Repair Shop

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Plant 2 in Red Wing, Minnesota hums with activity Monday through Friday, as hundreds of Red Wing craftspeople meticulously work through each stage of footwear construction. Tucked away in a far corner of the factory, a group of specialized cobblers is hard at work, repairing Red Wing footwear sent in from around the world. The repair shop stands as a tribute to our long-held belief that high quality footwear should be built to be repairable.

We live in a time when most of what we purchase is designed to be used for a while, thrown out, and forgotten. When Red Wing Shoe Company got its start in 1905, goods were made by hand and made to last. Plenty has changed since then, but we still build every pair of Heritage footwear to be repairable and resoleable. We’re proud of this tradition, and we’re proud to create footwear that allow owners to get the most out of their investment.

Years of daily wear make for boots and shoes that are perfectly formed to their owner’s feet, with a leather patina that tells a one-of-a-kind story. Red Wing owners take pride in the personalized feel and look that comes with years of daily wear. Thanks to a resoleable design, even when a sole is worn down to almost, the rest of the footwear often still has years of life left. Rather than let a repairable shoe or boot go to waste, our repair shop cobblers breathe new life into well-loved footwear.

“If I’m repairing a pair of boots, I look at them like they’re mine,” says repair shop cobbler Dave Dunlap. “I want the owner of the boots to be just as proud of the repair as I am.”

Cobbling might sound like a bygone craft to some, but Dunlap and the rest of the Red Wing cobblers are keeping the occupation, and untold numbers of shoes and boots, alive and well. Red Wing builds footwear that can last decades, and under the same roof in Plant 2, our cobblers work fastidiously to make good on this promise.

While the cobblers in the Red Wing repair shop have the expertise to pull off impressive repairs, the key to extending the lifespan of footwear is regular upkeep throughout its life.

“If you properly oil and maintain your boots, it’s more likely that we can resole and make any needed repairs,” explains Dunlap.

Leather behaves much in the same way as skin. If it’s repeatedly exposed to harsh elements, intermittent leather maintenance makes a tremendous difference in its appearance, longevity, and reparability. Different leathers demand different care, so take a minute to familiarize yourself with the Cleaning-Conditioning-Protection needs of your footwear.

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

To shop the care products Eleonora is using above, click here.

Gaal Levine

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For the last four years, Gaal Levine has spearheaded product design for the Red Wing Heritage Women’s Collection. The Boston-native hit the ground running upon arrival in Minnesota, working alongside Heritage Director of Product Creation, Allison Gettings, to develop and launch the women’s line in September 2016. Since the launch, Gaal has focused on refining a design process that meets the needs of modern women, while staying true to the timeless Red Wing legacy. We caught up with her to talk design philosophy and hear about this fall’s new styles.

What’s the trajectory that led you to working for Red Wing Heritage?

I grew up in Boston, an area with a lot of footwear companies. I studied fashion design in college, and after a few jobs in the fashion industry, I realized my real passion was in footwear. I was lucky enough to work in design for a few other historically rich brands like Clarks and Sperry before moving out to Minnesota to work for Red Wing Heritage and help start the women’s line.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to designing new Heritage women’s footwear?

I love designing footwear that fits the way that people will interact with it. People value their footwear and are typically very deliberate with what they choose to wear each day and why. Shoes need to be comfortable and functional, while also expressing someone’s personal style. I consider wear occasion, comfort, and market trends when I design, and I love the additional challenge of flowing that into our brand’s aesthetic and history. Our footwear is built to last, which to me means that we’re combining premium materials and traditional construction with timeless styling that you’ll want to wear for years to come.

What were your overall priorities as you approached the Fall/Winter ’18 line?

Living in Minnesota, I know how quickly the weather can turn, and I wanted to create new styles that would perform in inclement weather while still being versatile enough for year-round wear. I’m really excited about our 6” Chelsea. It’s a taller Chelsea height for us and has a full rubber bottom.

What are some other new Fall ’18 pieces that you’re excited for?

