On watches: I used to love them, and I believe my wife would say that I had a healthy collection; different varieties for different occasions and a rarely worn timepiece for special occasions. Then something changed, and all I wanted was one watch that I could do everything in–run, ski, yard work, chase the kids, and also wear out on the town. I spent months researching both style and function, but I also wanted something different. I landed on a Suunto watch, and I share that story because I think that it relates to how we shop for boots and shoes. I wanted to invest in something that’s made well and built to last, produced by a company that’s going to take care of any issues, and most importantly be something I can use every day.
We give you a literal look into our footwear at HELM; we cut our products in half and show you what’s inside. Like an ant farm, you can see what’s at work and how everything works together and plays a role. Here are the three most important areas you should focus on when looking to invest in quality footwear. Make sure that no corners are being cut in these areas, and you’ll be a happy customer who has a product built to last.
1. If it can be resoled, it's generally built to last.
- Construction Method: I'm not going to get into the middle of the Blake Rapid vs. Goodyear welt argument, as both are the standards in construction methods and each have their pros and cons.
2. Good leather should last for decades and outlast more-than-a-few outsoles.
- Leather Thickness: We focus on leathers that are 2.0mm-2.2mm in thickness, as this ensures they are going to stand up to your daily wear while limiting break-in period so that our products are as comfortable as possible out of the box.
- Leather Quality: Every hide gets graded on a scale. The more Grade 1 skins you use, the better the overall leather. Premium leather is longer lasting and looks better the older it gets. By not cutting corners on our leather, we produce quality with consistency.
- Our Perfect Combination: By using hides with only the highest degree of quality, combined with the right thickness, we ensure instant comfort and long-lasting durability.
3. When examining an outsole, watch out for cork, appreciate craftsmanship, and make sure you know where you are going to wear your boots.
- Particle Board Heels versus Leather-Stacked Heels: This is one of the most common areas for corner-cutting, so make sure that your heel piece is stacked with actual pieces of leather versus a particle board filler wrapped with a piece of leather. If you can't tell, ask about it and see if the brand can provide you with an image of the inside of the boot.
- Right Sole for your Environment: Everyone is different, and we all have different needs out of our products and like to style them in different ways. Make sure when you are choosing your footwear, you select an outsole that's right for your environment jast as much as it is the right aesthetic. If you're getting a boot for the winter months in New York City, try a fuller rubber sole or mini-lug. If you want something that's a little dressier, try the Fineline, which combines leather and rubber. Our friend and custom suit tailor, Rick Soto, has great tips on matching footwear with outfits.
- Trust your Eyes: If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, believe what your eyes are telling you. Just as with leather, there are also qualtiy levels of rubber used in outsoles. Outside of having your own lab, there really is no way to test whether a brand uses a quality compound that is going to last. If it looks cheap to you, then it is probably low-quality. There are certainly some trusted outsole suppliers like Vibram, but most of us make our own outsoles, which makes it harder to rely on those brands. Some invest the money in the right materials, and some brands simply do not.
If you make a purchasing decision with these three areas in mind, you'll have a great pair of footwear. It may not be a substitute for ongoing boot care--you need to tune up your boots like you service your car--but it will ensure you have footwear for life, and a pair that you'll be able to pass down.