These Boots Are Made For Walkin'
Joshua Bingaman has discovered an under-served niche in men's footwear Ð and he's filling it with elegant, handmade boots.
By Christopher Carbone,
8:42PM, Wed. Oct. 28, 2009
The day I picked up my vintage grey-and-white Steve Madden leather boots from the Austin Shoe Hospital, complete with a new, firm sole and a fresh coat of protectant, I knew I'd made the right choice when I scooped them up from a tiny thrift store on South Lamar early last year. Not everyone is as savvy.
While plenty of guys can pull off a pair of standard-issue boots as part of a faux-cowboy look, only a truly confident man's man can rock a pair created with distressed calfskin from Holland with a natural hand-stitched inlay, a handmade Italian leather sole, and an overall rustic-industrial aesthetic. Where can you buy these? Here in Austin, of course.Joshua Bingaman, the owner of East Austin's Progress Coffee and founder of Helm Handmade Boots, may seem to be an unlikely savior in the realm of men's footwear. Having successfully launched his eco-hip coffeeshop-cum-art-gallery-and-music-venue five years ago, Bingaman brings years of expertise from his time living and working in the Mission District in San Francisco, where he and his brother opened the Subterranean Shoe Room, a retail shop that also doubled as an art gallery. "We both collected vintage sneakers and vintage boots and turned it into a business," Bingaman says. "It blew up."
Every pair of Helm boots is a unique work of art. Bingaman has 40 skilled artisans in Istanbul, Turkey who have been crafting shoes and boots for years, working tirelessly to produce them. One of his artisans explained the process via email: Producing one pair of boots takes a total of five days. First, the leather is cut by hand according to the mold of the design. Then the leather pieces are stitched to each other. After that, the stitched leather is attached to the mold by hand. This is the hardest work and when it's nailed to the mold, it has to set at least 48 hours like that. (They usually wait 72 hours in order to get exact shape of the mold.) After 48 hours they take off the nails and glue or stitch the sole. It sets for another 24 hours before the mold from the inside of the shoe is removed. Lastly, there are finishing applications and cleaning.
With names like The Samuel and The Ray Ray, these hand-crafted boots are priced reasonably, relative to the time and effort that goes into them, at $400 to $600 per pair. Helm Handmade Boots will be available exclusively at Stag, Bingaman's flagship that's opening in November next door to Home Slice on South Congress Avenue, and on its web site, helmhandmadeboots.com. Boutiques are planned for New York City, London, San Francisco, Denmark, and Los Angeles, along with a women's line to be sold at Bows & Arrows.
Bingaman has always been fascinated by the relationships people have with their footwear. "For some, it's the world and for others it's not a big deal," he says. "Either way, there's a ton of character shown through what's on your feet."