We are in the middle of relaunching the look of the HELM brand which gives me the opportunity to shamelessly plug our celebration party tomorrow night: 6-8PM at the Austin retail store. A lot of folks have asked us: Why the relaunch? Fair enough. It seems to make so much sense to us on the inside but I suppose we take for granted that other people may not be as intimate with HELM's history as we are. HELM started in 2009 as a whim when our owner Joshua Bingaman (certified shoe freak) made contact with a group of shoemakers in Istanbul, Turkey. Joshua had them make a few styles in a few sizes, sold out of them and did it again. Joshua suddenly had a business on his hands so he had his brother in law whip together a logo, he ordered some packaging and he rented a small office. Things bumped along until 2012 when the distance, the increasing quantities, the language barrier stress, the customs and import process all reached critical mass and it was quite obvious that we needed to move the whole operation closer to home and take things more seriously. People liked these crazy boots and we needed to find a more efficient and easier way to produce them. In Fall of 2012 we moved all production to the US, specifically Maine, and learned an entirely new way to produce. The new factory had a lot of advice for us to minimize risk while restarting production in a new facility. This meant our designs were very conservative and took the factory's strengths into consideration as well as our more fashion-forward design elements. These last two years have been wonderful. We love our factory and the new relationships we have there. We are learning more than we ever have. We are communicating better than we ever have. Our design process is getting more focused and defined and we are finally making the boots we want and growing the company the way we wish. When we look back at the company that was born in 2009, it is an entirely different company than the one we have today. The core community values are still there and our guiding principle is still to make a timeless boot in the highest quality materials we can find but the growth and maturity and education we have now makes us worlds apart from the beginning. Our long time graphic designer, Chris Bilheimer, recognized that change and approached us about a rebrand scheduled to launch concurrent to our Spring 2014 collection which is also the first time the HELM Boots visual aesthetic is visible across the entire seasonal offering.
“I could see that HELM was evolving beyond just a heritage brand and they needed a look to match their vision for the future,” says Bilheimer. “HELM will always have a classic and timeless foundation, but they never rest on cliches or follow trends. As proud as they are of their American manufacturing, there is more to the brand and their vision than the Americana aesthetic that has saturated the marketplace. I wanted to give them an identity that doesn’t look like anything out there now, but still feels familiar and comfortable.”
We love what he came up with. We feel like we finally found our footing. Pun fully intended.
We got a new line at the store today by Red Clouds Collective - a consort of makers, craftspeople, artists and friends from Portland, OR. We saw a dude at the HELM store with one of their bags and then our shop associate, Hunter, got one and then we were all like "EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THESE BUDDIES!"
They mirror a lot of what HELM tries to do with our designs in creating honest, thoughtful and hardworking products to make your day to day routine just a bit better. They think through uses and timelessness; practicality and design in everything they make: backpacks, iPhone wallets ($50) that hold cash or small notebooks ($6 for three) (which they also make), tool rolls that double as aprons ($90), leather tool sheaths ($56), blanket rolls ($125) and our favorite: a foldable magnetic waxed canvas beer coozy ($24) to stick on your bike frame or tool bench. All of their designs mix old-fashioned sensibility with modern style and purpose and we can't wait to start using them in our own daily routines.
TJ Kastning started the website BestLeather.org in 2012. His goal with the site is to spread his love and always growing knowledge of quality leather via product reviews and articles. He writes below for HELM Boots on how he got started.
"You spent $700 on this backpack?!” I was aghast. My respected business friend had lost his blessed mind.
“Yep,” he shot back, nonchalantly.
“You know you can buy like 50 Jansports for that don’t you?” I asked with no small amount of sarcasm.
Obviously I was missing something if my good friend would buy an outrageously expensive backpack like this and be totally unashamed, even proud. That conversation was my first exposure to quality leather and I completely failed to see the value of quality leather. While I recognized how durable the bag seemed, I lacked any appreciation for the craftsmanship. What made him willing to spend so much for a backpack?
Suddenly, predictably, I wanted to know more about leather. How on earth can these people justify charging these prices? And then who in their right mind pays them? I discounted my friend as having a mild attack of stupidity and was sure there would be some explanation like slick branding to people with more money than sense. You know, some sort of conspiracy akin to commercial pickpocketing. Maybe Adam and Eve founded a leather company and it endured to this day and now you have to pay a fortune for “the brand”, as people say. So I went researching and instead of arming me with clever snarks, what I learned converted me. I bought in. Hook, line, sinker, and even the whole fishing pole.
It’s pretty easy to understand the value of quality leather goods. What can be tougher is discerning the great from the good and mediocre. Prices vary so dramatically. Would you like to pay $250 for a briefcase or $650? What about those few bags that sell for more than $1000? What are the differences between them? I am no rich fellow so these are important questions for me. Is the $250 bag going to fall apart tomorrow or is the $650 bag a total ripoff? The most helpful information was scattered about randomly and tough to find amidst the internet ocean.
I have chronic entrepreneurialism. It is a serious affliction that can make me endeavor to do things completely out of my comfort zone. When I realized there may be a need for someone to curate a list of great leather companies I purchased a domain and had a website up in a week (enter BestLeather.org). That was September 2012. The learning curve since then has been a fun ride. The best part of running BestLeather.org is meeting and promoting quality companies since the owners of quality companies are quality people themselves.
Now we at BestLeather.org work to educate people who share my former disbelief that such expensive goods can be a good value. We get to promote the “Buy it for life” mentality. People often comment on leather that I am out testing and are often astounded, as I was, at the prices. Now I smile and explain that, with quality leather products, you get a lot of value for your money.
We have some of new stuff at the store plus the store just looks kind of great right now and so we asked our shop employee extraordinaire, Hunter, to snap some pics of it all to share with y'all.
new leather goods line, Simpleton, out of Oklahoma City. Belts and key clips and wallets.
The boot lineup, looking sexy.
Our friend Taylor Bruce makes these rad city guides. There's one for Nashville and Austin and he's working on San Fran's now.
If you don't own any Otter Wax products, you should. All natural leather and fabric care made in Portland, OR. More art in the background by Brian Phillips.
We made a fragrance oil. It's unisex, long-lasting and smells like campfires and leather boots and lavender from the Texas Hill Country.
The Marion Olive, a tote from Archival Clothing and some antlers in the front window
Our inspiration board by the register.
Stop by this week if you are in Austin and say hello!
So you've had your HELM Boots for a little bit. They've probably made you happy and maybe you've gotten some compliments. Then all of a sudden you go to pull them out of the closet and hey... what's that white powdery stuff on the leather? It doesn't appear on all of HELMs leathers but the boots that use Chromexcel from Horween (the Ben - pictured, the Marion Olive, The Sam Navy, The Railroad and The Reid Brown) will probably show it at some point. Chromexcel leather is notoriously fatty and waxy. It's what makes it so desirable and pliable and durable and lux and long lasting and... The Horween tannery adds a lot of oil and wax to the leather during the tanning process. Sometimes this oil and wax and grease will migrate through the leather and react with air on the surface to crystallize and that's what causes the Bloom or Spue to appear. It will look like a powdery or chalky substance on the surface of the leather. You can see it in the above pic at the top of the shaft and around the lace eyelets. The amount of wax used in tanning along with exposure to high temps, humidity, air and light all contribute to Bloom.
Bloom can be removed just by a simple brush with the horsehair brush or a rub with a shoe cloth. Our Ben Sample at the HELM Office Bloomed this month and we buffed it to a high shine with our horsehair paddle brush and nothing else. You don't generally need to add anything to these Chromexcel leathers as they are so nourished already during the production process.