I have received some questions over the years (and even one last night) asking about quality of craftsmanship in bootmaking. We have observed that many leading boot manufacturers who once proudly made boots in the USA have moved production elsewhere.
When they move production to…
… Mexico, that is a good choice because there is a long history of high-quality bootmaking in Mexico, especially in the Bootmaking Capital of North America, León in Guanajuato State, north and west of Mexico City. There are hundreds of boot (and shoe) making shops in León. I have been there and observed their work close-up. It was very hard not to buy and come home with 100 pairs of boots!
But when some well-regarded boot labels/companies move production to China to make a quick buck, such as what Harley-Davidson, X-element, Tourmaster, Justin, and many more — that’s when quality takes a serious setback to profitmaking, and why I personally cannot support buying boots made there.
Same is true for some other alternatives, such as leather gear and boots made in Pakistan. The quality just is not there.
Back to the subject of this post — shortcuts in production — I have observed for some boots made in Mexico or the USA that some bootmakers take shortcuts:
- do not use the Goodyear welting method (as shown in the image above), which has been an industry production standard. Using glue to attach a sole to the foot of the boot just isn’t right.
- Cowboy boots that are priced in a higher range, such as Luccheses north of US$600, should have lemonwood pegging in the sole. That pegging adds flexibility as well as strength in the boot’s overall construction.
- Using plastic or synthetic parts, such as for a composition sole or heel or toe.
- using “imported parts.” That is, build the boot in Mexico or USA, but import its component parts (leather, soles, heels, etc.) from cheap foreign vendors. Chippewa faced a class action lawsuit for claiming “Handcrafted in the USA” while not disclosing that the boots’ component parts were from outside the USA.
- Using cheap rubber soles that mark floors instead of higher-quality (and more expensive) Vibram soles.
I could probably find more shortcuts to add to this list.
Overall, the old adage, Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) still applies.
Always check as best you can what the COOL says (Country of Origin Label), and quality of construction by statements about welting method used and signals like “imported parts.” All of these are signs of cheaper construction and lower quality. Remember, just because a name of a respected boot manufacturer is used does not necessarily mean that the product you get today is as well-made as it was (or made where it was) perhaps a decade ago.
Life is short: look for the details to be a well-informed consumer.