In a far corner of Plant 2, row upon row of tired boots are lined up, faded and derelict, as if waiting to receive their last rites. Flapping soles hint at untold stories of hard use. These boots look ready to be put out to pasture, left by the door for dog walking duty or trips to the mailbox. But this is the Repair department at Red Wing Shoe Company and instead of a sorry tale, it is one of renewal rather than retirement. Red Wing Shoes is unique among most shoe brands in that we repair our own boots and we’re proud of this distinction. Typically, repair is an independent cobbler’s job, not the factory’s from which the footwear came. But how better to fix boots than by the same hands that built them in the first place and with original equipment? Like prodigal children, thousands of battered boots come back to the banks of the Mississippi, some making the round trip more than once.
Red Wing repair orders come in, each pair of boots tagged with essential information about the owners and their requests. Some are simple fixes—a new set of soles and laces, a bit of leather treatment—while others can be more complicated. One owner has a leg length discrepancy and needs his right boot sole built up to balance out the left. Another owner would prefer lug soles be fitted in places of the original crepe, perhaps for a new look or just for a little more traction. Our Repair department aims for a turnaround time of less than a week for a pair of boots and bins are labeled for the day of the week each pair arrives. It’s a “first in, first out” system, and the small crew manages to renew an impressive average of 150 pairs per day.
No matter what the request is, the process starts the same way—soles are pried off and discarded, stitching examined and a new cork layer smeared on to the footbed like peanut butter.Then the boots go under the heat lamps for curing before new soles are attached and trimmed and heels nailed in place if needed. The boots get a generous helping of leather oil to restore their suppleness and color and a fresh set of laces. Finally they’re sealed in a box for shipment back to their owners, ready for loyal service once again. It’s a process that’s repeated on hundreds of boots every week. Every pair that passes through the Red Wing repair department has a story, one only known to its owner, and a story that will continue when he receives his boots back.
Ready to send in your boots? Find directions here.