Inside The Red Wing Factory, Where The World's Toughest Boots Get Made
Talk to anyone who's owned a pair of Red Wing boots and you'll have a difficult time convincing yourself not to run out and buy some for yourself. The brand's been churning out some of the most enduring, durable, and straight-up good-looking footwear since their factory doors opened 110 years ago.
To uncover the secret to their success, we took a look behind the scenes at their factory in Red Wing, Minnesota where a small army of nimble and talented craftspeople turn out nearly 5,000 pairs—from start to finish—every single day.
The whole operation began back in 1905 when founder Charles Beckman recognized the local population of miners, loggers, and farmers were in desperate need of quality footwear to make life on the factory floor, and out in the fields, more bearable. That idea hit a chord within the community, considering one of the brand's first big successes was a leather boot with a manure-proof sole.
Just 10 years after launching, the company was producing more than 200,000 pairs annually, and even earned a contract with the U.S. military to produce boots for soldiers fighting in the first World War.
Once word got out that they were making kicks beastly enough to survive a hellish war zone, Red Wing's footprint (sorry) really began to expand. And their popularity hasn't waned in the least; to this day they must turn out 40,000 pairs every single week just to keep shelves stocked.
Also, unlike most modern apparel and footwear companies who face such demands, they don't rely on computers and robots to keep up. To the contrary, their factories' floors are filled with seriously skilled laborers who cut, sew, and assemble every single pair by hand. It must be a great spot to work, too, considering average employee tenure is 23 years.
Every shoe starts as a meticulously cut piece of top-notch leather, sourced from a tannery Red Wing purchased so they could have full control over quality, from start to finish.
Next, those pieces get stitched together by hand into the outer layer for one of their signature shoes.
They're then placed over a hard, plastic foot-shaped form known as a stay, which remains inside each shoe throughout production.
And thousands of different stays in hundreds of shapes and sizes are used. No matter how fat, wide, narrow, or tiny your feet may be, there's a Red Wing out there that'll fit them perfectly.
Once the rough silhouette is formed, the shoes are sent off to have a sole put on. Depending on the style, they may have a traditional crepe outsole attached, or get sent through a special injection mold machine that melts a liquid sole around the bottom.
The soles are then buffed smooth, and the nearly-finished kicks get a handsome coat of boot oil and leather protector before those signature gold and tan laces are fastened to the lower eyelets.
To make sure every pair meets Red Wing's unbelievably high standards, they make their way through a quality control station before they're given the official packaging. After, it's off to the distribution center, and eventually to stores in one of the 100-plus countries where the brand is sold today.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. His 6-inch Red Wings have carried him safely and comfortably through many, many blizzards.