What are you working on now?
I make two pairs of boots per month. I like to start the boots at the beginning of the month and complete them by the end of the month. This month I’m making a pair of boots with a one-piece top; there’s only a single seam up the back of the boot top. The foot is Tobacco Ostrich. I’m going to name them “Wings of a Dove” because it’s a very classic, simple design and the stitching reminds me of church windows. I’m also making a ladies boot that are completely hunter green alligator, top and foot. There’s no design other than her initials inlaid into the pulls. My 16 year old daughter, who rarely shows an interest in cowboy boots, saw the boots and told me I was welcome to make her a pair just like them. I’m thinking I’ll name them “Jealous Heart”
What famous customers did you had over the years? Do you have a favorite customer?
I don’t have any famous clients. So far all of the famous people who’ve contacted me expect me to donate the work and I have a firm rule that I don’t donate a month of my blood, sweat, and tears to someone who won’t appreciate it. I do have some wonderful clients though! One of my favorite boots, “My Heart Skips a Beat” was made for a client in Houston. I’ll always remember the day he ordered those boots. He allowed me to guide him as we chose every single option that would make them stunning and he understood that he was letting me build a boot that would make me happy. Some clients simply want a wonderful object and they’re willing for the process to be a mystery–he wanted to own a fantastic pair of boots as a sign of his respect for me and my craft.
Please tell me how many friends work in your studio?
I don’t have any employees and every step of the boot making process is done by me personally. However, I do have two young girls in my shop. One is my 16 year old daughter Paige, and she’s learning to make ladies shoes. She has a challenging class load in school this year and hasn’t been able to work as much as she’d like recently but she still plans to go into footwear as soon as she’s through with school. I also have a 20 year old apprentice named Brittney who’s learning to make cowboy boots. She reminds me of myself at her age; she’s so determined to learn everything. She’s just finishing her second pair of boots. I met Brittney because she took the very first class I ever gave, when she was 16 years old. She’s wanted to learn boot making ever since then and would periodically stop by my shop or email me asking if I wanted an apprentice.
Are young people interested to learn the craft nowadays?
I teach boot making classes; I have a two week class where the student makes one pair of boots and a four week class where the student makes two pairs of boots. It’s not an ideal solution–teaching someone for a few weeks and then sending them out on their own–but it’s usually as much time as students can or will commit. I do offer follow-up classes and I’m doing the final editing of the entire class on video.
I also have a biweekly show on YouTube called “It’s a Boot Life” where I post tips and talk about life as a boot maker. (www.youtube.com/customboots) A lot of the people getting into this craft are retired from something else bu I have younger students also. It’s the young people who will carry the craft forward so it encourages me to teach my craft to young people. I’ve been making boots for 23 years and I’m just now at the point where I feel like I’m good at it. I welcome everyone who wants to learn this craft but the reality is that if a person isn’t able to begin learning until they’re in their 50s or 60s they won’t have time to fully master it and then pass it along by teaching.
What is the most important thing that you have learned about shoemaking since starting your business?
The most important thing I’ve learned was because of shoemaking rather than about shoemaking, and that’s how to run a business. I’ve dedicated myself to learning everything I can about making cowboy boots and I can’t point to any one technique and say it was the most important thing. And I’m still learning so maybe I haven’t learned the most important thing yet!
What is your favorite word?
Bespoke. Here in the US the word “custom” is more commonly used but I love the precision and sense of craftsmanship that the word “bespoke” implies.
What is your least favorite word?
Yeehaw. When I’m wearing cowboy boots, especially in a big city, people will often say this or yell it out the window. I find the stereotyping and lack of manners annoying. I think wearing flip flops shows a lack of class and refinement but I don’t hurl my opinions out the window at people wearing them.
What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
Music… always music. In my shop I always have music playing; it inspires me and lifts me up when I’m exhausted. In church it’s the music that soothes my soul.
What turns you off ?
Cowboy boots with no shape. My old mentor always said that a cowboy boot should look like a Coke bottle or a beautiful woman, then he’d describe an hourglass shape with his hands. A properly-made cowboy boot has very sexy and graceful lines. When you pick up a cowboy boot and look at the sole it should have very defined curves, giving it that hourglass shape. I hate to see a cowboy boot with a large, shapeless sole. I also like to see clean lines going into the toe, not an undefined round shape from the ball area forward so it resembles a clown shoe.
What is your favorite curse word?
Piddle! (I’m not very skilled at cursing, obviously.)
What sound or noise do you love?
I have an American Straight Needle and I love the sound it makes when it sews. I remember hearing it at my first job and longing to get my hands on that machine and try it. I never got to use it at Jay’s shop and I was very happy when I finally bought my own. I use it to sew the side seams.
What sound or noise do you hate?
I hate the sound of a needle hitting the throat plate and breaking on a sewing machine. It’s a dreadful CRUNCH and it usually means I wasn’t paying attention and did something wrong.
What profession would you not like to do?
Anything that would involve sitting in a chair at a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by other people at a desk in a cubicle, and then going home every night with nothing tangible to show for my efforts.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“You ran your business honestly and well… welcome. Oh and by the way, you lived a really long time too!”