LORENA AGOLLI

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“Knowing that my bare hands have extended the life of a pair of boots or leather goods allows me to feel more connected to this earth, and that’s something that I’m trying to instill in my customers.”

“It’s all about pride, and caring for the items you own and wear is the difference between good and bad wear.”

When her boss retired in 2013, Lorena Agolli was faced with the decision of whether to take over Sole Survivor or leave things to chance under new ownership. She decided to go all-in and take the reigns of the Toronto cobbling operation. The first winter in the basement shop was a long one. Lorena recalls working 14-hour days alone to keep up with growing demand. Since then, Sole Survivor has emerged as a sought after repair and customization destination in the bustling Canadian city. The shop’s foundations are built on rock-solid repairs, and it distinguishes itself with one-of-a-kind custom jobs that turn heads with creativity and precise execution. Lorena and her employees treat each pair of shoes and boots that come in with a reverence that reflects their unwavering respect for well-made footwear. We met up with Lorena in her shop to learn more about her trade and explore her passion for wasting less and living more.

When you took over the business in 2013, it was sink or swim. How did you pull it off?

I had the feeling of sink or swim on my mind only because I had never run a business, let alone tried to make a living out of repairing shoes and leather goods. I still don’t know how I pulled it off, all I can say is that I was motivated by needing and wanting to work in this capacity. I didn’t have any expectation of how it should be or look, I just wanted to follow my passion, and that was working with my hands and doing a good job. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How do you view your work within the context of made-to-throw-away, fast consumption culture?

I value the idea of what we will leave behind when we no longer exist in this physical body and life. I am trying to “heel” what exists and not add more waste to this planet. Knowing that my bare hands have extended the life of a pair of boots or leather goods allows me to feel more connected to this earth, and that’s something that I’m trying to instill in my customers… Invest in quality over quantity.

If a pair of boots is worn daily for a decade, it’s going to show some serious signs of wear. In your mind, what’s the difference between good wear and bad wear?

People forget that leather is like our skin. It needs to be regularly washed and conditioned. Just because you buy a quality pair of boots does not mean that you can just wear them for a decade without ever taking care of the leather uppers. It’s all about pride, and caring for the items you own and wear is the difference between good and bad wear. You can tell how much someone cares by looking at their footwear.

How does your passion for restoration with your work lend itself to the sorts of clothes and footwear that you invest in for yourself?

Having my shop in Kensington Market, where many of the vintage stores in Toronto are, has allowed me to trade my skills for free clothing. I only wear vintage clothing, which in my opinion are made to last and always on trend. Besides owning a couple of pairs of Red Wing boots like the Clara and Classic Moc, I try to make my own footwear or only wear vintage.

What’s a custom job that you’re particularly fond of?

I take pride and enjoyment in all the jobs that I do because I know that I’ve extended the life on that pair of shoes. However, customized jobs take on a different kind of love because they challenge me to think out of the box. One of my favorites was a pair of Red Wing Claras that we dyed cherry red.

Where do you hope to take things with Sole Survivor in the next two years?

Over the past year, I’ve been making more time to create and focus on always improving on my trade. Moving forward, I’m hoping that I can create more quality leather goods and footwear and collaborate with other creatives and makers from around the world.

AKI IWASAKI

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A Red Wing enthusiast since his school days in Tokyo, Aki Iwasaki has spent 20 years pouring his passion for Red Wing history and craftsmanship into the brand. In the decade prior to the global launch of the Heritage line, Aki was already designing archival-inspired Red Wing styles for the Japanese market. In 2007, he helped to lead the global Heritage launch, taking on the role of head product designer. He relocated from Tokyo to Red Wing, Minnesota in 2013 to work hand-in-hand with Red Wing’s S.B. Foot Tanning Company and production facility at Plant 2. 

When did you relocate to Red Wing? How does living in Red Wing compare to living in Tokyo? 

I moved to Red Wing in 2013. Before the move, I was living in Tokyo and working for Red Wing, designing Heritage products. At the time, Japan was the largest market for Red Wing Heritage, so it made sense for me to stay. Also, Japan is the birthplace of Red Wing Heritage. As European and North American markets continued to grow, I decided to move to Red Wing, Minnesota to be more connected with the global market and closer to production at the factory in Red Wing. 

Red Wing is a really quiet town. There aren’t too many exciting things going on in such a small town, but I enjoy a life closer to nature. I BBQ along the riverside, snowboard and trek often. I also grow Japanese vegetables in my garden, which are very hard to find in Red Wing.  

What are some things about living in Red Wing that surprised you? 

There are still so many old buildings and houses in the town! Except for the cars, it almost looks like there has been no change from when settlers established this town. Surprising to me, people in Red Wing still use the old buildings fully for work and live in the old houses that are remodeled to have modern function with original appearance. The house I am living in was built in 1915, more than 100 years ago. We have modern air conditioning and all the other technology you could expect in a new house. I feel that this mentality of living in an old house that is maintained to survive as long as possible is close to our Red Wing footwear mentality to help consumers wear the Red Wing products as long as possible,  with resoling and repairing the uppers. 

When you’re scouring the Red Wing archive for historical inspiration, what sort of characteristics do you look for to decide if you want to bring a model back or incorporate design elements in future product launches?

The basic components of Red Wing Heritage products don’t change very much at all from the original development. The Red Wing 875 Classic Moc, the most iconic product from Red Wing, was developed in 1954. We slightly changed the label design, modernized the outsole and updated the leather color. The bones of this shoe are the same as almost 70 years ago. I do look closely at the details. The 9875 looks very similar to 875, but there many differences in the details.

What is one of your favorite finds from the archive? 

I always enjoying looking at unique features of our old work boots. I see them as more than just beautiful vintage footwear. A good example is the non-box toe boot. Typically, footwear has a box toe, which keeps the toe shape. In the 1930s, we did not use the box toe to make the boots more flexible. This helped workers squat more easily without any stress from the box toe. We incorporated this detail in the Heritage line with the Merchant and Sheldon.

What do you think it is about Iron Rangers and Classic Mocs that people love so much?

The Japanese market led the development of the Iron Ranger when the Red Wing Heritage market was not well established in EU and NA markets. At that time, I felt the Japanese market was very unique because there was major demand for both the Iron Rangers and Classic Moc. Now I feel I was wrong because the Iron Ranger and Classic Moc, and the spirit of the brand in general are embraced by all of our markets. 

