Wings Of Desire

From Tokyo hipsters to Iron Range miners, everybody seems to love Red Wing boots. So how exactly did a small MN company manage to conquer the fickle world of men’s fashion—without losing its soul?

Red Wing Boot 872 lineage
Eliesa Johnson

Last fall, I was watching Monday Night Football at my friend’s condo in Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood when a couple of buddies came through the door. The two guys share a Christian name—Andy—but local hip-hop aficionados know them as Sims and Astronautalis. The two were midway through a transaction of some kind, though it wasn’t for any of the usual contraband.

“I got your boots,” Sims said as he sat down.

Sims proceeded to produce a brand-new pair of Red Wings, which he handed over to a deeply stoked Astronautalis. As we admired the boots, Sims told us that these were 1907s—apparently a model number of some kind—and that Astro didn’t pay full price. Sims’s uncle had been a Red Wing salesman for something like 40 years, and he had been able to hook Astro up with a discount.

Hearing boots referred to by their model number was new to me, but I instantly loved the gearhead talk, the whole language around boots, actually—gusset, vamp, welt, sole, quarter—which makes you feel like you’re discussing something mechanically essential, like you actually know stuff. It feels good in a way that probably speaks to a latent fear modern men have carried as far back as Thoreau: that we don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re not as capable as our dads or uncles or the guy we pay to fix our wife’s car. In Don DeLillo’s masterpiece, Underworld, there’s an old priest who points out that being ignorant of your shoe parts is like being a little boy who doesn’t know how to use his eyes. “You didn’t see the thing because you don’t know how to look,” he says. “And you don’t know how to look because you don’t know the names.” 

It never occurred to any of us that we had stopped paying attention to the football game to seriously discuss shoe shopping. This is just what men do now, I guess. Or at least this is what some men do now, whether they’re in the North Loop in Minneapolis or Bushwick in Brooklyn or Wicker Park in Chicago. We sit around watching football and talk about our Red Wings.


Both Sims and Astronautalis are catalog-ready white dudes—young, slim, clean-cut, with blue eyes—and both had recently undergone an evolution in their look. They were sporting nearly identical haircuts and exhibiting similar taste in flannel and denim. And now they both had Red Wings. If the two didn’t quite look blue-collar, they could certainly sell blue-collar in a rap video.

As young artists wearing “Made in the USA” denim and “Made in the USA” boots, Sims and Astro are poster boys for what’s become known as the “heritage movement,” the revival in popularity of 100-year-old rough-and-ready outdoor brands like Seattle’s flannel and waxed-canvas purveyor Filson (which will be opening its own boutique in the North Loop this spring), St. Paul’s leather-goods manufacturer J.W. Hulme Co., and Red Wing’s own Red Wing Shoes. 

Poster boys but maybe not trailblazers. Over the last several years, after all, “heritage” has been written about in every feature section in every major newspaper in the world. Sims and Astro weren’t even the first rappers in “the Red Wing boot gang”—Canadian hip-hop artist Drake coined that phrase back in 2010. Still, all you need to do is punch in #redwings on Instagram to realize the whole thing has yet to reach post-peak. Turns out there’s an entire generation of male dandies out there using desaturated filters to take semiprecious selfies with their beards and their pocketknives and their painstakingly broken-in Red Wing boots.


I should probably pause here to point out that even before I started working on this story, I had something of a Red Wing Kool-Aid mustache myself. In 2010, I bought a pair of the company’s iconic 877 model at BlackBlue, the St. Paul men’s store owned by my college buddy Steve Kang. This was a few years after J.Crew had started stocking Red Wings—the first outside brand ever carried by the company—though I had come by the brand the old-fashioned way. 

For years, my dad, who worked as a truck driver for three decades, had preached their virtues. “They’re like walking on carpet,” he’d say. 

He had been introduced to Red Wings by his dad, who was turned on to them as a union carpenter. Those two wore 877s back when they were still called “Irish Setters,” and they actually used them to work and hunt.

I don’t do either of those things, at least not like they did, but I like the way my Red Wings feel—and the way they look. And that was the thing: How had a company that catered to people who actually labor for a living—people who drive semis, and work in construction, and wildcat for oil—managed to capture the imagination of hip-hop singers, Japanese hipsters, and magazine journalists? How had my dad’s boots become cool? 

