We get a lot of inquiries each day about why we don't make women's boots, when will we make women's boots and hey, why don't you make women's boots? The short answer is that we will, soon. There is also a longer explanation if you are interested.
Our factory has made traditional Maine hand-sewn shoes and boots for awhile. This is what they sometimes look like:
They can also take the shape of a boot, a moc, a slipper, a slip-on, etc. The point is our factory is really good at this, has done it for awhile and has all the necessary supplies to make these including lasts for men, women and kids. Lots of them. In the last 3-4 years they have diversified and begun to make welted footwear as well. This is like opening an entirely new factory. They had to buy new machines, new supplies and new lasts. SInce it was a new operation for them they chose to focus on just buying lasts for men to keep costs down. The lasts are the single most important part of shoe making and can be quite expensive to acquire. You have to have multiple pairs for each size you plan to make in each style you plan to make. It adds up.
For a client like us who has been making men's boots all along, the men's only last issue wasn't really an issue. As more people have started seeing our designs though, we have a lot of women tell us that they also want to wear them. There is apparently a market for classic, minimalist boots for women that don't have heels or buckles or embellishments of some sort. Currently we size down to a men's 7 which is a women's 8.5/9. It probably seems that we should just buy a few pairs of women's lasts in sizes 6,7 and 8 and start making our patterns on those... only it isn't that simple. A women's foot is different than a man's and we would not only have to buy the lasts but we would also have to re-engineer our patterns. It would be a lot of time and money. We have been exploring it and it isn't out of the question, it will just take awhile.
The other solution, and the one we are engaging for Fall 2014, is to have a few hand-sewn styles made for men and women. We have wanted to do this since we started working with our factory in 2012 but they have a had a waiting list until now. (We said they were really good at this.) We're stoked on the designs of the hand-sewns. There will be two styles, both boots of course. One will be black black black waxed canvas and SB Foot leather and Vibram Cristy sole and the other will be natural Chromexcel and olive green waxed canvas and a Cutthroat sole. You will have to stay tuned for that one. It has a crazy story all it's own.
So there you have it. HELM Boots for women are on their way in Fall 2014!
Ethan Brown is our Studio Manager which means he does a lot of things at HELM. He came to us with a background in fashion production after working at Zero + Maria Cornejo in NYC. He has been instrumental in dialing in our production end of things here and we could not operate on such a tight schedule without him. He makes sure the lights stay on, the staff gets paid, we have Topo Chico in the fridge and he also looks really good in a pair of HELM Boots.
The East Side of Austin is our home which means we care about it a lot. HELM has always had a home on the East SIde, from our very first studio space on Riverview St., and we intend to keep it that way. We love the vibrance of this side of town, the entrepreneurial spirit and the community.
Michael Muller is a friend of the brand and of all of us personally which means we like to spend time with him. He's an amazing photographer
and an incredible musician
. He's understandably busy but he is also astonishingly kind and will say yes when asked last minute to document a photoblog about East Austin and HELM Boots.
Read on to see what happens when all of these things come together. Ethan's words and Michael's photos tell a story about our shared love for HELM's new Spring boots and the East Side.
As the studio manager for HELM, I get a really unique opportunity to experience the East Side on multiple levels - shifting back and forth between our offices on East Cesar Chavez and our flagship on East 6th lets me catch glimpses of the East Side I may not normally see otherwise: driving by small restaurants, boutiques and getting a daily fix at local coffee shops really lets me feel like I'm part of this growing - and changing - community.
If you're visiting Austin this Spring, I urge you to stop in to our part of town and experience a piece of Austin that is rapidly changing. This is just a small selection of the people and places that get me through my every day - by no means is the list extensive (I've left out East Side Tamale House, Sahara Lounge, the myriad venues down 6th street, and then some!) but it's a taste of what keeps me living and working on this side of Austin.
Did you really think I wouldn't mention our own flagship?
Working for HELM has been an absolute dream - as studio manager, I'm back and forth between our offices and our flagship here on East 6th. Joshua, Hillary, Broc and I - in conjunction with our amazing shop associates, Patrick Ratliff and Hunter Lawrence - have tried to make this a unique and comforting place with a serious emphasis on quality boots and American-made products. We burn palo santo during the day and everything just feels cozy in the late afternoon when the sun comes through the windows and lights up the austere, but comfortable, shop.
I've been told the place feels like a home which, to me, is the highest compliment. Come on in to try some HELM Boots on, particularly the new Spring styles, or get some other products such as leather care, candles, bags by local makers BEXAR and Stash or just have a beer and pass a half-hour with us - we love our community and we love having people hang out in the shop.
Easy Tiger is a great spot just over the highway but still with an East Austin ethos.
The bar/café/bakery is almost a one-stop shop - come by early to grab a great coffee or fresh pastry and if you stop by a little later you can get a great selection of snacks (heavy on the sausages and pretzels!) and beer.
The staff is always great and the bridge overlooking Waller Creek is really picturesque with the vines creeping up the exterior brick of the historical building. It's a great place to have a pint or two and just enjoy the Spring day before it gets too hot.