I’ve wanted to add the Round Toe boot to the women’s line for years. Before the launch of the women’s line, it was one of our most popular men’s styles that women were wearing. I’m excited to see how women respond to a Round Toe that’s tailored to their feet. I also love the new colorway on the 3371 6” Classic Moc – the Mahogany Oro-iginal leather is so classic and rich.

Any outfits that you already have in mind that you’re excited to pair with certain FW18 pieces once fall weather is upon us?

My go-to is usually our 6” Moc and skinny jeans. This summer, I’ve been wearing a lot of ankle and crop denim, and I’m excited to pair our new 6” Chelsea with those come fall. I’m also really into our Olive Mohave leather and am drawn to all our boots that come in that color. It’s a really easy color to wear.

What’s the design process that brings a new piece of Red Wing Heritage women’s footwear to life?

The design process starts with a lot of research. I travel around the US and globally each season, trying to see as much as I can and visit our retailers to hear what consumers are saying. I’m online to keep an eye on trend forecasting and see how our shoes are being worn in the wild on social media. I also regularly dig into the Red Wing company archive, looking at old catalogues and print ads. Our new styles end up being a mashup of all these inspiration points.

Material development at Red Wing is a really special process as well. Since we own our own tannery, S.B. Foot Tanning Co., I’m able to work directly with our master tanner, Plutarco Mejia. I hand off everything directly to him and his team, and I’m able to see development in real time by driving down the street to look at a color or side of leather as it’s ready. There are so few tanneries left in the US, so I feel very lucky to be able to work so closely with ours.

Women have plenty of choices when it comes to lifestyle footwear. In your mind, what does Red Wing do that stands out from the crowd?

There are so many amazing shoes out there, but when I look at the footwear market as a whole, the products that excite me most are the ones that tell a sustainability story. So much footwear is still made to be quickly disposable. Heritage stands out to me because it’s one of the few women’s lines made entirely in the US, and all our products are resoleable, so you could wear them for the rest of your life with proper care.

The women’s Fall/Winter 2018 is available online and in-store now. Shop the full women’s collection now.

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.

Dan Rodriguez

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Dan Rodriguez is a Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter known for his soulful sound and impassioned live performances. He released his latest album 25 Years in February, marking a decade of putting out albums and hitting the road to tour. We caught up with him recently to talk music, movement, and what goes into assembling a utilitarian wardrobe.

How have you evolved as a musician during the decade you’ve been putting out music?

Time spent in any trade makes one better. Over the years, I’ve become a better guitar player and overall musician simply because of the time spent doing it. Playing with a band, especially a band made up of professional musicians, will make anybody better, but I think the thing I strive to improve more than anything is songwriting. Studying it, listening to great songwriters, and flexing the songwriting muscle has been, for me, the most essential part of my growth as an artist.  That, followed closely by learning how to best read and work a crowd.

What’s your origin story as a musician?

I grew up in the Detroit area in a strange, but well intentioned, homeschooling family. One of the things my loving and supportive folks always placed importance on was that each of us kids pick an instrument and took lessons. I started with voice lessons at nine, by eleven I was learning drums, and at 15 I bought my first guitar and wrote my first song.  It was then that I knew that I had found my heart’s calling. In 2004, at 18, and at my real (not homeschooling) high school in Clarkston MI, I won the audition to sing our class song “No Such Thing – John Mayer” at our graduation ceremony.  After singing in front of a few thousand people that day at Pine Knobb Music Theater in Clarkston, I knew that this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.

How would you describe your sound? 

I like to call it Americana white-guy soul with a pop sensibility. And that’s the short version.  I call it white-guy soul, and not just “soul,” because it all comes down to food. Music and food are two of the most interconnected pieces of any culture. I didn’t grow up eating the same food or living the same kind of life as my black, soul music-making friends. So, the soul aspect of my music came with a lot less struggle & marginalization, and came with a lot more privilege and copying what they were doing. But in recognizing that, and moving forward together, it’s evident that it comes from the same Motown roots and church gospel influence.

What do you turn to for creative inspiration?