A few days before I’m  scheduled to tour Red Wing’s tannery and shoe factory, I decide to bring my dad along. He still loves driving, and he owns a pickup truck rugged enough to navigate the snowdrift-prone county road that cuts through Miesville on the way to Red Wing. (After several trips from the Twin Cities in the course of reporting this story, a word of advice for anybody making their own pilgrimage: Take 61 to the Mississippi River crossing at Prescott and follow County Highway 35 on the Wisconsin side. You won’t cost yourself much time, and you’ll be exchanging a dreary highway and a nothing-special country road for an excursion worth of a luxury car commercial.)

“Should I wear my Red Wings?” my dad asks me the night before the tour. “Well, yeah,” I tell him. “The whole point of you coming along is to provide your journalist son with street cred.” 

So the next day, we showed up at S.B. Foot Tanning Co. at 8 a.m. both wearing our 877s, like some bizarre take-your-truck-driver-dad-to-heritage-movement-show-and-tell day.

Located just off Highway 61 beneath a beautiful river bluff, S.B. Foot has been tanning leather since 1872, back when Red Wing was an agricultural boomtown. For years, Foot was just one of dozens of sources for Red Wing’s leather, but in the 1980s, when everything from boots to bicycle manufacturing was being moved offshore, the conservative third-generation businessmen running Red Wing and S.B. Foot made a deal. Now S.B. Foot is Red Wing’s in-house tannery, owned and operated by the company as its sole leather provider for domestic production.

My dad and I are met at the tannery by Daryl Mark, S.B. Foot’s quality manager, who’s worked in some capacity for Red Wing or Foot for the last 41 years. Somehow, for a guy who stands six foot six in his jet-black 877s (“The fashion division made black ones for a short time a dozen years ago,” he explains), he projects a grandfatherly presence. Maybe it’s the bushy gray mustache. Mark told us that when he started, S.B. Foot was a family-owned business—four generations deep—and the family was still in control in the 1980s when half the shoes in the United States were made in America. In the years since, that figure has dropped to 1 percent. “I’m just happy they keep finding a place for me,” he says.

We enter the sprawling 100-year-old industrial complex through the front office and walk all the way to the back loading dock, where pale blue cowhides that have been sliced in half along the spine are stacked on pallets. Known as “sides,” the hides are delivered here from a facility in South St. Paul, where all the nasty, stinky work is done: removing all the hair, fat, and sweat glands and bathing the hides in chromium, which prevents putrefaction and gives them their pale blue color.

Mark explains that high-quality boot leather always comes from 15- to 20-month-old steers, and that Red Wing’s steers have been raised for beef on a huge Cargill feedlot in Schuyler, Nebraska. “We want the hides that come from the same cattle that produce the prime and choice cuts for good steak houses,” he says. “Not McDonald’s hides.”

From the dock, Mark leads us past the shaving machines, which remove the hides’ remaining fibers and open up the grain for the dyes and oils that make them smell and feel like leather. Seventeen massive, eight-foot-diameter wooden color mills, each filled with 170 sides, slosh the material through aniline dyes, vegetable and synthetic lubricants, and waterproofing agents. The air is dank with an earthy smell that gives off a slightly rotten, chemically astringent top note. It’s probably too industrial to capture and bottle as cologne, but to me the smell is romantic nonetheless—like when you push your nose into a freshly mink-oiled baseball glove.

The tannery employs 150 people, but all but two of them are dudes: guys in baseball hats and Packers sweatshirts cranking Hendrix on KQRS. And they’re all doing something that looks physically demanding, whether it’s hanging sides on huge drying sticks or pushing them through big machines that make the leather more supple. The machines have vowel-laden Italian names (Cartigliano, Mostardini), which makes sense given the Italians’ place at the vanguard of global leatherwork innovation.

We go upstairs to the big drying room, where we see dozens of sides dyed an array of earth tones, all hanging on this gigantic mechanized tie-rack thing called a stick dryer. Mark invites us to touch a soft hide that’s been dyed the color of iron ore. “This is the original color that was first used in your Irish Setters,” he tells my dad. “We’ve gone through a bunch of different versions, but it was known as ‘oro-russet’ or ‘oro-iginal.’ Now we’re making a similar kind again for the Heritage Division, and we’re calling it ‘oro-legacy.’”

He steps back, admiring the red leather that goes into Red Wing’s most famous boot. “This is where the Japanese like to stop and take pictures.”


Red Wing is a relatively small company in a small Midwestern town, but it knows and sells its mythology as well as Nike knows and sells its story. And since the 1950s, the story of Red Wing Shoes has been as much about marketing as making footwear.

