Friday, November 5, 2010

Keystone Business: Boots, Leather and Heritage Brands

 Every good motorcycle jacket needs a good pair of boots.  Part of the tradition of the working man and the outdoors-man was a good coat and a better pair of boots.  It is a little known fact to the outsider, but the boot industry was tied to the jacket industry intermingled and intertwined like a Navajo rug.  The reason for this is strictly logistical.  Always before the leather jacket became common place the boot and shoe and glove industry was the paramount focus of the tanning business.  The best shoe leather was cordovan, and cordovan came from the butt of the horse. Only the thickest parts of the skin could be used for the soles, and only the butts for cordovan.  This left the front quarters of the horse as a waste product of the shoe industry!  And voila, the value of the jacket industry to use up the remainder of the thinner skins. This explains the prevalence of early rubber manufacturers like ACME Rubber, and American Rubber Co, Firestone and others that manufactured jackets, garments and outerwear.  The zipper was first used commercially successfully in Goodyear Boots, and it must have made the transition to jackets an easier proposition for the shoe    
companies to integrate zips into their garments.There are few of the heritage jacket manufacturers in operation today, however many many of the original shoe companies open since before the turn of the century are still in operation.  Red Wing, Viberg and many others are enjoying a vibrant revival with a new appreciation fuel-ed by the high price of vintage collectibles.In Toronto, my good friend Doug Malcolmson, owner of  Get Outside, is one of the great preponderates of this heritage footwear movement. We Canadians prepare for our harsh winters by going out and buying a new pair of winter boots.  From fashionable to strictly practical Doug carries only heritage brands including some Native produced boots made right here in Canada. 

Get Outside has adopted a philosophy that markets only the classics.  Classic boots have a predominately functional character over frill.  These features are not always simply identified but the brands are readily acknowledged as classic.  Who doesn't know Red Wing, Sperry Top-siders, Hunters, Converse, Doc Martens, Frye, Sorrells and the myriad of other great brands that have carved out their brands with good solid construction and wear, and classic styling.
 Last year Nancy bought a new pair of Sorrels.  This year its a pair of simple black Frye boots.  The beauty of these utility boots besides the tall upper and old school design is the oil tanned leather upper.  That oil tanned upper not only puts up with piles of abuse, but gets better looking with age.  It is easily treated with a mixture of oil and wax.  That combo waterproofs and renews the leather over the lifetime of the boot and allows for the resistance of our major enemy here in Toronto, street salt!

The modern heritage boot looks backwards, today you can find hand stitched welts, linen threads, urethane soles, crepe soles, gum rubber soles,  just about any feature your grandfather might have seen on his old dogs. Doug has gone as far as the Arctic to buy Inuit made boots, and even offers dearskin, beaded Mukluks.