Sunday, March 25, 2012

Justin Brands is Like General Motors? What?

Someone sent me an email recently that said:
First, let me say I love your reviews and videos on the various boots. Keep up the good work! I wanted to get your opinion on Chippewa's harness boots.

I was in a store today and almost bought a pair, but couldn't decide between the black or the bison.

The quality seemed to be good, but I notice on the box that they are now a division of Justin boots. Do you think they are still a good choice, or would Wesco be better in the long run?
I understand his concern. Within the last decade, we have seen some major boot brands leave the United States and source bootmaking by whatever methods and companies can do it cheaper, while simultaneously increasing the profit margin for the label owner.

Here is what I said in my reply...

Thank you for the compliments on my website and videos. I appreciate your taking the time to write to me and share that, as well as ask a question.

Chippewa boots have been owned by a consolidated company called Justin Brands since 1984. Justin Brands also owns the companies that make boots with the labels of Tony Lama, Justin, Justin Original Work Boots, and Nocona.

Think of Justin Brands as the General Motors of the boot industry. One company with different brands under one umbrella. (What gets confusing is that Justin Brands is one company under a larger umbrella of Berkshire Hathaway, a huge conglomerate that owns many companies that make everything from candy to bricks, or offers products like insurance or newspapers.)

When we have to worry is when a bootmaker begins sourcing production in China, India, or Pakistan. That's when lower quality materials and workmanship occur. We saw this happen, for example, with Frye boots. Once made in the U.S. with quality materials and standards, these boots are now made by whatever Chinese company gives the owner of the label (Li & Fung) the lowest bid, or best return on their investment.

So far, Justin Brands has kept production in the United States for most of their boots, and outsource only a few of the cowboy boots (Nocona, Tony Lama, Justin) to just over the border in Northern Mexico -- which is okay, because boots made in Mexico are well-made of good materials.

You see a lot of Chippewa boots in my collection, and let me tell you, I'm rather finicky about quality. My Chippewa boots have held up well under rather stressful conditions of every-day wear and riding my Harley.

You said that you almost bought a pair -- I'd say, go get them. The choice between black and bison is more personal, as whether you like black or brown, or the texture of smooth grain leather or a more "pebble" surface as found on bison. Either are a good choice.

Of course, I wouldn't dissuade you from buying Wesco boots, either. Those are top-of-the-line in quality and construction, and are still made by a small family-owned company in Oregon. Trouble is, for a lot of guys, the cost of Wesco boots being more than double that of Chippewa boots tends to be a major issue. To me, Chippewa is to Chevrolet as Wesco is to Hummer. A Chevy will get you where you want to go in casual comfort, while a Hummer will get you where you want to go as if you were riding in a tank.

By the way, I noticed in 2010 that a small tag line on the boxes of Chippewa boots indicates the ownership by Justin Brands. I don't think they said that on their boxes before that, even though Chippewa boots has been owned and operated by Justin Brands since 1984.

Thanks for asking, and enjoy your boots!


Life is short: know your boot brands.

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