What are some of your favorite parts about your job?  

Developing a new leather. We are one of very few footwear companies that still owns its own tannery. Because the tannery is located in Red Wing, we can work very closely with them. Our Black Chrome leather is a struck-through leather, but it used to be not struck-through with a brown color in the flesh and the grain painted in Black. We were able to make this change when the US government regulated oil base staining materials to protect the environment. I worked closely with the tanner to develop this leather to quickly get it back in production. 

What sort of things do you turn to for creative inspiration in your daily life?

I decorate my home with vintage items, and I mostly wear vintage clothing. Being fully in this mindset helps me develop new product ideas.  

What are the main things consumers in the Asian, North American and European markets look for in RW footwear? Asia, mainly Japan:

Made in USA is huge. They like the USA-made products because they are simple, sturdy and last a long time compared to products from other countries. The story behind each product detail is also valued. Japanese consumers tend to love talking about why the boots have certain details. #9875 Irish Setter Moc toe is a perfect example. The boot is similar to 875 Classic Moc, but there are many small different details that Asian consumers appreciate.  

North America Made in USA is also important, but I think for a different reason than the Asian market. It is not an exotic appeal because it is home. People feel true pride in their country. 

History is also important. Red Wing Shoes was established in the US in 1905, and the boots have a reputation as tough and purpose-built. Even though Heritage boots are lifestyle products, they come from proven work boots, and this legacy matters a lot.  

EU Made in USA is not quite as important, but good construction and durability is. Many European consumers religiously update styles seasonally, but with Red Wing they make an exception and view it as an evergreen product. History is the other factor. Brand awareness was low when Heritage was introduced in the 90s, but it has grown significantly, and Red Wing is viewed as the original and genuine American work boot brand. 

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at Red Wing Heritage?

Commitment to made in USA. Now we are seeing more than ever the difficulty to make products in the US, but we must continue to maintain our character and craftsmanship. 

What do you hope someone who wore Red Wings in the 1940s would think of RWH?

We used a tag line “Made to wear – Everywhere” in the 1920s and 1950s catalogues. This is a message to express that Red Wing Shoes are a tough product made for different occupations. Our Heritage products still reflect this. Our Heritage products are mainly sold at specialty shoe and clothing stores, but the quality standard we follow is the same as the standard for Red Wing Work products, which is much higher than casual footwear brand standards. I hope that someone from the old days would agree that we are true to the spirit.

What do you think is unique about being a product designer at RWH, compared to other footwear brands?

At other companies, you need to stay on top of trends. We don’t do this. We watch fashion trends like everyone else, but we don’t follow them because we are not a fashion brand. We are a lifestyle brand. We have many employees who have deep knowledge about our Heritage products, and I work with them closely to create new products rather than just following trends. It feels old school, and we like it that way. 

ELEONORA LOVO

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Did you know that Romeo & Juliet is set in Verona, Italy? Shakespeare chose this beautiful city as the backdrop for his famous play with good reason, as romance, drama, and family feuds have been the city’s hallmark for centuries. In the 3rd century BC, Verona was known as a Roman trade centre and it was in this time that the gates, bridges, and large Roman Arena, which can all still be admired today, were built. Today, the city is an Unesco World Heritage Site and a cosmopolitan crossroad, especially in summer when the 2000-year-old Arena hosts opera’s biggest names.

Verona is also the birth place of Eleonora Lovo. And while Romeo and Juliet struggled with the tragedy of their star-crossed love, Eleonora struggled to be accepted into the world of Italian “Lustrascarpe” (the Italian word for “shoe shiners”), a world dominated by men. Italy is famous for its style and design in general, and specifically for its handmade leather shoes. Italians take the profession of Lustrascarpe very seriously. Taking care of your boots is part of everyday life in Italy. Fortunately for the world of shoe shining, Eleonora is a strong and independent woman, who was determined to become a professional Lustrascarpe and so her story does not end tragically like the love story of Romeo & Juliet does: Eleonora managed to fight her way into the Lustrascarpe profession and is now a well known and respected personality in that world.

The paths of Red Wing Shoes and Eleonora crossed naturally. Red Wing puts a lot of emphasis on shoe cleaning and boot care in general and is always looking to educate consumers on these topics and Eleonora “Madame Lustrascarpe” is a specialist in taking care of leather and shoes. We found Eleonora and her story so inspiring, we asked her to join our small group of Red Wing Heritage Women makers.

Can you tell us a bit about how you became a shoe shiner (Lustrascarpe)?

Before I became a shoe shiner and “Madame Lustrascarpe”, I did many different jobs from selling cosmetics to waiting tables. I also worked in a halfway house (Caritas) for homeless and poor people, an experience that taught me a lot in terms of the human touch.

The passion for shoes is something I have always had and I wanted to turn this into a service for customers and for events. Studying professional shoe shiners at work was very inspiring to me and it made me even more sure that shoe shining was something I wanted to do.

So I started studying the art of shoe shining and learned the basic steps. I took this very seriously, like the professionals do, and I started to look for the best products to use on the different materials. To be a perfect and professional shoe shiner, you need to have that knowledge – and the right tools. Luckily for me, there is an abundance of good quality tools to be found in Italy, such as hand-made brushes used for polishing. I worked so hard to learn all the skills and tricks, I completely went for it until I came close to perfection – and that was the moment I became Eleonora Madame Lustrascarpe, with my own style and my own materials. It was not easy, but I am proud to say that I did it all by myself, with the support of my son and my partner.

Shoe shiners are usually men in a men’s world. How is it to be a woman in this world of men?

Sure, everybody views me as an exception, but that doesn’t actually create any difficulties or prejudices for me; in fact, being a woman is rather an advantage. I think some of my customers love that I’m a woman, because I work in a different style. Every shoe shining job is different because every shoe is different, so you have to be able to think outside the box to get the best results for special shoes. Because I am who I am and because of the way I got into the shoe shining business, I’m able to think differently to come up with the best solution for every shoe. A customer that regularly has their shoes polished recognizes this and will always come back and spread the word.

Do the men accept you, a woman, into their world easily? I don’t really know, but to be honest, I don’t really care so much about it. I try to do my best for my customers and I want to learn every day. Men and women are both part of the same world that we all live in.