I think we’re all inherently creative.  We just have varying levels of stifling forces in our lives. In order to write a song I used to think that I needed to be inspired by something profound or interesting. I used to think that writer’s block was a real thing. But the longer I do this, the more I believe that, at least for myself, writer’s block doesn’t exist. If I ever claim that, please remind me that I’m just being lazy. Writing is work. Inspiration for that writing can come from literally anything. I think the most important thing to turn to for creative inspiration is space and time. Giving myself the time in my studio to work is what I need to be able to create. It’s then that I’m able to tap into what’s already inherently there in each of us.

Could you talk a bit about your wardrobe, and how you think about what to invest in?

My style can probably be summed up in two words: Quality and minimalism. I don’t like thinking about what to wear in the morning. I have so many other things to think about during the day, I don’t want to waste my energy focusing on that. So, when I found a pair of jeans that I loved, I bought four pairs. When I found quality, stylish boots, I added a couple pairs of Red Wing Boots to my wardrobe. I love clothing that I don’t have to worry about.

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

As I write this I’m in a hotel room in the Midwest on a month-long run. I’m planning on spending some time in the coming months writing and recording my next record, hitting the road again for fall, and wrapping up the year with a short run of Holiday shows..

What do you hope your legacy will be as a musician?

I believe music that people connect with falls into two categories:  Music that moves you and music to move to. Music falls outside of those two categories all the time, but people tend to not latch onto that stuff as much. So, my hope would be that my legacy is one of movement. A legacy that encourages people to continue to be moved by music, whether that be emotionally moved to smiles, tears, and reflection, or physically tapping their toes, bobbing their heads, and all out dancing. Life is about movement. It’s so critical that we all move and allow ourselves to be moved.


Dan is pictured above wearing the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger.

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!

Cella Langer and Emmet Fisher

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Cella Langer runs Oxheart Farm outside of Hager City, Wisconsin with her husband Emmet Fisher. The duo brings years of agricultural experience from around the country to Oxheart, where they’re in their sixth year of operation in the rolling hills of Western Wisconsin. Cella’s pride in process and dedication to traditional techniques is an inspiration as we continue to grow the Red Wing Women’s Heritage Collection guided by the same principles. We’re proud to showcase her passion here.

What inspired you and your husband to start a farm?

Both of us grew up in agricultural settings. Emmet was raised on a small CSA farm here in Wisconsin, and I grew up on a homestead in Massachusetts. I decided I wanted to pursue farming while working on an organic strawberry farm during high school. After college, Emmet and I both interned for a draft animal-powered CSA in Southeastern Minnesota. All of these places and people added up to be hugely influential in our decision to run Oxheart.

Could you talk a little bit about the independence that you and Emmet embrace, and how that balances with the community that you’ve cultivated through your work?

Farming is definitely an independent line of work, but not necessarily a solitary one. Emmet and I get to hang out with each other a lot, which not all couples get to do. Our customers are also a big part of our lives. We direct market almost all of our products, so we spend a lot of time chatting with folks at our CSA pick-up and at the farmers’ market. Growing food for a small town like Red Wing means that we run into our customers everywhere. We work with them in our part-time jobs, see them at the store, and bump into them at the library. We also have many farmer friends in the region, who provide a support network and social life beyond just our own farm and business.

Could you describe how working with your hands feeds your soul?

Spending the day working outside, doing physical labor to produce something nourishing is about as rewarding as it gets, as far as I’m concerned. Every year when we start planting seeds again, I’m always a little skeptical that they’ll ever sprout and grow. But sure enough, every year they do, growing into the plants that feed us and our customers.

Your farm is modeled on diversified family farms of the past. What motivated this approach?

We’re fortunate to have a strong background of agricultural influences. Our families and mentors may not be entirely self-sufficient, per se, but their operations are diverse and overall quite self-reliant. We’ve found that a diversified approach to growing makes Oxheart more resilient, and allows us to feel more fulfilled. Diversity on a farm mimics the diversity of natural ecosystems more closely, and we try as much as possible to be in line with those systems rather than trying to work against them.

Could you describe on a high level what’s wrong with our food system, and a few concrete things that individuals can do to amend it?

