More Than 100 Years Of Experience
For over 100 years, Red Wing boots have been built with construction techniques that transform premium materials into supremely durable boots and shoes. Each pair is made with tremendous detail across every step needed to make a Red Wing boot. Turning premium leather into the best footwear is a complex and involved process.
At Red Wing, they do that through a unique combination of advanced technology and handmade craftsmanship. From finishing leather hides through the packing and putting boots in boxes to ship, they take absolute pride in building the best there is.
The S.B. Foot Tanning Company By Red Wing
All Red Wing leather comes from their own tannery, S.B. Foot Tanning Company, located in Red Wing, Minnesota. Transforming hides into leather is an art form. Preparation begins by soaking each hide in a wood drum with tree oils, tanning agents, and dyes. The hides can be finished in a number of ways to achieve a desired texture and level of pliability and water resistance. With a little maintenance every so often, properly tanned boots will perform and protect for many years.
S.B. Foot uses fresh-prepared hides referred to as wet blues. The name refers to the bluish hide color results from our high-exhaustion tanning process that produces a highly stable, pliable, and durable material. It is the ideal starting point for what ultimately becomes premium-grade leather.
The Tanney Workers At Red Wing Shoes
Jeff Dols has been at Red Wing for 33 years. He is the first set of eyes that scours every inch of nearly every hide that arrives at the S.B. Foot Tannery. The quality of the leather rests heavily on Jeff’s shoulders. He assigns the leather grades and he looks for weak spots and the slightest of imperfections. He is the gatekeeper who makes sure only the finest leather goes into every Red Wing boot that goes out into the world.
To achieve the unique, rich leather colors Red Wing offer, each hide is carefully tested and sampled prior to finishing. Scott Johnson has worked at Red Wing for 38 years, 20 of which have been spent in the color mills at the S.B. Foot Tannery. Every day is different in the color mills as Scott and his team pull hides, test formulas and make sure that each and every piece matches one another perfectly within an intended color.
Scott says it is this variety that he enjoys most about the work. Sometimes it takes many samples to get the colors matched up. Sometimes you get it right the first time. You just never know, and that’s the beauty of it.
After only four years, Frank Lin has earned the nickname of “jack of all trades” by his peers in the S.B. Foot Tannery finishing department. Frank applies his experience and Engineering degree from Duke University to navigate both the art and the science of finding the right finishing treatment mixture. Because no two hides are identical, finishing has a definite feel to it for finding that perfect balance of formula, wax, and oil to get the best end result possible.
“We are a part of something that is much bigger than us or the leather. When I throw hides, I try to put good vibes on every one of them because they end up in all these other countries around the world. What we do has meaning to a lot of people in their daily lives.”
Fred Oekler stands in front of the final step at the end of the line, where he makes one last pass to closely inspect every hide before it gets approved for use in Red Wing boots. Fred inspects up to 1,000 hides every day, and he’s not afraid to pull a piece for even the slightest flaw or defect. Fred’s brother Abe Oekler is another stickler for quality. The two work just steps away from each other in the finishing area.
Coming up next week, Red Wing’s manufacturing. Stay tuned…