What is it that makes you a good shoe shiner?

Only my customers can answer that question. I think that besides the professionalism and skills I offer and the great quality of the products I use, it’s absolutely necessary to give the customer an experience and to make them feel good and at ease. It’s so nice to have new customers and give them the Ms Eleonora “Lustrascarpe” treatment! My goal is not only to shine their shoes: I also want to create an emotion I can see in their faces while I am doing my work.

Is there a special story you have for us from your work?

I have to say that all people give me something special. It’s actually quite a personal thing to polish a person’s shoes. A lot of customers have good memories to share, some are really happy, some give me small presents like flowers, or invitations to parties. A long time ago, I had a customer on my chair who told me he used to earn his money as a shoe shiner in Caracas, Venezuela. With the money he made, he purchased a ticket to Italy to study at the university there. While I was shining his shoes, he revealed some of the trade secrets he had learned in Caracas to me. I started using those secrets to improve my style and my skills immediately. I’m still very grateful he shared them with me and I still use them today.

We have seen you at events massaging boots with your bare hands. Can you explain why you use your bare hands?

I work with my bare hands because gloves don’t give me the sensibility in my fingers that the leather needs. I also think the skills of a craftswoman are more visible when they use bare hands. When my hands get dirty from the cream and the polish, I’m also really in the moment and more aware of what I’m actually doing. Every shoe gives me a different feeling. I would not feel all this if I used gloves!

You live in the city of Verona. Can you tell us a bit about this city and its beauty?

Everyone falls in love with Verona: it’s really Romeo and Juliet’s city! It’s a city full of stories and monuments of a glorious past and it has a historic center that feels like a “living room” (if you know what I mean!). Verona is an easy city to visit because of its open character. It has a nice central location, it’s only a 20-minute drive to the beautiful Garda lake, but also only a 20-minute drive to the mountains. If you visit Verona once, you’ll always want to come back. I have a cosmopolitan mentality, so I don’t feel like I’m only a Veronian citizen, but I’m also a world citizen. Everywhere I go, I find a reason to love the place. I like all the cultural differences in Italy… my country!

What are your plans for the future?

First, I hope to continue my partnership with the amazing Red Wing family for a long time. When Red Wing and I crossed paths in 2016 and we started working together, it placed my name in a more international context. Before that, I was working in a more Italian environment. But with Red Wing coming from work wear and the USA, it definitely also brought new knowledge about boot and leather care to my experience and skills.

For now, I will continue my “pick up and return service” in Verona, which entails that customers have their shoes picked up by my service and then returned to their home when the shoes are shined and polished. I also thoroughly enjoyed all the events I attended and worked at. I would love to continue doing that and to bring shoe shining to the people at lots of different events.

I have a great project in mind that I’m working on at the moment, but I can’t tell you anything about it yet. I’m waiting for the right time and moment to launch this.

We have reached the end of the interview now, but we could keep on talking to Eleonora for days. She has so much energy and so much to tell. This is why we encourage you to visit her at an event and have your shoes polished by her – then you will understand for yourself the passion and energy she puts into her work.

Instagram: @eleonora_madame_lustrascarpe Facebook: Eleonora Madame Lustrascarpe

JESS CHEN

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Walking into Jess Chen’s sun-soaked Toronto studio, it’s hard not to feel a warm wave of creative inspiration. The fifth floor walk-up checks all the boxes with hardwood floors, high ceilings, and massive windows. Blessed with century-old bones of beam and brick, Jess and her four studiomates at Seven Eight Tattoo have further shaped the space into something that more closely resembles a relaxed artist loft than a tattoo studio. With a business model built on meaningful, lasting client relationships, that’s exactly the way that Jess likes it.

We traveled to Toronto last October to see Jess’ process in action and learn more about her creative trajectory. Acclaimed for her distinctive minimal style, Jess creates flowing, colorful works that showcase exceptional precision, made all the more impressive given that she started tattooing professionally in 2015. A former graphic designer, Jess transitioned into tattooing to pursue a more tangible, hands-on creative process that reconnects her work with a passion for painting and drawing that’s driven her throughout her life.

“So much of creating art is about carrying your thoughts or expression through your medium,” Jess explains. “I’ve always felt more connected to the way holding a paintbrush or pencil invites a personalized, artistic touch. Digital can almost be too perfect at times. I think those moments of imperfection are what really makes physical art so special. It’s the story of its creation and a reflection of the artist.”

After a year-and-a-half apprenticeship where she learned the ins and outs of the trade and began to hone her skills, Jess began work at Seven Eight Tattoo. Prioritizing artistic development over profit, Seven Eight has provided her with the space to push her craft and dig deeper into different traditions and techniques.

“At a lot of shops, it’s all about how many tattoos you can crank out,” Jess explains. “You have to execute what the client wants, even if it isn’t your style. The opportunity to work in this space has been so beneficial for me. Seeing how the other members of the studio express themselves and evolve their work is constantly inspiring.”

During two-and-a-half years at Seven Eight Tattoo, Jess has added handpoked tattoos to her repertoire, while continuing to refine her overall technique and execution. Her progression has sparked a rapidly growing following around the globe, with over 124,000 fans following her work on Instagram. The pervasiveness of the platform among millenials has provided Jess and other tattoo artists with an ideal avenue to showcase their work to core demographics. While she’s grateful for the exposure that’s helped fuel her success, she’s mindful of risks that lie in constantly being plugged in.

“Instagram exposes you to a ton of different styles, but it can be too much,” Jess says. “There’s a temptation to chase trends online. I disconnect by going back to paper with abstract collage work. I’ll start by drawing a line and challenge myself to create balance and harmony as things start to flow and develop on the paper.”

Jess’ collages fill stacks of notebooks and inspire many of the designs that develop into tattoos. In the tattoo world, her work stands out by eschewing the traditional hard lines that are commonplace in the medium, instead showcasing softer, flowing executions. This style choice creates tattoos that tend to age and fade more quickly than darker, more saturated pieces. Viewing her work as art that evolves with its owner, Jess embraces the aging potential of tattoos:

“People change over time, so why can’t their tattoos?” she asks. “A quality tattoo needs to always heal well, of course, but I do think it’s possible to create tattoos that fade and tell a beautiful, evolving story as they age along with their owner.”

