Kevin Wilson is, one could say, a persistent man.
After founding Caswell Bootmakers in 2019, Kevin endured 1) the outset and fallout of a global pandemic that turned the footwear supply chain upside down, 2) Caswell’s Kickstarter campaign just missing its funding mark, 3) his US factory shutting down permanently, 4) a whole bunch of “no’s” from other stateside manufacturers, and 5) probably he stubbed his toe or something in there too.
Fun times for Kevin!
Four years later, Kevin and Caswell have somehow sprinted nonstop through that gauntlet to finally release the brand’s initial lineup of made-in-Spain boots, which have left us legitimately impressed. So it seems high time to get into the journey that led Kevin to launch Caswell, what you need to know about the current collection, how to size, and what’s next for the brand—including some very intriguing group made-to-order (GMTO) offerings.
(Full disclosure: while this post is not a paid advertisement, we did receive some test pairs of Caswell boots for hands-on/feet-in impressions—but we wouldn’t be writing about the brand if we didn’t think it was worth checking out.)
Kevin’s Story: From GMTO Aficionado To Starting A Boot Brand
Kevin got into the whole shoe thing like plenty others: by trawling places like Styleforum to gawk at and be inspired by footwear of all kinds.
“I’ve always been into very well-crafted, sleek designs, and very specific leathers that have a lot of character and texture to them,” Kevin said. “I would spend hours researching different leathers, figuring out how it would look in this style or that.”
Which led Kevin to GMTOland, where he jumped on a variety of special makeups from Saint Crispin’s, Enzo Bonafé, Crockett & Jones, and Carmina. Before long, Kevin began organizing GMTOs himself, and when he wasn’t able to find a maker to produce the exact kind of loafer he was looking for, he started looking into working with a factory directly.
Soon enough, Caswell was born.
When the pandemic hit, Kevin’s interest shifted towards making boots. After drafting designs and finding an American factory to make his line, Kevin launched a Kickstarter campaign for Caswell in 2021 to help fund his dream. Unfortunately, he fell short of his goal, and Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing model meant walking away without any funding. Meanwhile, the factory that Kevin was all set up to work with with closed up shop, for good. He found himself essentially back at square one.
What kept Kevin motivated to relentlessly keep trying to bring Caswell to life was a simple, ingrained passion for footwear—something he feels like he didn’t do a good enough job conveying in his Kickstarter campaign. He worries he came across as “just a guy” instead of someone who was excited to make his boot brand a reality.
Kevin looks back on these setbacks as “serious lessons learned for me.” “Although the lost investment was tough,” he said, “I knew it was for the better.”
Kevin had originally hoped that he might be able to make Caswell products in America, as he felt like it was important to support a trade that he saw being in danger of disappearing. But “it unfortunately wasn’t a possibility for me. I got turned down from most factories, a lot were already out of business or didn’t respond, and of the ones that were an option, the MOQs [minimum order quantities] were just too high for me as a team of one with no backing.”
With a clean slate, Kevin set out to find a new path forward. Thanks to a contact at English tannery C.F. Stead, he got introduced to a factory in Spain that offered ample flexibility when it came to leather selection and the ability to make changes to the construction as he saw fit. “The MOQs and costs were higher, but the construction and finishing were exactly what I needed for the brand,” he said.
With production figured out, Caswell was finally ready for liftoff, and boots finally began hitting their site this past fall.
Styles, Leathers, and Construction
Kevin’s aim with Caswell’s catalog is to strike a balance between the sharper, dressier looks of some of his personal favorite brands (he pointed to Crockett & Jones and Saint Crispin’s as his enduring influences) and the more rugged, wild aesthetics of others like Truman Boot Company. Caswell’s initial lineup seems to live in that middle ground quite well. While there are some classic, relatively subdued leathers in the mix—Horween Chromexcel, for example—you’ll also find articles with more pronounced character and texture, such as Du Puy Country Calf, Seidel Grizzly Cattail, and C.F. Stead Kudu.
Caswell’s initial lineup offers three different styles: The Wilson, a sleek cap-toe derby boot that definitely jives with Kevin’s personal style (the Country Calf gives major C&J Coniston-homage vibes), the Lisbon, a plain-toe service boot offering plenty of versatility, and the Coimbra, a slightly tall three-eyelet chukka.
All models come in at $339—which in 2023 is about as reasonable a price-point as just about any high-quality Goodyear welt brand can hope to attain—and you’ll find many of the components you’d expect to see at that price point: veg-tan leather insoles, supple calfskin lining, steel shanks, cork filling, and 360-degree leather welts. The Coimbra chukka is outfitted with a Dainite sole, but the rest get the rarely-seen Vibram Londra sole, which features a similar look to a Ridgeway sole.
Lasts and Sizing
Caswell currently deploys two different lasts in their collection. The Lisbon and Coimbra come on the Wayne last, which sports a relatively round appearance and a voluminous toe box. The Wilson, meanwhile, is made on Caswell’s Alder last, which runs a bit slimmer and features more of an almond toe.
Caswell’s sizing advice with both lasts is to go true to your US Brannock size, and we’re inclined to agree. We tried the Wilson’s Alder last at half a size down, and it felt like it kind of worked, though it would feel a lot better for a B-/C-width-or-narrower foot. Going true-to-size for a D-width foot felt much more appropriate, and we wager it would feel the same way in the Wayne last.
On the Wilson boots we personally checked out, we found the construction and materials to be beyond solid. The uppers are immaculately stitched—straight lines with nary a loose stitch in sight. There’s a nice heft to the boots, though not to the point of them feeling overly weighty. The Duy Puy Country Calf on our pairs is some impressive stuff, hardy and seemingly prepared to handle all manner of abuse if needed. The calfskin lining offers a soft but substantial grip around the foot, and while the Vibram Londra sole doesn’t feel exactly the same as Dainite Ridgeway, it’s still in the same neighborhood of comfort and traction.
One thing we wish were different is the heel counters. You won’t find veg-tan leather counters here like you’ll see in other brands at a similar price (Grant Stone and Parkhurst come to mind). Instead, the Wilson’s heel counters are made of synthetic celastic that can easily be compressed. It’s not the end of the world, but we would gladly accept a small price bump for leather heel counters that would better conform to the foot and be more resistant to breaking down over time.
The only true flaw we found on one pair was at a welt join on the medial side, where the rapid stitches on the welt got a little sloppy. It’s a cosmetic defect, one that takes a closer look to notice, and seems something out of character (although clearly not impossible to have happen again) compared to other solidly clean Caswell products we’ve handled.
Kevin also revealed that multiple GMTOs—in the form of more boots, as well as a loafer—are on the horizon for Caswell. As of this writing, Kevin is still waiting to confirm all of the custom options his factory can handle, but customers will be able to order their footwear with their own choice of leather, lining, and sole options (Dr. Sole Supergrip full soles will be available).
As for the leather options themselves, Kevin mentioned he’ll be offering Maryam Toscanello horsebutt, Horween olive Chromepak, C.F. Stead Brown Oiled Shoulder, Shinki Hikaku cognac horsebutt, and maybe a shell cordovan of some sort as well. Stay tuned for details, which will likely be coming as soon as next month.
The Final Take
We’re quite happy to see that in spite of an onslaught of serious challenges, Caswell Bootmakers is finally up and running. Talking to Kevin, you can sense his endless enthusiasm and passion for making Caswell a stand-out brand, and you really can’t help but root for the guy. It’s always exciting to see a promising young boot brand hit the scene, and we’re certainly looking forward to seeing what comes next from Caswell.