Three things that concern me about our food system:

  1. Food is shipped from thousands of miles away.
  2. Food is produced using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified feed in unhealthy and environmentally destructive settings.
  3. Food is grown using exploited immigrant labor and is subsidized by the government, which makes it artificially inexpensive and puts money in the pockets of big businesses instead of into our local communities.

Three things everyday people can try to do about it:
1. Shop at your local farmers’ market. If you can’t afford to, ask someone about it–there are options, and we’d be thrilled to help make it work for you. If you pay more for good food, you may end up having to pay less for your healthcare.

  1. Do your homework. Get a good intro by reading folks like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Joel Salatin.
  2. Know your farmer. Seriously. It’s super cliche, but having relationships with the people who grow your food is important. Learn what issues farmers in your area are facing. Prioritize supporting these people.

You’ve built a life of self-reliance at a time when most people are accustomed to one-click shopping. What are the benefits of self-reliance that you most appreciate?

Producing our own food allows us to eat in a way that we wouldn’t be able to afford to if we didn’t grow it ourselves: we eat like kings. We pickle, can, sauce, freeze, and ferment, which really extends the impact of what we’re producing.

What’s your hope for the farm five years from now?

In five years, we plan to have an established Grade A micro-dairy, milking around five cows and selling milk and yogurt through farmers’ market and CSA. We will continue to grow and sell vegetables and meat on a similar scale to what we do now. We’ve loved having our CSA members come to our farm starting this spring, and hope to continue to provide that opportunity to many customers in the future.

Historic Red Wing

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Where It All Started: Red Wing, Minnesota

A walk down Main Street in Red Wing, Minnesota tells a tale of the city’s successes, past and present. Red brick buildings line the idyllic street, as people and cars flow through the heart of the city. Among the historic buildings, the Red Wing Shoes Museum stands as a tribute to the 112-year legacy of the company.

Nestled along the Mississippi River in Southern Minnesota, Red Wing is home to just over 16,000 people. It may seem surprising that a brand with global reach would not only begin in a small city in the Midwest, but remain there for over a century. However, a look back shows how the city and its people made Red Wing, Minnesota the perfect place to build a lasting legacy of American-made footwear.

Prior to European-American settlement, the Mdewakanton Sioux made the area along the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Southern Minnesota their home. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States Army began to explore the northern reaches of the Mississippi River. Reaching what is now Southern Minnesota in 1805, the Army first encountered Chief Red Wing, for whom the city is now named. In 1851, the Treaty of Mendota transferred ownership of native lands to the United States government. White settlement in Southern Minnesota began shortly thereafter, and Red Wing was incorporated as a city in 1857.

The Homestead Act of 1862 sparked the land rush in the Western United States, and Red Wing quickly grew as Norwegians, Swedes, Germans and New Englanders populated the area. Among the new residents of the area were thousands of women who actively worked the fields, setting the tone for a community with strong female leaders. In the fertile lands in the Mississippi River Valley, vast fields of wheat were planted, and in 1873 Red Wing was recognized as the world’s largest producer of the grain.

Growing demand for leather products and a lack of reliable sources for tanned leather paved the way for local resident Silas B. Foot to open Trout Brook Tannery (later renamed S.B. Foot Tannery) in 1872. During this time, the demand for durable work footwear began to grow along with the growing immigrant community settling in the area. In 1905, the tannery began to supply leather to a local “shoe jobber” named Charles Beckman, who had founded the Red Wing Shoe Company that year. The combination of a commitment to quality leather and the craftsmanship of Red Wing Shoes would create a partnership that survives, unbroken, to this day.

In 1986, Red Wing Shoes acquired S.B. Foot Tanning Company, continuing the tradition of quality-first, Red Wing family-owned business. The tannery remains in operation today, providing much of the leather for Red Wing footwear, using updated techniques originally developed by Silas and E.H Foot. Today, Red Wing footwear is still handmade on the banks of the Mississippi in the city where Charles Beckman first started it all. The company has grown along with the city, today employing over 1000 people. For many of Red Wing’s employees, footwear is a family affair. Stretching all the way back to the early years of the company, generations of family members have worked to build shoes, and in the process, build the legacy of the company that has called Red Wing home for 112 years and counting.