In 1986, the company self-published Heart and Sole: a story of the Red Wing Shoe Company, an oral history that was compiled by two “folklorists,” Patrice Avon Marvin and Nicholas Curchin Vrooman, commissioned by the Sweasy family, which has owned and run the company for three generations. Red Wing printed limited copies of Heart and Sole, and it has become a collector’s item amongst Red Wing cabalists. I was lucky to find one on Amazon for $100.

In the chapter on the 877—the Irish Setter boot that’s arguably as important to Red Wing as the Air Jordan is to Nike—the book credits marketing, not quality or style or craftsmanship, for taking the company to the next level. “In the mid-1950s, Red Wing Shoe created its marketing division, and since then it has been marketing . . . that has guided the company’s direction,” notes Heart and Sole. “To a great degree, those shoe factories that have failed since the 1960s have done so because they did not advance into the marketing end of the shoe business.”


Red Wing had long done advertisements. But the success and celebrity of the Irish Setter in the ’50s and ’60s—there are pictures of President Eisenhower being presented with a pair—forced Red Wing to think beyond mom and pop, and the company decided it had to come up with a central narrative to sell its boots, something that would appeal to farmers in southern Minnesota as well as oil riggers in northern Libya. There was “the need for a common perception, especially as the company was aiming for a national market, of just what the Red Wing Shoes were,” notes Heart and Sole. 

What the company came up with was quintessentially Minnesotan: a pragmatic decision to focus on work. Or as explained in Heart and Sole: “The style of the shoe would follow its function, not determine it. It was really a return to roots, a recognition of the company’s heritage and its founding mission.”


Red Wing’s main manufacturing plant is officially called Red Wing Shoes Plant 2. Opened in 1964, it came online in an era when the company was first making the transition from a local workingman’s boot company into a global workingman’s brand. Plant 1, opened in 1905 by Red Wing’s founder, Charles H. Beckman, now houses Red Wing’s R&D division. The corporate offices are in a red brick building downtown adjacent to the remodeled St. James Hotel, an elegant 19th-century property that Red Wing Shoes also owns, and where it houses its archives. Today, the corporate campus of Red Wing Shoes is essentially indistinguishable from the actual town of Red Wing.

Red Wing Plant 2 is located in an industrial park, next to the Riedell figure skate plant. Our tour guide, Craig Holdt, is a wiry man who’s worked at the company for 37 years. If he were a professional athlete, Holdt would invariably be described as having a “high motor.”

“There are 540 employees divided between two shifts,” Holdt projects over the cacophony and under the fluorescent lights of the factory floor. “We make 5,000 shoes a day, 25,000 a week, in 25 to 30 different styles.”

This was Red Wing nerd heaven.

Right away, Holdt noticed that both my dad and I were wearing 877s, and we took them off to check the labels right there on the factory floor. Mine were made at this very plant in August 2010. My dad’s didn’t have the small label sewn on the back of the gusset. His were stamped, and though the stamping had faded over the years, Holdt thought they might be pre-1975, which means they might have been constructed at Plant 1.

My dad told Holdt that the crepe sole on his boots kept getting worn out by the rebar on top of bridge decks (he used to pour bridges in the ’70s and ’80s), so he was forced to retire this pair to deer camp. I told Holdt that I had to get my 877s resoled after a vacation in Scotland. I felt like a jackass as soon as the words left my mouth, but Holdt invited us both to take advantage of Red Wing’s repair shop anyway. He said the shop resoles between 150 and 200 pairs of boots a day, sent in by any of the 500 stores that sell Red Wings, anywhere in the world.


In 2001, David Murphy, an Edina guy, Ivy League grad, and former executive at General Mills, joined Red Wing as chief operating officer. At the time, the company’s sales were sluggish, and it had developed a casual women’s line that eventually flopped. “We had women’s shoes that were melon-colored with flowers on them,” Murphy remembers. “We didn’t know what we were doing. It wasn’t Red Wing DNA. What, we’re gonna compete with Jimmy Choo?”

But even as Red Wing was flailing in those efforts, young men in Europe and Asia were fetishizing its classic boots. That was especially true in Japan, where pop stars such as Takuya Kimura had made the company’s boots a signature. “I hired a guy from General Mills named Mark Urdahl,” Murphy says. “When he started, he said, ‘There’s a real opportunity to grow this heritage business, and although we don’t control it, it’s already growing modestly in Japan.’”


