By JOHN PEACOCK
“Bring me back a pair of USMC desert boots, will ya?” That was a quote from an old friend upon telling him that I was heading to visit Danner’s boot factory on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., last month.
Walking the factory floor at Danner, I was immediately struck by the thought that I was in the rarest of places. Footwear factories in the United States are a dying species in this day and age, but Danner’s facilities throw that idea right out the window.
The company runs a full tip-to-tail assembly line for high-quality leather boots, including those USMC desert boots my friend wanted. (One of Danner’s customers is the U.S. military, to which the company provides a specific set of boots for on-base stores.)
I visited Danner with the simple purpose of seeing how a well-crafted leather boot was made. For us at GearJunkie, and for consumers in general, it’s difficult to know how and where products are made. So, I was definitely looking forward to getting an inside look at Danner’s production process.
To see the careful skill and attention that these Portland craftspeople put into their products was inspiring. Each leather boot in the lineup starts its manufacturing process at the facility from hides sourced and tanned in the U.S.
The boot-makers use a mix of machines during the process, some of which appear to be of a pre-WWII era.
The factory also has a “prototype unit,” an area where the designers can build out one-off pairs of new designs that they are working on. With this prototype area, the time to bring a new design to market is cut substantially since they can provide a quicker turnaround for ideas to see if they will work.
My last stop the day of the tour was the company’s “rebuild” workshop. It’s a specific area of Danner’s factory store where any U.S.-built Danner boot can be brought back to life. If you have been clomping around in a well-worn pair of Danners from a decade ago, the craftspeople at the rebuild shop can make them look like new again with a variety of services starting with a basic stitching repair and hardware replacement for $75 all the way up to a full rebuild of the boot (everything except the leather is replaced) for $200.
There’s a good reason why most Danner boots will set you back upwards of $250. Seeing the care and quality that was coming out of the rebuild shop made me realize something that we rarely see in this world of mass-consumerism. There are fewer companies that are out there providing high-quality products made in a thoughtful and economically-sustainable way, right here in the U.S.
—John Peacock is an editor and founding partner at GearJunkie.com