Best foot forward
‘‘Sievin Jalkine Oy was established in 1951 by my grandfather,” confirms Managing Director Juha Jokinen, a simple statement introducing everyone to a company that is now the largest, and most advanced, safety footwear manufacturer in northern Europe. Juha’s grandfather was Lauri Jokinen, a former taxi driver who passed on the running of the family trade to his three sons.
The key commitment he passed down was a dedication to ‘Finnish design and workmanship’, reflected in the fact that the production is still based in Finland, specifically around Sievi and Oulainen. However, the reach of the organisation goes further, with sales offices in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, England, Estonia and the Netherlands, reflecting both current growth and future ambition. Among its most notable achievements was the fact it was the first in its industry to receive the ISO 9000 certification and CE mark. It also received the Good Employer Award from the Ministry of Labour in 1996, was awarded the Golden Key by the Finnish Workers Union and Finnish magazine Suomen Kuvalehti declared it ‘Best Company 2008’. It’s most recent award was the special ‘Finland 100’ award presented by Ernst & Young as part of its Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 competition.
Sievin has been lauded for its products, mainly safety footwear, but also its accessories such as shock resistant and thermal insoles. It has also been celebrated for innovations including built-in retractable spikes, heated insoles and specially formed sole construction, and investment is put in every year to further develop this range. There are a range of options, such as the Gore-Tex firefighter boots, designed specifically for better grip and heat resistance, which could prove vital in the case of a fire, as well as water resistance. Whether you are one of the emergency services or you are working in a hazardous environment, you need to stay on your feet.
People tend to have a mental image of massive, clumpy boots when it comes to wearing something for protection. However, it is not always the case and Sievin offers a wide array of styles, colours and looks for a very broad target audience. For example, the Arktis long leather boots would not look out of place walking around a city centre. In addition to an appealing aesthetic quality, they also feature a felt insole with an aluminium layer providing additional insulation, and a friction patterned polyurethane sole offers optimal grip during wet or slippery conditions. There are even those that look like sporty trainers, such as the Racer Roller S3, which is lightweight but also has a double density sole for both protection and comfort, while the Susan White range not only looks like something you would buy on the high street, but also offers a Flexstep flexible sole, created to prevent shock and strain on the legs and spine.
Juha is confident that there is something appropriate for whatever a business requires: “It depends what you are looking for, and the environment you are working in. For instance,people tend to associate work-boots with steel toecaps, but these are not the only types. The options available are steel, aluminium and composite, all of which are EN certified.” A good example that Juha brings up are the conditions in the company’s native Finland, a country known for its harsh winter weather: “In this instance, a composite is better because you do not feel the cold as much as you would when wearing steel toecaps. People may choose aluminium or composite because it is lighter, though steel tends to be used because price-wise it is the most economical.”
While keeping your feet warm is important, ensuring that you are not hurt is the main consideration when selecting a work-boot. For example, if you are working on a construction site then it is likely at some point you will be using nail guns, and as Juha explains this requires particular care: “In order to counter this you can put a steel plate inside the shoe outsole construction, though it is also possible to use composite for this as well. I would personally recommend using a metal, due to the fact that the nails used in modern applications tend to be very sharp, much more so compared to the old-fashioned types.”
Other properties that the range often includes are fast drying microfibres, antistatic designs for people working with electricity, water resistance,memory foam ankle cushioning and some designed for certain jobs, such as GT Timber with chainsaw protection, created to prevent injuries caused by chainsaw cuts, a model that meets the EN ISO 17249: Level 2/S3 SRC HRO certification. For people looking to purchase from this catalogue of options, there are clear symbols and explanations of each of these features, allowing people to make an educated choice about what is required in a particular working environment, and to minimise risk as much as possible, as well as practical considerations, such as whether an item is available in extra-large. While it is impossible to remove hazards and danger entirely, finding ways to minimise risk can be very beneficial. One way is through increased productivity, as fewer injuries means more people working, and less time lost to sick days, not to mention the savings from not having to pay out for worker’s compensation.
With all of these useful properties, it is not surprising that these types of footwear are very much in demand, and from some very high profile clients. In July 2016, Sievin secured a massive contract with the Swedish armed forces. In Juha’s opinion, this is largely down to an effective operational style: “The army was looking for a supplier that could offer a good, co-operative relationship. When it comes to big orders like this, there is the need for someone who sticks to promises, maintains excellent quality and doesn’t create additional problems. Furthermore, what is delivered needs to be accurate and on time. All of these aspects need to be in place, especially when you are delivering 212,240 pairs of shoes,” he affirms.
Part of this ability to deliver comes from an impressive workforce of over 500 employees, and Juha has a firm belief in what he expects from potential new recruits: “The main thing is common sense, and a willingness to work. Training is something that Sievi can provide. It is difficult to get more experienced people, so there is a responsibility to take people on and educate them, guiding new workers through the process of working in the factory. Most importantly of all, the right attitude is vital, people need to show that they are willing to make it work.”
In terms of results, the team is delivering, with an impressive annual turnover of 100 million euros, and Juha believes there are a few simple reasons why this figure was achieved: “This came about as a result of hard work, the best quality products and the fact that promises to our customers have been kept. When the team produces items, it is possible to be very flexible,and if more deliveries need to go out, these can be made up in a couple of days, thanks to a shorter logistic time.”
This ethos is very much part of a wider commitment, with Sievin’s code of ethics covering a number of issues. This includes ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, a duty of care for employees, and a commitment to quality, integrity and social engagement. This also applies to suppliers, service providers and subcontractors, and there is also a very strict reporting procedure in the event of any breach of these guidelines.While many companies talk about this, the code is very clear, and makes reference to issues such as anti-corruption rules, upholding human rights and not accepting any forms of discrimination or harassment, something that should provide reassurance to anyone wanting to work with, or for, the organisation.
Another aspect to the ethics code is a respect for nature, including the optimisation of using raw materials, energy and water, as well as minimising waste wherever possible. When it comes to sustainability, Juha believes that there has to be a responsibility toward the planet’s future: “The environmental policy is a very long one! When it comes to operations, the need to save the globe for the next generation is always at the back of everyone’s mind.”
Just like his grandfather, Juha appears to have one eye on the years to come, and the legacy that he will pass on. There is already a game plan for the next year and beyond, as he envisions:“There are steps being taken to seek out new markets and to generally be stronger in Europe, aiming toward ten to 15 per cent growth. In the next five to six years the ambition is to become the market leader in the Nordic regions. Atpresent Sievi is the leader in Finland, but there is the desire to achieve more gains in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.”
The drive to get the name out there requires a lot of promotion, with events such as the A+A trade fair in Dusseldorf in October 2017 proving to be a useful way to network and further strengthen contacts. In 2019, it is also scheduled to appear at the SPE Off-Shore Europe conference and exhibition in Aberdeen. Juha has a message that is likely to be shared at these, and other events: “It’s all made here, plus the service that the team can offer is fast and flexible. Essentially this is what customers need, and it is possible for Sievin to respond to this need by being close to our client base.”
The company believes that it can offer not only a safer workplace, but also increased job satisfaction. This may sound strange, but the fact is that if someone feels that an employer values them enough to properly protect them, then it is more likely that they will be reassured enough to keep working, without worrying disproportionately about potential risks. Further reassurance can be provided by using a reliable brand that is committed to the best possible quality, safety and ethics. In other words, Sievin firmly believes that it can offer the products and service needed to help businesses put their best foot forward.
Sievin Jalkine Oy
Products: Manufacture of safety footwear