Japan turned out to be the perfect laboratory for Red Wing’s fledgling Heritage Division, which was officially created in 2005. The company hired Michaya Suzuki as the president of Red Wing Japan, and he promoted a guy named Akinobu Iwasaki, a former catalog designer, to be lead designer. Today, “Aki knows more about Red Wing than any other employee except [Red Wing chairman] Bill Sweasy,” says Murphy.

In fact, late last fall, the 39-year-old Iwasaki and his wife moved from a suburb of Tokyo to Red Wing. He’s on a two-year contract, but he hopes to make the move permanent. He’s already started going native. He has a Welch Village ski pass and signs off his e-mails with a hearty “You betcha!”

When I meet Iwasaki in the Heritage Division’s conference room, he’s wearing wool Filson hunting pants, a blue-and-white-striped Japanese engineer’s jacket, and “Blacksmiths,” his new shoes for Red Wing’s fall-winter 2014 Heritage line.  He sits down under a framed print of album artwork from Bon Iver, whose creative principal, Eau Claire native Justin Vernon, is basically the bearded, Grammy-winning patron saint of the heritage movement. Vernon himself has scrawled a dedication on the bottom of the frame: “To Red Wing Co.: your longevity has inspired many things.”

Iwasaki shakes my hand and we laugh about a tiny Japanese dude moving directly into the path of the polar vortex. Why move to a river town in southern Minnesota right before the worst winter in 30 years? He stops laughing. “I’m not a designer,” he says. “I’m an archaeologist.” 

Being in Red Wing puts him closer to the archives, old catalogs, shoe-making machines, and shoes. Most importantly, it allows him access to the company’s craftsmen. He visits the factory once a week. “The American shoe industry is losing some technique to make products in this country,” he says. And he’s right: In 1968 there were 233,000 people employed by shoe manufacturers, and in 1986 there were 119,000. Today there are 13,900. “Before we lose many of them I want to study and learn how to make these boots.”

Iwasaki has designed the big hits of the Heritage Division: the 2991 or “Engineer,” the 8111 or “Iron Ranger,” and last year’s 2930 or “Ice Cutter.” The Engineer was the boot that taught him the formula. “In 2006, the Ugg was a very popular boot in Japan and Europe, so we wanted to replicate the success of a lace-less pull-on boot,” he says. It didn’t take off in Japan, but it blew up in Germany. “It was only afterward that I found a similar boot in the archive!” It was that discovery that helped Iwasaki understand how the story behind the boot is just as important as its design.

Iwasaki’s biggest hit might be the Iron Ranger, the boot he designed in 2009. He took a capped-toe boot he found in a catalog from 1910 and modernized the design, slimming down the boot’s profile and tipping the shaft forward. “When we first made it,” Iwasaki says, “some of the guys around here said it looked like a women’s boot!” But he believes the genuine cap-toe construction combined with the modern silhouette is what ultimately sold the shoe. “Current work wear is more like a sneaker—it’s high-performance footwear,” he says. “The Iron Ranger is real safety footwear but for older times.”

I have no clue if Iwasaki has read Walt Whitman or Richard Brautigan, but he seems to intuitively understand the appeal of the long-lost mythical America—this idea of ourselves that we still harbor, even when we’re just talking about boots. “If you look at a Japanese boot, they are very beautiful,” he says. “The stitching is perfect, the line is sophisticated. But in the USA, the stitching is rougher, more rugged. But they really work.” 


After a while inside Plant 2, it became overwhelming trying to follow the bottom-line scroll of Craig Holdt’s tour: how the assembly line is organized according to work groups (“the nail seat line,” “the pre-fitting line,” etc.), how shoes were manufactured in six-pair lots—six pairs of a certain style in a certain size. 

We walk by a guy using an old-timey oil can to lubricate a 100-year-old grease-encrusted “heeler” that pumps 11 nails in the heel and nine in the sole with one loud “ker-flunkt.” Then we pass women with safety glasses and magnificent bottle-blonde femullets punching eyelets into boots. Holdt points out that many of the women have been doing this for so long that they no longer have to measure the distance between punches. There are digital signs stacked on top of each other: GOAL 0296, ACTUAL 0282. 

He shows us a machine that makes instant molded vulcanized soles, filling a little Dixie cup with black goo that solidifies into rubber in seconds. And he takes us through the welting process, invented by Charles Goodyear’s son in 1869, where the sole and the upper are sewn into a central piece called the welt—holding it all together and enabling a shoe to be re-soled over and over again (a process that remains the biggest revolution in standardizing shoe quality in the last 100 years). And he introduces us to whole sets of $60,000 die-cast forms—basically extra-sharp cookie cutters for leather—and the guys who use them.