We were first drawn to Jess’ work for its classic, enduring beauty. An afternoon in her studio, learning more about her steadfast commitment to handcrafted creativity drove home why we’re proud to continue the development of the Red Wing Women’s Heritage Collection.

When asked what advice she has for first-time clients, Jess simply responded, “Don’t invest in something just because it’s trendy. Get something that’s classically beautiful, and you’ll never regret it.”

Jess is pictured in new Fall/Winter 2018 styles including the 3473 Harriet, 3451 Round Toe, and 3457 Chelsea, as well as our in-line 3405 Clara.

PIERRE-YVES ORIOL

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Some people own a few items from a brand that they’re drawn to. Others go deeper, developing meaningful appreciation and knowledge of the brand. These individuals start looking beyond the actual product, learning more about the brand and history. Pierre-Yves Oriol is a prolific collector of Red Wing boots and other vintage items. He also designs and makes small batches of heavy waxed canvas jackets, sweaters, and bags under the name TONTON & FILS.  Pierre doesn’t follow fashion or trends for his apparel, he only makes small batches of quality garments that he would wear himself. We met Pierre in Paris to ask him more about his love of craft.

When did you start your Red Wing collection and what was the first boot you bought?

I bought my first pair of Red Wings 15 years ago in New York City – a classic 877 Moc Toe. I had been dreaming of those boots for a long time, but it was almost impossible to find them in France.

Why did you seek out more than one pair of Red Wing boots?

What can I say, I’m just a real collector! When I bought those 877s, my first pair of Red Wing boots, it quickly became clear it would be impossible for me to just keep it to the one pair. It’s a bit like chips, you can’t eat only one! At that time I was wearing some other workwear shoe brands, too, but I was fascinated by the patina of my Red Wing shoes. The quality of this leather was so different, so strong. The more I wore the shoes, the better they looked. I love old patina; not only on shoes, but also on leather jackets and furniture, on anything really… I also love old vintage cars! Vintage goes with my lifestyle. Workwear goes with my life style, too.

How many pairs of Red Wings do you own?

Well, my wife is not so happy about it, but I have exactly 39 pairs of Red Wing boots. From Engineer boots to Moc Toes, from Iron Rangers to specific steel-toe workwear boots like loggers… e.g. the 879, 2972, 4418, 877, 875, 8138 (I’m crazy about the Briar Oil leather), Pecos 8869, 953 work boots, 2940… a lot of different styles for a lot of different wear styles. I also have some customized Red Wing boots. When I like a specific style, I always try to get it in different colors. I’m a collector, but I do like to wear all of them.

What is your favourite pair and why?

I’m more attracted by the Heritage work style than by classic dress shoes, even though I do wear Beckman shoes sometimes. It’s always hard to choose one pair over another, it depends on what you wear it with… but I do always wear my steel-toe Engineer 2972 with everything. I’m in love with the Copper Rough & Tough leather! The other two I have to mention are the 6-inch Moc Toe 8880 in Bourbon Yuma leather and my 8-inch Moc Toe 879 limited edition boots in Hawthorne Muleskinner. It’s hard to choose, but I think those three pairs are my absolute “must-haves”. They are my favorites because they really fit my personal way of life: I love to ride motorcycles, so the 11-inch steel-toe 2972 is the safest option. The 8880 really represents the typical Red Wing style for me: easy to wear with any kind of clothing, comfortable, and solid. And the 879 is just so stylish, and for me it is also an emblematic style of the brand and a bit different from the classic 877.

What vintage items do you collect besides Red Wing boots?

I collect vintage flight jackets, especially ones made before the 80s, from the brand Schott. I simply love the 674 flight jacket style with a talon zipper, and I love old Perfecto as well. I also collect varsity jackets. There is one thing I would really like to find: a vintage goose down jacket from Schott, Woolrich, or Rocky Mountain Featherbed. I also love vintage military jackets, Swiss army bags, and vintage street signs. As a vintage garments collector, I decided to create my own apparel inspired largely by heritage wear style.

What is the most valuable item in your collection?

The most valuable item in my collection is the pair that I don’t have yet! I’m still looking for the 8-inch Moc Toe 8830 in Copper Rough & Tough leather. But all jokes aside, I really love my vintage Irish Setter 877 because of its amazing patina.

Can you tell us a story of a great find and how you got hold of it?

One of my friends was traveling in the USA for his job, and he called me to tell me he had a gift for me. It was a Red Wing carpet he had found in a tiny work boots store in Pennsylvania. He was actually supposed to bring back a pair of classic 877s for me, but my size was out of stock. He saw the carpet with the logo in the shop and asked the shop owner if he could buy it, but the answer was ‘no’ at first. My friend told him it was for a real collector in France and he showed him pictures of my collection. The owner of the Red Wing store was so impressed that he gave him the carpet!! Now this grey and red carpet is in my garage, close to my motorcycle. Collector? 100% yes!

Do you still look for new (old) Red Wing items?

Always… I’m definitely a Red Wing seeker. Sometimes I even buy boots I already have, for them to develop a different patina or to customize them with a different sole… I’m very attracted by the Japanese Red Wing market, by their colors and models… they make me jealous! I am looking for a pair of logger steel-toe boots in Muleskinner leather. I think they were made only for the Asian market. Those boots are my new target!

KIMMO POHJAPELTO

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Nice place you have here! Can you tell us a bit more about where we are exactly? 

Well, we are in Tellakaranta Konepajahalli, one of Helsinki’s old shipyard buildings. It was constructed in 1916 and was used for the manufacture of ship parts until the early 2000s, when the shipbuilding company closed it. I moved in last fall after the building had been renovated, and I absolutely love it here! I really like that this old building has been kept pretty much how it used to be and still has the feel of the old shipyard days. The atmosphere here is perfect for taking pictures of the products I sell online. I could not have dreamed of a better place for my showroom!

Where does the name ‘Roomage’ come from?

‘Roomage’ comes from my favorite band Descendents. They have a lot of songs that end in ‘-age’. I have always been a big fan of the band and I thought it would be fun to use this in the name of my store. ‘Roomage’ also refers to the store itself: as I just explained, the store is located in an old building – an old space. Another word for space is room and a synonym for old is age and combining the two makes Roomage. Of course, I also sell vintage/old furniture, so this is also reflected in the word ‘age’. Later, I found out that ‘to rummage’ means to dig for something and garage sales are sometimes even called ‘rummage sales’, which is actually a nice description of what I do with my business.

