A guy who was doing research about a pair of Frye-branded boots that he bought found my website, and the history of the Frye Boot brand. The boots that he bought were labeled “made in Mexico.”
Not that many people have noticed that the Frye Boot brand was bought and sold by a series of holding companies since 2003 when the original John A. Frye Company closed its plant in Massachusetts. They sold the name, trademark, logoes, and service marks — valuable assets. Today, the Frye boot name and marks are owned by Li & Fung, the largest shoe-related conglomerate in China.
But does that mean that all Frye boots are made in China now?
No. Some boots made with the Frye label are still made in the USA, in some non-descript, secretive, non-union plant in Arkansas. I believe this is where the current campus boot styles are made. However, these boots are not made with the same lasts (boot forms) or equipment, so the final product is quite inferior compared with the Fryes of yore (that is, made in the Massachusetts plant between 1867 and 2003). I have heard numerous complaints from a lot of men and women about how the “new Fryes” fall apart quickly, or the leather is damaged or thin.
Other boots made with the Frye label are made in Leon, Mexico. (Proof here). I have a good opinion about boots made in Leon. This town is the “capital of bootmaking” in Mexico. There are hundreds of small shops where bootmakers produce a lot of cowboy boots. I own some Mexican-made cowboy boots and have been pleased with the quality and value.
However, the price for Fryes made in Mexico — approximately $350 MSRP — is ridiculously high. The labor is cheap in Mexico, as are the supplies. As I told the guy who wrote to me, it seems as if the owner of the Frye label is making about 80% profit (or better) off of each pair of Mexican-made Frye boots sold. The boots are labeled with American-appealing names and even have stars inlays to appeal to American patriotism. (I just betcha that the person who created this marketing appeal was educated in the U.S. and learned what would work best to encourage unwitting Yanks to buy their boots).
The only thing worse that overpriced Mexican-made Fryes are the Frye boots made by contractors in China. Those boots are very poorly made and way overpriced. The profit margin on Chinese-made Fryes must be outrageous. And the company gets it, too, because they know that most Americans are very fond of the brand name, and do not realize what happened to the company.
Well, caveat emptor and all that. If you want real Frye boots, look on eBay for “vintage Frye Boots” (or “vtg Fryes”) with assurances that the boots were made in the USA and are made of all leather. If the boots have a black label (instead of a white label), then the boots are truly vintage, made before 1988.
I seldom provide a negative recommendation, but in this case I make an exception: if you value quality and don’t want to encourage Chinese company executives from laughing at stealing from another “nostalgic American” when he or she buys a new pair of Frye boots — then don’t by Fryes.
Life is short: know the source of products you may buy, and do your homework.