BREW & BREW:
Brew & Brew is recent but, really, it feels like they've been here for years.
The build-out of the inside is gorgeous. It's exactly what I want in a coffee shop: clean colors, clean light and every time I stop in, I get to have a conversation with one of the baristas - who are also all great friends at this point. The outside area is a great place to sit and have one of 30-ish beers they keep on tap and their menu is small, but perfect, for when you need something light and delicious.
I couldn't make it through 80% of my week days without being able to run over here before opening the shop or before a meeting.
In addition, Matty B honestly makes the best cortados on this side of the planet.
LAS CRUXES/FAREWELL/FLAT TRACK:
This is, hands down, one of my favorite spaces in Austin - on par with Vane and Maryam Nassir Zadeh in New York in terms of aesthetics and interesting selections.
Start with a quick coffee at Flat Track - if you need a great coffee but aren't exactly in the mood to head over the East 6th, this coffee shop on Cesar Chavez has close ties with Brew & Brew and is like a tiny, hidden gem that smells like perfectly roasted beans.
Head over to Farewell Books to see an amazing selection of zines, vintage and rare books - from manifestos on art and architecture to first edition hard covers to hard-to-find fashion compendiums, this is my favorite book place in Austin. The selection is carefully curated and immaculately presented, making the whole experience amazing.
Las Cruxes is certainly my favorite stop for clothing in Austin. Veronica Ortuño has a great eye for both vintage clothing and small designers and I always feel like I'm supporting a great cause when I shop here - the light blue trousers with the elastic cuffs by Publish (you can see them in the photos!) are one of my favorite finds and they're produced with great quality. If you want something unique and well-made, Las Cruxes is always a great bet.
Kyle Muller is a great friend of HELM - he used to have a small pop-up in our original show room and, in fact, his brother Michael Muller took all these photos of me that actually make me look photogenic: so you know they're a talented family.
Kyle's new-ish space on 4th street is honestly a wonderland - if you need any vintage men's clothing, this is the place to go.
From vintage knits to military jackets, Kyle works really hard to find the best and most unadulterated vintage in the state of Texas. All this is in addition to the comfortable and easy space he's set up as of last November - it's a little out of the walking path, but far worth the effort if you need any vintage boots or just a unique piece of clothing to wear for the weekend.
Ethan Brown is HELM's Studio Manager. This means he does everything from handling production to paying our bills. HELM couldn't go on without him. We love his sense of humor and irreverent observations of the things around him. He's lived around the world and brings to us his suggestions (and predictions) for SXSW that reflect his eclectic taste.
1) Spotify House - all week.
Spotify House is across from the HELM store this year. They throw a fun day party with free drinks and a rotating cast of sponsors - this year they've SERIOUSLY stepped it up and are offering bands as well. Just to name a few of my favorites: Phantogram, SVPER (one of my favorite bands from Spain), Hozier and MØ.
2) Y'all or Nothing @ Cheer Up Charlie's
I'm so happy that this bar reopened and turned the previously very DARK space into this crazy color and lightshow - and to celebrate their first SXSW in the new space, Y'all or Nothing is killing it with performances by AB Soto, Sharon Needles and more. Do not miss.
3) FKA Twigs
This band is one of my favorite "new" artists and I'm fascinated to see what their live show is going to look like - check them out at various places over SXSW, the biggest of which will be Fader Fort.
4) The Epic Bike Confusion
Austin recently got awarded a super awesome service called B Cycle here, which seems to be pretty parallel to the other types of bike services popping up around the country. If it's anything like Barcelona's Bicing, I forsee some kind of epic confusion where all the bikes get left in one location due to people refusing to go uphill, leaving millions without a bike to get them to their free booze. Despair ensues. SXSW collapses.
Hunter Lawrence is one of HELM's shop associates. He is also a talented photographer who has provided pretty images for us, for bands, for weddings and for his Instagram feed. Go follow him and become one of his 24,000 fans. Not kidding; He's popular.
He also has good taste in earnest, reflective Indie and Americana. Listen to his pics for SXSW music and try to catch some of these bands this week
-Penny and Sparrow - SXSW Day Party Friday March 14, Winflo Osteria
-Homestead - Tuesday March 11 10pm, Blind Pig Tavern
-Noah Gundersen - Yahoo Music Party Wednesday March 12 1pm, Brazos Hall
-Humming House - Twangfest Day Party Saturday March 15, Broken Spoke
-Bear Hands - Banners Day Party Wednesday March 12 4:45pm, Side Bar
-Pompeii - Red Eye Transit/Nordic by Nature Day Party Friday March 14, Hi-Hat Public House
is our first intern, our shop associate and our stunt ear
. We love Patrick for many reasons: His easy-going demeanor, his sense of humor and the man knows his way around a sewing machine. We will miss him this Summer when he goes to intern for Shinola
in Detroit but while we still have him we thought we'd ask him what his picks are for this week at SXSW Music, Film and Interactive.
Chance the Rapper
We should have said that we also love Patrick for his good taste.
Enjoy the week, folks. We'll have more staff recommendations posted throughout the festival.
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.