As your favorite band played a part in naming your shop, you must really be into music! Can you tell me a bit about that?

Music has always been a part of my life and I started playing in bands when I was 16. I used to watch MTV and play records with my brothers, which made me develop a taste for a certain type of music and bands. There is a big chance I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t listened to the music I was listening to. I guess it all has to do with trying to be a little bit different than the rest. Back in the day, we were all looking for those new, cool bands and it was a lot harder to do back then than it is nowadays. So it’s quite similar to the way I look for the goods I sell. But I play music the whole day long, whether it is in my home, my car, or my store. It’s a really big thing for me. Punkrock always was and still is all about individuality and I guess that’s something I take as a life goal. My band Sur-rur has been playing for 20 years, though right now we are on a small break. We still exist because we never wanted to push it too much. We always played just for fun, and as long as people listen to our music and we enjoy making it, we will keep it up.

So Kimmo, can you tell us a bit about your passion for vintage goods?

I had never really thought about this before I started the store. I have been asked this question a few times now, so I had to dig deep into my memories to find out where this fascination comes from. The first memories of old things I had a connection with are from the late 80s/early 90s, when my mom decided to sell some of our old stuff on a local flea market in Vaasa. That must have been the first time and I was immediately interested and intrigued by all these cool, old things. When I started studying, I would go to flea markets to decorate my room and I even bought my clothes there. I was able to find rare pieces of furniture and unique pieces of clothing, so I could be just a little bit different than the rest.

I guess you are just born with this interest. I have been buying and collecting used stuff since long before I started Roomage. On holidays, we always tried to visit the cool flea markets and we would always come home with some vintage pieces. So before Roomage, we would buy old furniture and stuff to decorate our home and we still do that – but now, having this store, I can always put items in there, too. I’m always on the lookout for new ‘old stuff’.

How does one get into buying and selling old vintage interior products?

It’s a tricky business and there is not really a school to learn it. You just have to be creative. Before the internet, the only thing you could do is browse the markets and visit collectors or private sellers. Now you can find connections just by being online, but you really need to find the right people and some you find online and others you need to meet in person. So yes, it got easier in a way, but also harder because there is so much out there, it’s sometimes hard to filter. So browsing the web is one thing, but visiting markets and garage sales is still a big part of the job.

Do you find all of your furniture in Finland?

I actually go all-over the place to find items for my store: 75 percent I get from abroad, and the rest is from Finland. Finland is such a small country that I have to go to Central and Eastern Europe a lot to find the things that you can’t get here in Finland. But I do get into my car and visit my contacts here in Finland, too, to find some good stuff.

Who are your customers and how do you approach them? Or how do they approach you? What kind of projects do you take on?

Of course I had to make a plan on how to make this work. When I started, I wrote a business plan in which I estimated my target group to be my age plus/minus 10 years, so young adults between the ages of 25 and 45 from Helsinki. But it turns out that my customers are people of all ages and from all over the country. I have also done some projects looking for special items for hotels, bars, and restaurants.  Most clients approach me. I like to use social media to promote the products I sell in the store, which has been working really well. Sometimes, things got sold from a photo on Instagram before they even hit the store. So people usually approach me after I post on Instagram and Facebook.

What are you looking for in the products that you sell in your store?

It’s a funny thing, I just trust my instinct. The golden rule I have is that if I would put it in my home, I will take it to my shop. So the store really feels like a second home to me. I try to find better and nicer stuff, items that the other stores don’t have. I’m looking for those unique things that people have never seen before. The items do need to be old and rare, but ultimately, the feeling is probably what is most important. All the products I have in my store fit my idea of what Roomage means to me perfectly.

The environment is a big issue nowadays. How do you approach this?

It is a big issue for me and I don’t say this as a marketing pitch, to preach to people that they should buy second hand. Most of my ideas on this topic come from my childhood; my parents bought good quality design furniture from e.g. Artek. And not because we were rich, but because they wanted something nice and durable – and most of the furniture is still in my parents’ house and in good shape. I know that in the past, products were built to last, so if you treat them right, you can enjoy them for a long time. Repairing is definitely something people should be reminded of, especially the younger generation that buys cheap furniture that they will replace when they break it. If you have or find an old piece of vintage furniture, it is always worth reupholstering or repairing it and making it look brand new again. When I’m decorating my apartment, I want to find that special sofa or those special chairs that will serve me for years to come. I simply don’t understand that people buy things just because they are cheap. If you have to buy a new sofa every few years, it is not cheap! So that’s what I’m trying to do: to find those nice vintage design pieces for people who love them too, and I will do the searching for them. And after all these years, I can say that I have become a pro at it.

What was your favorite piece you owned and/or sold?

I’m way past regretting selling things I was really proud to have. The world is full of nice stuff and there will always be things that come and go. And if it really is an exceptionally nice item and it would fit my home, then I might take it for myself. I do have to say that it’s mainly my wife who wants to keep things. But usually, they will be put up for sale anyway, it’s quite easy once you’ve found the right mindset. This job isn’t for people who get connected to their goods. And yes, sometimes items do make a stop in our home; from movie spotlights to a Danish design chair. But I guess the most memorable piece must be the telescopic Triplex 3m reach wall lamp from Sweden that was very rare and in mint condition.

I see both design and industrial design items in your store. Do these go hand in hand and why or how?

Sure, I believe there are similarities between old industrial items and design items. The industrial stuff that was made in the ‘50-’70s is made from certain materials that are now coming back in modern design items. I remember travelling in the USA with my wife somewhere in the early 2000s. We visited some flea markets, where we found these industrial lamps that we had never seen before. As the years went by, you suddenly saw them everywhere. I started off with industrial items only, but have adapted to the demands of the Finnish market by moving a little more towards design items. I try to sell a good mix of both.

Are there trends within this market or is it all timeless design?

Yes, like with everything else, there are trends. At the moment, the trend seems to be going more towards the Italian ‘60-’70s, with a lot of glass, brass, and copper – and rather colorful, compared to the very plain and clean Scandinavian design that has been very popular for the last couple of years. So the trend right now is a bit more playful and more colors, more cozy and a little less hospital-look.

