We asked Josh Haynes, owner of Alloy Thai, to share his elite Tibetan boot collection with Birmingham Lifestyle. Read on, and be inspired to start your own niche collection of stylish global accessories.
Share your interest in Tibet. What got you interested in this collection in the first place?
I began studying Tibetan Buddhism when I was 14 and was fascinated with the material culture of the Tibetan world. I haven’t visited Tibet — travel is restricted since the Chinese invasion in 1949 — but I have visited Tibetan refugee communities in North and South India. I can’t do anything directly to help keep Tibetan language and culture alive, but if I can help preserve some costume pieces and get to play dress-up, I feel good about that.
Tell us about your first pair.
The first pair were songba boots, constructed of geometrical pieces of colored wool felt with embroidery and espadrille-like rope and leather soles. I found them right around the same time as my first chupa, the huge robe or coat that is the basic item of Tibetan dress, on eBay. At the time I was going through a phase in which I exclusively wore head-to-toe traditional costume - Indian kurta pajama, Thai seua kang kaeng, Japanese kimono. I certainly didn’t have a collection yet, but I was thrilled to have a new outfit.
How often do you wear a pair of Tibetan boots?
These days, almost never — these boots are not made for walking. I’ll wear them sometimes if I’m dressing up for Buddhist teachings and most especially for Losar, or Tibetan New Year. It’s the biggest holiday of the year in Tibetan culture — think Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving in one go. At one point, I noticed that my teacher, Lama Tenzin Deshek, would get a little depressed around the holiday, which few people in Birmingham have ever even heard of, much less celebrated. So I committed to making as big a traditional celebration as possible each year, with food and decorations and fancy outfits.
What is the collection worth? Are individual pairs priced differently?
Currently, there are workshops in India that make boots for traditional performers, but otherwise, they’re only made in Tibet, so most of mine have been purchased secondhand. I have no idea what the prices for different styles would be if bought new from a boot maker. But I’d say, on average, vintage boots like mine go for around $100-$150 a pair. New ones from India can start at around $20 for a cheap pair of wool songba to as much as $400 for the fancy gyalham worn by dancers portraying kings and princes. Bhutanese boots, tsholham, are still made in a range of styles, and the color of the band of fabric that goes around the ankle, connecting the instep and the leg, is often an indicator of rank. Prices range from $100 for ordinary boots on up to highly embroidered boots for royalty, and I hesitate to guess what the latter cost.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as eclectic. I’ve lived and traveled different places and have had many influences. I love combining Asian antiques and ethnographic art with western MCM, Deco and antiques for a dramatic, Hollywood regency effect. I love natural materials and textures and avoid synthetics, symmetry and unnatural perfection. When it comes to clothing, I’ve found it's alienating to dress so distinctively as I once did, unless there’s a specific, appropriate context. The rest of the time, it’s just a Banana Republic floral shirt middle-aged gay cowboy vibe.