Made in USA boot options can still be pretty limited, despite a long tradition of American-crafted footwear. If you’re looking for high-quality boot options from domestic producers, like the Thursday Vanguard, it helps to understand the nature of US shoe factories today.
Let’s start with a little history. Through the '60s, up to 80% of American shoes worn were provided by domestic producers. Shoe factories in New England, the South, the Midwest and Pacific Northwest serviced the various needs for dress shoes, dress boots, and rugged work boots with many operations founded a century prior. This was a relative peak for American footwear, but it would not last.
Before long, lower-priced foreign competition and changing consumer tastes reduced the overall demand for domestic footwear. US shoe production volumes fell by over 90% since 1985, leading many American manufacturers to shut down. To survive, the industry evolved to compete by focusing on top-tier construction and materials or securing long-term government contracts. Lower volumes and higher quality allowed factories to charge a premium for their wares. This saved some businesses, but also resulted in a smaller network of experienced cordwainers and bootmakers.
Today, less than 1% of shoes purchased by Americans are built in this country. Despite the rising consumer interest in buying more local goods, the biggest challenge to expanding production remains the limited pool of craftsmen who can build a quality boot. Even the large legacy brands with factories in the midwest still produce the vast majority of their pairs abroad because capacity remains limited for Made in USA programs. Domestic producers of size are either producing large volumes of industrial boots or cement construction shoes where less-specialized labor is required.
If you’re looking for high-quality Goodyear Welt Construction, there are relatively few operating factories in America who can reach this standard of quality. Their low volume approach makes them particularly popular with collectors and foreign buyers in markets like Japan. It also means that US-made pairs tend to have more character than your average pair, which is part of why producing these is so much fun.
For a great American boot, we recommend starting with our best-selling Vanguards. A take on the class US service boot from the 1940’s, these are made at the same factory that supplied the US military for decades. While not easy to make or keep in stock, they have a rugged character all their own.