Do you see a lot of changes? How do you keep up with trends and where are they going?

I don’t want to stress out too much about trends, but of course I do also get my inspiration from Instagram, movies, etc. But I would still like to buy and sell the stuff that I like. In my opinion, that’s how everybody should decorate their home, so your home will reflect the owner(s)!

What is your dog’s name and does she always come with you?

Her name is Mila. She is always with us, either in my store or in my wife’s office, she is the best dog to have around. She is a really nice, loving dog that loves all people. Mila is part of Roomage.

ONLINE: www.roomage.fi
Instagram:  @roomage
Facebook: RoomageVintageInteriors

CHASTITY BROWN

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Chastity Brown is a Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter acclaimed for her impassioned, rhythm-driven sound. Spanning genres, Chastity’s music gracefully blends blues, country, and soul. Her songwriting is piercing, looking both inward and outward to lay bare personal hardships and dissect societal injustices. Chastity’s fiercely genuine presence on-stage and off embodies the strength we aim to honor in the Red Wing Women’s Collection.

We’re all about process when it comes to building footwear. Could you talk a bit about what your songwriting process looks like?  

The approach to writing a song is different every time for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m chasing down a melody that’s stuck in my head. Other times, an arrangement or set of chords can evoke an image or emotion that I then try to dig into and describe in detail. One constant question: Does this story feel true? If the answer is yes, then I just go with it.

What have you been turning to for inspiration recently?

I’ve been turning to the idea of personal growth and radical self-love.

There’s a lot that goes into creative projects that goes beyond final output. Between swirling logistics and constant digital inundation, how do you deliberately make time and space for yourself to create?

I’ve been on a North American tour for the past five months. I steal away moments between curtain calls to write. And there are hours upon hours that I spend in the car just singing to myself.

How do you stay grounded, happy, and healthy while touring?

That’s a great question. It’s been helpful for me to develop a malleable routine: yoga or a walk in the morn, keeping in touch with my dear, sweet friends and those that know and love me, and eating healthy. I try to keep in tune with the basics of what my needs are.

You can only take so much with you on tour. What do you take into consideration when packing clothes for both onstage and off-stage outfits?

The longer you’re on the road the less ya’ wanna carry. So, I try to take outfits that I can mix and match to be rad on stage and chill and comfy off. Since we’re in a different city every night, sometimes I’ll just wear the same thing for two or three days!

How would you describe your personal style? Is your presentation of self an extension of your creativity? More utilitarian? A blend of both?

I am quite particular when it comes to clothes. It’s most certainly an extension of creative expression. I like neutral solids… A pseudo monotone palate. I often wear vintage breeches that I get altered to fit my curves. Lately, black, grey, creamy white, and green are my go-to colors. And then I throw on a pair of my Red Wings, and boom: ready to rock.

Nina Simone famously said that “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” How does a critical and reflective approach to the world around you inform your work?

I love Nina. She is everything. I’m not a reporter, but I feel like a collector of stories. Ones that I have lived and ones that I hear in the community around me. I try to write with a sense of reverence for the human experience. Whether that’s a struggle with mental stability, a long drive through the backwoods and getting lost in nature, substance addiction, or my own struggles with self-acceptance. I feel that I’m always learning how to be a better writer and stay true to the African American lineage that I’m a part of.

What do you have in store for the rest of the year?

I’m just wrapping up this five-month-long tour. This summer I’m playing Bonaroo, Rock the Garden, Edmonton Folk Festival, and a bunch of fun shows yet to be announced!

Chastity is pictured wearing the Harriet in Black Boundary, the Inez in Honey Chinook and the Clara in Black Boundary.

Follow Chastity at chastitybrownmusic.com or on Instagram @Chastity_Brown.

INGO KELLER

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Ingo Keller is a well known cobbler in the Red Wing world, who started working as a cobbler in a traditional shoe repair shop in Cologne, Germany at the tender age of 20, just after finishing his shoe repair apprenticeship. In 1996, he decided it was time to become his own boss and he took over ownership of this shop. Today, he has over 30 years’ experience as a cobbler under his belt and his repair shop “Schuhmacherei Ingo Keller” is famous for its quality repairs and the customizing of Red Wing boots. During his long career, Ingo has gained the respect and the trust of many regular customers, some  of whom jokingly gave him the nick name ““Schuhgott” (German for “god of shoes”).

We visited the Schuhgott in his workshop to take some great photos of the space and of the machinery. Later, we met Ingo again at a traditional Brauhaus in Cologne called Haus Schwan. During some traditional German food, we talked about his shop and the cobbling world in general. Unfortunately, the meeting took place on a Friday during lunch time and we both had to work afterwards, so no, there were no Kölsch (typical Beer from Cologne) involved! 

Q: How did you get to know Red Wing?

A: About 10 years ago I had a customer, an actor, who used to come to my workshop and kept telling me: “Ingo, you have to start repairing Red Wing Shoes, they are really, really good.” This customer always drove to the RWSS in Frankfurt to get his Red Wings. At that point, I wasn’t really aware of Red Wing as a brand yet.

I became an official Red Wing cobbler when, by coincidence, I bumped into Guido and Sascha Wolf, who own the RWSS in Cologne. Naturally, we started talking about footwear and before I knew it, 4 hours had passed! Towards the end of this conversation, Sascha told me they were looking for a cobbler to support the RWSS in Cologne. Of course I did not hesitate, as I remembered how passionate some of my customers were about Red Wing and how well I got along with Guido and Sascha. I feel like this meeting could not have been a coincidence!

Q: Can you remember your first pair of Red Wings?

A: Of course. It was the 8113 Iron Ranger that I am wearing right now. I have rebuilt my pair using a leather midsole and the Vibram 430 mini-lug outsole.

Q: What is your favorite style?

A: That is impossible to say. I personally like a boot with a heel and have a very narrow foot, so the Iron Ranger is a good fit for me. But I would not be able to choose which style I love the most. When worn, every boot is beautiful in its own way.

Q:  What do you like about Red Wing?

A: Of course, I like the history of the brand and the long list of famous and non-famous people who have worn them, e.g. Jack Nicholson in 
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo`s Nest”.

I also really like the setup of having RWSS offering a unique service and customer experience, paired with selected high quality retailers, and 
a network of cobblers, who offer a premium repair service.