The cutters are the high priests of the operation, well-fed detail hawks with an average service record of 40 years. One of the standout features of Red Wing boots, and one of the reasons they’re so expensive, is because they’re sewn from only a few large pieces of leather. It’s up to the cutters to jigsaw those pieces out of the sides, using different methods—laser knives, old-school dies—to cut around any flaws. It’s precision work with the goal of producing as little waste as possible.

Holdt’s endless stream of information helps distract from the self-consciousness that comes with being a tourist in somebody else’s workplace. Sometimes as we made our way through the factory, a worker would look up and make eye contact and say “Hi,” and sometimes they wouldn’t even look up. They would just hand Holdt the shoe they were working on and wait patiently as he explained what was happening. 

These little interactions made me think about what Daryl Mark had said earlier about the Japanese stopping and taking pictures. We’re kids at the zoo checking out an endangered species: the American manufacturing employee. 

After a couple of hours around the factory, it was obvious Red Wing workers didn’t consider the Heritage boots to be as sexy as I did. Holdt included. Though he was consistently enthusiastic through the entire tour, he only got really jazzed showing us the latest Italian wonder-machine—a $1.5 million Gusbi polyurethane injection-mold behemoth that was shiny and new, sitting in its own climate-controlled room on a $25,000 concrete floor. The Gusbi spit out the 59001, a $150 knee-high poly-boot with steel toes and shanks that, hypothetically, could be made in any conceivable color, from black to lime green. Every 13 minutes the machine completes a round of 18 pairs, and it only takes three men to monitor the whole operation. 

This is Red Wing’s best and brightest, cutting-edge technology that would keep it in the global shoe-manufacturing game.  “This boot is the future,” Holdt says. “We just opened up two new retail stores in North Dakota, just to service the oil boom there.”


Authenticity has become the watchword of our age. It gets name-checked constantly, whether we’re discussing tacos, politicians, or $300 boots. But if authenticity is so important, why aren’t North Loop hipsters and Japanese pop stars wearing the same nonslip polyurethane-soled knee-high Red Wings as the Bakken oil-field workers in North Dakota?

Questions like that are just one of the reasons why the fashion market has always made Red Wing nervous. Company patriarch Bill Sweasy Jr. told me that Red Wing has always had a lifestyle division of some shape or form, and today’s Heritage Division is in many ways just the latest corporate designation for dealing with the fashion market. But Red Wing has been historically reticent to invest much capital in fashion, for the simple reason that the industry is, by its nature, volatile. “We’re always wary of the next Rhinestone Cowboy fad,” Sweasy says. And watching has-been heritage companies like Eddie Bauer and Abercrombie & Fitch lose their relevance in pursuit of profits hasn’t exactly eased those concerns.

There’s another very Minnesotan reason why Sweasy and company have always been uneasy about fashion. Red Wing is a relatively small private company, with 2,400 employees and global sales of more than $600 million. And though the company’s four American factories pump out more than 1.2 million pairs of boots a year, only 25 percent of those boots are for the Heritage line. The rest are for the domestic and overseas work market, and the company isn’t going to do anything that would compromise servicing that market to cash in on its cool-kid status in the fickle world of fashion, even if the fashion market—where profit margins can be much higher—has played no small part in the company’s recent growth.

That caution hasn’t been without its benefits, though. Today, Red Wing remains small enough to retain its aura of authenticity, but big enough to meet the growing demand of fashion buyers. But that still doesn’t explain why rappers and advertising copywriters and magazine writers prefer the 877 to the 59001. Is there a 1950s steel worker or a 1940s open-pit miner trapped inside all of us just yearning to be released? I knew why my dad liked Red Wings. But why did I? Was it pride, nostalgia, guilt, or something else?


There are two men’s stores that sell the Red Wing Heritage line in my North Loop neighborhood—Martin Patrick 3 and Askov Finlayson—and both of them are authentic in that governor’s-son-drinking-small-batch-aquavit sort of way, but is there a more American journey for the rugged individual than a shopping trip to St. Paul? I decided to visit my old friend Steve Kang at BlackBlue.

