Red WingHERITAGE BOOTS
TYPICALLY, RED WING'S BUSINESS OVER THE YEARS HAS BEEN REPEAT BUSINESS. IT'S NOT UNCOMMON FOR GENERATIONS OF FAMILIES TO HAVE BOOTS PASSED DOWN. MY GRANDFATHER WORE THE BOOT, SO DID MY DAD, AND NOW I WEAR THE SAME MODEL.
Founded at the beginning of the 20th century in the state of Minnesota, Red Wing have provided the mining, logging, and farming industries of the United States with solid, welded footwear. Now over one hundred years old, Red Wing’s following stretches from the corn fields of the Midwest to the streets of Tokyo. We chatted to Dave Hill (DH) who has been with Red Wing for 39 years to discuss the history of the company, and to find out why the boots have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years.
Cereal: Tell us a bit about the history of the brand.
DH: Well, The Red Wing Shoe Company was established in 1905, and it is one of the oldest active footwear manufacturing companies in the US. The industry has been decimated here. The footwear industry in the US used to be fairly lively, particularly in the late 80s and 90s, but that has just about all but disappeared. Now, there are very few footwear manufacturing companies left, about 25 in total, and we are one of, if not the, largest producer.
Cereal: What do you think catalysed the collapse of that industry?
DH: The primary reason for the collapse was the exodus of US manufacturing to China, and Red Wing has managed to weather that storm. We took the necessary steps in terms of manufacturing, always making sure we had the best materials and never compromised on any of the things that are key to making good year, welted footwear, which has been one of our core products. Red Wing’s fame, and all those years of longevity, resulted from the company sticking to its routes and never changing its central products.
Cereal: What is so unique about Red Wing boots?
DH: Red Wing has enjoyed a tremendous reputation over the years because we have cultivated, captured, and maintained a high level of craftsmanship. Good year welded footwear is tough to make well, regardless of your geographic location, because it requires a time consuming process which is labour-intensive and the materials have to be spot on. Historically, we have used rich, full-grain, oil-tanned leathers. The leather comes from S.B Foot Tanning, one of the oldest and largest tanneries in the US.
Cereal: Tell us about the key details of the boot making process from start to finish.
DH: On average, we go through 279 in the boot making process. To be brief, we bring the leather in to cut it and dye it. We then assemble the boots in the fitting room. This involves sowing, fitting, lasting, and sole welding.
Cereal: Does the same brand philosophy exist today?
DH: Very much so. Typically, Red Wing’s business over the years has been repeat business. It’s not uncommon for generations of families to have boots passed down. My grandfather wore the boot, so did my dad, and now I wear the same model. While we adapt our products, the genetics of our boots remain the same from when Red Wing first began.
Cereal: Why do you think the shoe has enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years?
DH: I don’t think Red Wing’s rise in popularity was due to a branding exercise but a mounting appreciation for quality footwear. Of course we recognise that we have a brand, which we aim at a variety of global markets, particularly with our heritage division, but there was no conscious decision in 2005 to turn the company into a fashion brand. We let the customers come to us.
The brand has undoubtedly evolved, but long after this fashion fad has died down, Red Wing will still be producing great products. We have added some features to fuel that interest, like texture and colour, because we are finding that even some of our long standing, die-hard customers are also looking for something new. The beauty of the brand is that we can come up with a new leather, handle, colour, or texture in an existing design. We are fortunate that we have such a stable, core, product platform that is malleable to certain trends and various markets.
Cereal: Who are you influenced by? Where do you look for new inspiration?
DH: Our long history allows us to constantly go back to our roots for inspiration. Our designer, who happens to be a young man from Tokyo, does a lot of the inspirational, up front designs but always has the luxury of returning to the blueprints. The fundamental question we always ask ourselves when creating a new product is, ‘Is this a Red Wing?’ If the answer is yes, then we know we are on the right track.