range of different colours. 

Other popular styles include the Star Dribble, essentially a high-top version of the Star Master, and the Marathon, a retro runner originally made in 1988 in Partizanske for the Czechoslovakian Olympic team and a firm favourite among dad-shoe-lovers. There are others too — their German Trainer, Itohs, and rubber rain boots, for example — all of them low-key, retro-themed styles that have nevertheless earned a film foothold in the sneaker world. 

White novesta star master shoes
A pair of Novesta’s signature shoe, the Star Master
Image credit: Mpumelelo Macu on Unsplash

Don’t let the relatively modest product range and retrained styling fool you, though. Despite devoting most of its existence to servicing the needs of bigger brands, Novesta has spent the last thirty years building some serious brand equity. In recent years, they have partnered with uber-cool collaborators like Comme des Garcons, Universal Works, and YouMustCreate, all while being worn by such notables as Kendrick Lamar, Ryan Reynolds, and Liam Gallagher.

For my part, I’ll say that my pair of Star Masters has fast become my go-to summer beater now that warmer days have unambiguously arrived. Having long suffered the relative discomfort of old-timey canvas trainers, I particularly like the bit of arch support offered by their removable insoles as well as what to me feels like a slightly roomier interior than I’ve come to expect from shoes of this description. 

Thus far then, I’m in no way puzzled by the brand’s cult following. In fact, once this set of Novestas meets the same inevitable end all of its canvas compatriots have done after seasons of heavy service, I already have a strong suspicion there will be many more pairs to follow.