Most of all, however, I really like the people who actually wear Red Wings. The way they love the brand and identify with it and your products fascinates me. Every shoe is different, due to different wear, different care, and just simply because of the person who wears the boot, and that’s what I find really interesting. When I receive a pair for a resole, I am always very curious about the story behind the boots. Whenever I get a chance to meet my customers, I always try to find out what stories surround every boot.

Q: Where do you receive most repairs from?

A: Most pairs are dropped off at the RWSS Cologne. I usually go to the store once or twice a week to pick up boots that need a resole or repair.

Besides that, boots are sent to me from all over Germany, especially from the Ruhr Valley Area with its great and vibrant biking scene, but also from everywhere in Europe and across the globe. Even customers from the US and Malaysia have sent boots for a resole. I guess most people become aware of my Instagram account and simply get in touch.

Q: What is the most requested repair service?

A: Most of my work for Red Wing is still resoling. I don’t get a lot of repairs or defects. Most customers don’t realize just how much work actually goes into what seems to be a simple process of resoling, though.

During every resole, the full sole construction is replaced and renewed. I fully deconstruct every pair, replace the cork filler if needed (this can become brittle from years of wear), and replace the midsole and outsole. And I also clean all parts of the boot. This takes a lot of work and skill.

Q: What do you think of the quality of Red Wing? You must also see and repair a lot of other footwear?

A: Red Wing uses extremely high quality leather. This is not only great for wear, it is also extremely easy to clean and repair. I think Red Wing offers great value. Of course you can buy more expensive boots, but in Red Wing’s price category, it is very difficult to find another boot of such high quality.

Q: How has the profession of cobbler changed?

A: In the 80s, all a cobbler did were repairs and resoles of lower quality footwear. Your work was expected to be cheap and quick. This has changed, as more and more people are spending a little more money on a good pair of shoes and understand that good things have their price and also take some time. This is true for shoemaking, just as much as for any other job. Fortunately, I have more and more customers who are willing to wait a week longer to get the quality of service they expect. 

Q: Your son also works in your workshop. He is 19, right? How do you think business will be when one day he will take over?

A: Yes, he is 19 and has 1 year of (cobbler) education left. I hope one day he will choose to continue running the business here in Cologne. 

I think there is a trend that will continue for a long time. Even though there are still a lot of people buying throw away items, there are more and more people that are interested in a more sustainable lifestyle. These people are also interested in a good pair of denim, a high quality shirt, and a good jacket. I think that this group is only going to continue growing in the next couple of years. 

Q: Do you still have a professional dream? What do you dream about? 

A: You know what, actually I am very, very happy at the moment. I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher in my cobbler education, who always told me that I should not only make the customer happy, but also myself by the time the customer left the shop. This is a valuable lesson I learned early on. My customers rightly demand a premium service, which takes time and also has its price. If the customers and I both realize this, both sides will be happy.

But I also apply this lesson to my work in general. I understand that my employees sometimes work 12-hour days to help me maintain a high level of quality. I therefore need and want to pay them accordingly. In a small, family-run business of 4-5 people, the personal relationship you have with employees is really important, because you spend so much time together, in our case in a really small space.

Q: Any advice you have for Red Wing owners or fans?

A: I think the most important advice to any Red Wing owner is to care for your boots and to respect the product you have purchased. Many people don’t use care products or are scared to use these products. Some people are even scared to clean their boots. To those people I would like to say that the leather Red Wing uses is made to withstand a lot of wear and tear, but it does also need some care from time to time.

Q: Any general rules of thumb in regards to care?

A: Please give your boots some rest from time to time. Ideally you set your boots aside after intensive usage to let them dry properly. I recommend using cedar or beech wood boot trees as they absorb moisture well. If you don’t own boot trees, you could also use newspaper, I guess. But boot trees are better.

In general, you should be able to tell when your boots need care. This depends on how much and in what conditions you wear your boots. The leather will start to look and feel dry and you will notice more creasing in the leather. This is an indication that you should apply some care product. If you are unsure which product to use, simply visit the care section on the redwingheritage.com website, then choose CARE GUIDES. After selecting your style, you will be guided to the right products and detailed care instructions.

On the other hand, do not overprotect your boots. Similar to your own skin, leather can only take in a certain amount of product. The rest will just stay on the surface. You should be able to identify when the leather is saturated by the leather’s ability to absorb the product you are using. Don’t use too much!

Please just make sure you use quality product on your boots. I always tell people: “If you own a Porsche, you would also choose a high quality oil for its engine. The same is true for your boots.”

Website: schuhgott.de

Instagram: @schuhgott_custom_shoe_repair

Facebook: Schuhmacherei Ingo Keller

EMILY VIKRE

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Emily Vikre is the co-founder and president of Vikre Distillery in Duluth, Minnesota. Blending a love of tradition, penchant for pushing boundaries, and inspiration gathered from Minnesota’s North Shore, she and her husband Joel have built Vikre into a nationally acclaimed distillery. Emily’s affinity for meticulous process is echoed in the Red Wing Women’s Collection, and we’re proud to showcase her passion for craft here.

You and your husband quit your office jobs to dive into this work. Could you elaborate on the calling that drove you to be more hands-on for a living?

With a lot of work, the further you advance in your career, oftentimes the further you get from doing hands-on work with real things and real people. And while my husband Joel and I are both idea people—we can’t stop ourselves from brainstorming and exploring non-concrete realities—we both become more alive when we ground ourselves in making. While none of us need a lot of things, we do need some things, and the world is such a beautiful, meaningful place, it seems to me that things should be beautiful and have intention and meaning behind them as well, if at all possible.

What sparked your passion for distilling, specifically?

It was one simple, fateful conversation. Joel and I were living in Boston at the time, but we were in Duluth on a frigid January night to visit my parents.  That night we learned the story behind a Swedish whiskey: a few guys from Sweden were fishing in Scotland and they got sick of hearing the Scots brag about how they have the best grain and water and peat, and therefore they make the best whiskey in the world. They thought to themselves, “We have all those things in Sweden, let’s go make whiskey.” So, they did! When we heard that story, we instantly thought, well, we have all those things in Minnesota! At the time, my passion lay much more with wine—and I am still definitely fascinated by wine—but as I started to research spirits, I fell in love with the history and traditions and creativity that good spirits are imbued with.