BlackBlue really was the first local men’s boutique to completely fetishize the old ways—to sell waxed-canvas outdoor jackets and wool flannel shirts and oiled leather boots as an anti-modern fashion narrative. It’s the place where Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon picked out the vintage-inspired wool suit and the Red Wing chukkas that he wore to the Grammys in 2012. Now, Kang authentically loves the outdoors—he’s a rural Michigan kid who sold outdoor gear at Midwest Mountaineering after graduating from St. Olaf. But BlackBlue’s avatar is the impeccably groomed, improbably named Satchel B. Moore, a denim and leather guru so passionate about this stuff that if he didn’t exist, the heritage movement would’ve had to invent him.

When Moore caught me caressing a navy wool sweater, he lowered the tone of his voice to something close to clerical and explained that in Denmark, there comes a moment in every young man’s life when his grandfather bequeaths unto him his own S.N.S. sweater. I had to make a conscious effort to stop myself from throwing down for what was a $250 wool hoodie, but Moore’s sotto voce pitch reminded me of what Dave Murphy told me in his office. “Every generation responds to the right marketing story,” he said. Murphy was talking about his sons—about the stories they responded to, and how they were more wrapped up in global responsibility and social justice than the stories that appealed to his generation.

But I’m not sure that’s the draw of authenticity. I mean, I’m not sure how authentic it is for a magazine journalist from Minneapolis buying a capped-toe boot designed by a guy from Tokyo to the safety standards of a 1930s open-pit mine in Cloquet, either. But I do think the heritage movement is motivated by something more than the fact these boots were made by Minnesotan workers who live in a small town with a cool name.

In an era when people have hair- trigger marketing BS detectors, and a $4,000 laptop has the lifespan of a hamster, Red Wing believes it has a story that can connect with people who will never work with their hands unless it’s on an iPhone. Essentially, the company has decided to return to its roots, again, to push authentic work boots expected to last the lifetimes of real live workers and hunters.

I talked to Tina Wilcox, the CEO and creative director of BLACK, a retail brand agency, about Red Wing’s place in the larger cultural context. “Typically what happens with a designer brand is that they have trouble staying in the luxury end, and they peak,” she says. “That’s when Target comes and grabs them and pulls them into mass.” According to Wilcox, staying on the top shelf is a daunting proposition. “The Louis Vuittons and the Hermès and the Fendis only stay up there by constantly reinventing themselves.”

I pointed out that even though Red Wing is selling $300 boots, they aren’t really considered a luxury brand, even by the people buying them not to work. She agreed. “To every trend there’s a countertrend,” she says. “Ninety percent of the beard and boots crowd have never hunted. They don’t do any of the stuff that actually built that brand. But they enjoy the countertrend of wearing that brand.” Wilcox thinks Red Wing boot wearers probably aren’t the same people watching Duck Dynasty, but both of those groups are responding to the same impulses: to seek out the symbols of a life that seems simpler and more genuine than that of, say, getting paid to implement social media strategies. 

After talking to Wilcox, I was reminded of what Iwasaki told me about the fashion cycle in Japan. It was in the years after World War II that the “Made in the USA” movement first caught on there. The Japanese bought rugged American basics because the GIs stationed there looked cool, and the stuff America produced was a quality alternative to their cheaply produced domestic goods. By the 1970s, though, when the economy was booming, people had money, and they would buy whatever was in fashion. But in the ’90s, when the country was in the middle of its “lost decade,” it was back to basics—people wanted to use their resources to buy something that 
could last. 

Maybe we’re so removed from our own history at this point that the same fashion-to-heritage sine wave is in play in this country. The heritage movement started in the middle of this decade, right around the time of the Great Recession. Maybe as things get better, we’ll realize we’re actually on the bubble of another heritage downturn, and there will be a backlash. Maybe in another year or two, magazine journalists masquerading as mountain men will be shaving their beards and wearing disposable Air Jordans or some shoe from the future that comes out of a 3-D printer. 

Or maybe heritage really is a sustainable lifestyle, and we’ll pass our obsession with Red Wings on to our own children. I hope that’s the case. It really is a pretty drive.  +

Aki Iwasaki the lead designer of Red Wing Heritage boots.

VIDEO: The Unlikely Champion of American Made

Aki Iwasaki believed so strongly in "Made in the USA" that he uprooted from Tokyo to run Red Wing Boots' Heritage division.

Trimming a pair of Red Wing 872s.

SLIDESHOW: The Birth of A Red Wing Boot

Wonder where your dollars go when you buy a pair of 872s? Craftsmanship . . . And a lot of it.