Justin Ain’t All American

This image demonstrates that the boot manufacturer that wraps itself in the American Flag as one of the main supporters of championship rodeo has “gone over” (as they say in Oklahoma) to what makes them money.

For those without much experience in interpreting the printing (or stamping) inside boot shafts, let me explain how Justin has joined many other well-known American bootmaker labels by having products made in China with low-wage labor and cheap materials.

First, observe the name that is stamped right in there — Justin Boots, a division of Justin Brands, which is a company that also makes boots with the labels of Nocona, Tony Lama, and Chippewa — owned by the huge conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway. Yeah, that’s the company owned by Warren Buffet, the multi-zillionaire (whose personal secretary pays more in federal income taxes than he does.)

To the right of Justin’s company logo there are words that read, “Leather Upper Balance man made.” That means that the foot — the part that wraps around your foot from the sole to the lower part of the ankle where the shaft is stitched on — is made of leather. The “balance man made” language means that the shaft and the soles are made of synthetic materials. Yeah, plastic. Not leather; it’s crap.

Under that find “YB1112.” That is a lot number, which is an internal numbering system used by the company to know what batch of boots were made at the same time.

To the left of the Justin Boots label are those dreaded words, “Made in China.” This is proof of what I referred to by the subject line — Justin Ain’t All American any more. So sad, but not unexpected in the world economy where a company responds to consumer demand for cheap products, and some (or most) will not pay higher prices for the same product made in the USA due to the higher cost of labor, benefits, and quality materials. It should not be a surprise that Justin Brands can have a pair of boots made for a few dollars, pay for shipping them to the United States on a slow boat from China, and sell them for what appears to be a “cheap price,” yet still make 60% – 80% profit on them. (So advises a close friend who works for a federal agency that monitors production costs of products made in China on contracts from American companies for U.S. import and consumption.)

Continuing with the interpretation of in-shaft stamping, you see “comb. last.” “Comb.” is short for combination – in this case a combination of lasts (forms used to make the boot’s foot) were used to form the foot and the heel. These boots are supposed to have built-in orthotic inserts in the heel, so a combination last is used to accommodate the extra room required for the orthotic insert. (N.B.: these boots have a soft foam cushion insole, no orthotic insert.)

Lower left, you see the size in American measurements — size 10-1/2D. 10-1/2 is the length, D is the width. These are fairly common men’s boot measurements.

In the middle on the bottom, you see the style number — 2553. All boots have a style number, and you can use that number for price comparison shopping. Just enter the manufacturer name and the style number in a search engine and find availability at various prices for the same product.

The style number also is matched with a name of a line of boots made by a company. This is amusing to me, because Justin’s description for their Style 2553 boots is, “Black Deercow Stampede Western.” Now if that isn’t enough to throw you. What the heck is a “deercow?” Are they implying that the boots are made of both deer and cow hides? Not likely…. Further, “stampede western?” Again, implies a more traditional American West theme, but while the style may be that way, the origin of manufacture (China) is on the opposite side of the world, in the East.

What bothers me above-all is the description of these boots on popular retailer websites, such as on Amazon, give descriptive but almost deceptive information. You have to read it closely to see “The handsome leather upper…” with no clear description that the “balance” is manmade of synthetic materials. Also, there is no information that identifies the location of manufacture. Justin Boots, Justin Brands, and Berkshire Hathaway (nor any manufacturers) are not obligated by law to disclose that information, but they would be doing the right thing if they did. I know why they don’t — I figure that I am not the only person who would decline purchasing boots if I knew in advance that they were made in China.

Summary of the story: if the price on a pair of boots seems unusually too good to be true, then do one of two things: 1) if you are lucky enough to have a local boot retailer with a big selection, go find that pair of boots in the store and read the inside of the shaft for yourself (then if the boots are not made in China, buy the boots from that store, rather than go home and buy them on the internet. Give your local business support!) If you can’t find them in a local store, then 2) explore the company’s website, and/or use an internet search with a simple question such as “Justin Boots 2553 Made in China” and see what results. It’s amazing how many people post about this stuff on the web, so all you have to do is search and be informed.

PS: This post may seem to be critical of Justin. They are not the first nor the only company to have some (not all) of their boots made in China. Many Frye Boots (not all, but many) have been made in China since 2003. As I said above, companies are responding to demand. There is a large demand for “cheap.” U.S. consumers won’t support the cost of labor for U.S.-manufactured goods (yet they are the first to scream about job outsourcing), so companies will find ways to produce products at lower cost, which involves outsourcing production to China. It’s an economic/business decision. Next time you are at Walmart, go look at the labels in the footwear. I betcha 99.9% of it is made in China. (But I do not really know, since I never shop at Walmart.)

I hope you have found this walk-through of boot labeling to be informative.

Life is short: support American labor and production by finding out the point of manufacture of products, and buy American when you can.

5 thoughts on “Justin Ain’t All American

  1. Ariat has their boots made in China as well. I looked in the inside of my boot shafts for all my 3 pairs and found China in the Ariats… go figure…and i thought the olympic team having their uniforms made in China was irony…but an “American romantic image” being made in China takes the cake.

  2. Thank you for this primer on reading boot shafts. I wholeheartedly agree with your very last sentence. And comparison shopping just got a bit easier due to your explanation.

  3. Great post! And I completely agree about how sad this is (I still miss my USA made Levis 501s.) But there’s another problem that WWD, a trade publication for the fashion industry, pointed out last week. Footwear and apparel manufacturers have gradually shifted business offshore over the past 40 years because of pricing demands of US consumers. NYC’s historic garment district is virtually non-existent today. And now as a result, there aren’t as many skilled US workers who would be able to work in US factories (even if they were to still exist). Many of these companies do at least employ lots of people in the US within their design labs, showrooms, offices and warehouses, and those workers could possibly be hurt if we stopped buying brands such as Justin.

  4. I bought a pair of “Double H” boots, (label is HH) and guess what, they are made in USA folks. Guess what else, they fit like a dream. I have been size 9D boots since I was in high school (20 some odd years ago), unless of course if the boots are made in China, then I could need anything from an 8 1/2 to a 10 D to W, never really know, just have to start trying on boots till I get some that fit. I’ve actually had to get two different sized boots to make a pair that fit, before. Unbelievable.

    From now on, for me, my riding boots are gonna be “Double H” and my work boots are going to be Red Wing…USA. Yes, even Red Wings are predominantly made in China now, but you can still get them made in USA at a few stores, such as E Edwards and I think Chuck’s Boots sells them too. Chuck’s sold me my “Double H” boots, I was trying on “Harley Davidson” boots, what’s that?, yes folks, made in China, I was astounded, flabergasted…disgusted. I paid twenty dollars more for the “Double H” boots that were exactly like the “Harley” boots, except better…way better. Shop wise people, read the labels, if you can’t find anything that tells you where they are made…it’s China, don’t buy it, it’s junk.

  5. I was just bragging to my son about Justin boots being made in the USA last week. I told him about the commercial on television and urged him to by Justin. He came back to visit last night with his new Justin steel-toed work boot.

    I get to eat some crow. He showed me the inside tag on his boot and it was made in China…….never believe what they tell you…look at the tag!

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