How does Vikre blend tradition and innovation to produce compelling products?

Tradition is often as much a mindset as it is an actual set of prescribed practices. So, you can take traditions and apply that mindset of making something carefully by hand, or using the ingredients grown on the land nearby, and you can keep the tradition fresh by adding contemporary things that are meaningful to you. We honor the traditional practices of making whiskey, but I may reach for unusual grains or try combinations of barrels that no one has tried before. Or, all of our gins include the backbone of traditional flavors that you’d expect in a gin, but then I push and pull them in new directions with local botanicals and other unusual flavors. We’re inspired by how it’s done elsewhere, but because there hasn’t been a particular “northern style” of most spirits, like gin or whiskey, we can pave our own way as well.

Vikre is a triple bottom line organization. How does this direct your work?

Joel and I both came from a background of working on social and environmental issues through academia and non-profits, and even though making booze seems like a pivot from that, we’ve found that a business inspired by Lake Superior can actually be an amazing platform for focusing on the environment and community that we love and rely upon. We are a zero landfill company. We source all of our ingredients organically or locally or both. We developed a closed-loop cooling water system to reduce our water use by over 70%. We pay a living wage for all employees and provide earned sick and safe time for them.

Vikre sources locally and creates tastes that reflect the terroir. Why is this important for you?

Terroir has long been important in the world of wine, and as we have emerged from a weird era of whipped cream and blue raspberry flavored vodka, terroir is starting to become something makers are exploring in spirits as well. This idea that the nature and culture of where a product is made can influence its flavor has always been critical to Scotch and some bourbons. Every place is unique, and terroir honors that. Instead of differentiating your products with flashy branding and micro-targeting a customer’s desires, you differentiate yourself in a tangible, place-based way.

Does your affinity for localization and thoughtful process inform your decision making when it comes to products or organizations you choose to support your personal life?

For sure! We try to have fewer things and have them be things made by people and companies we know personally, or at least whose practices we know. Joel builds a lot of our furniture. We focus on buying and cooking local foods, and we recently planted a little apple orchard and berries in our backyard. I’m passionate about art, and love to surround myself with it, so our house is filled with pieces from artists I’ve met around the state and around our place in Norway. I also work to support our local opera, ballet, and theater because I think the way the arts reflect life and bring people together around our shared humanity is so incredible and important. And, of course, we work to support local environmental organizations and projects.

What lies ahead for Vikre? Where do you hope to take things in the next few years?

Our hope is to continue to expand our distribution footprint, but to do so in a way that is intentional and sustainable. We are planning to add more products, but again with intention. There’s sort of this expectation of craft breweries and craft distilleries now that we should constantly be releasing new product. While that is fun and creatively stimulating, it’s not so much my style. It usually takes me quite a while before I’m happy enough with something to release it. But, we do have a few products in the works that I’m really excited about. And, we want to keep tackling new environmental goals, greening-up our whole supply chain.

To learn more about Vikre Distillery, you can follow them on Instagram
@vikredistillery or visit their website at www.vikredistillery.com

Emily is pictured wearing our New 3368 Sand Mohave Iron Ranger as well as our New 3435 Colorado Atanado Hazel.

GUSTAV FRINCH

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Not so long ago, we heard the story of Gustav Frich, an 18-year-old guy from Copenhagen, Denmark, who went on what the Australians call a “walkabout”.  He had decided to walk across Scotland from coast to coast in 10 days’ time. This by itself would already be a cool story, but what drew our attention especially was that he did it in a pair of 9016 Beckman boots. Three years after this hike, we bumped into Gustav, now 21, in Copenhagen while visiting the city and attending a Red Wing event. We sat down with a good glass of wine to talk about his experience.

Q: It came to our attention that 3 years ago, you hiked across Scotland in a pair of Beckman boots and that you even did some mountaineering in them! Why did you decide to walk all the way across Scotland in the first place?

A: I grew up with an anglophile grandfather, who, when talking of his youth overseas, always emphasized his hunting trips to the Scottish Highlands. Growing up seeing his photos and hearing his stories, I suppose the place got an almost mythical appeal to me, and when I turned 18, I thought, why not see for myself?

Q: Then of course the next question is why you walked in a pair of 9016 Beckman boots? Generally, they are not the first choice for some serious hiking or for climbing mountains!

A: I did the hike with a friend of mine, Valdemar, who already had some experience in hiking and mountaineering. He suggested we do a test hike to see how our gear held up, so we did. That’s when I found out my hiking boots were just not going to work for me – my feet were wet and sore, and there was no ventilation whatsoever because of the membrane.

So there I was, a week before the trip, with no boots and no money. That’s when I turned to my neighbor Anders, who works for Red Wing. Lucky for me, he had a pair of 9016 Beckman boots that were a bit too small for him, but a seemingly perfect fit for me. So I left the hiking boots at home and went with the Red Wings.

Q: I heard that during the trip, you did not actually go from town to town or use a professional navigation system, but that you had set a few GPS coordinates beforehand and just walked in a straight line wherever possible. On some days, you did not even see a single person. How did that work out and how did you find food and water?

A: It was tough, but rewarding. I’m very thankful my friend did some preparation with the GPS, as otherwise we would have been utterly lost. He brought some filters as well, so we could drink straight from the springs. We mostly ate freeze dried meals I had stuffed in my 70s rucksack at the last minute. I guess I thought we’d have more opportunities to re-stock – instead, we ended up losing an unhealthy amount of weight.

Q: What about the mountain you climbed? What was the mountain called?

A: Ben Nevis, it’s the tallest mountain on the British Isles. We decided to avoid the crowded main path, and tried to scale it from the other side, off-the-grid. It was irresponsible, but the views were amazing.

Q: How did the boots hold up during the trip? We are so curious! It’s not the first boot we think of for a serious hike…

A: The few other hikers we met looked baffled when they saw me in a pair of classic leather boots. But I couldn’t have been happier – they stayed dry when they had to, were never too hot, and my ankles didn’t break when climbing. I’ve given them a lot of abuse, but they’re holding up nicely – I’m actually going to wear them again this winter.

Q: Are you planning other hiking trips in the near future?

A: We’ve been talking about Iceland. We’ll have to stock up better on food this time, though. But the 9016 Beckman boots will be back on my feet for the hike!

 

Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us, Gustav!