After a number of chats—during which I attempted to bankrupt the company by drinking possibly hundreds of cans of LaCroix from the Thursday office fridge—I finally sat down last month for a formal interview with Thursday Boot Co. co-founder Connor Wilson.
Connor made his way (in cowboy boots) from Colorado to New York City, where he met Thursday Boot Co. co-founder Nolan Walsh while they were both in business school at Columbia University. Fast forward a few years and past a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and Thursday was, out of essentially nowhere, as visible as any young boot brand in the U.S.
But despite that instant impact and the corralling of a wide following of devotees, Thursday has encountered the questions faced by any new footwear brand in a space where customers demand the best. How do you learn to manufacture a product that competes with shoemakers that have been honing their processes for 80, 90, 100 years? How do you convince aficionados of those brands to give you a shot? What about contending with the ones you don’t win over? How do you push creative boundaries when you’ve created a core offering that’s resonating?
Those are some of the things we talked about—as well as the past and future of shell cordovan in the Thursday lineup, how long they can keep their incredibly competitive prices where they are, and how Thursday believes it can produce a boot that can compete with anyone else’s…while keeping their incredibly competitive prices where they are.
Stitchdown: So over half a decade ago, you decided that you wanted to make boots—but you hadn’t made boots before. How did you get up to speed on how to manufacture them? How’d you figure it all out?
Connor: When it came to the point of, this is a good idea, we should actually do this, the first big hurdle or question was, well, what the hell do you know about making boots? And the short answer at the time was, you don’t. Fast forward to today, and I know a ton about shoes. But at the time, the only way to learn was basically to just immerse yourself in it.
My first step was to contact literally 200 factories around the world. And we found a series of potential partners that we thought could do the sort of thing that we were looking for. And then the second step was—well actually there were 20 steps in between—but it was really just this very fast iteration cycle of: how quickly can I can build a sample that is going to hit my standards? And every time you build a pair, you learn something. That leather didn’t work. That last didn’t work. You learn more about the construction, you’re in the actual factory seeing how it’s done.
You spend a few weeks at one factory and you realize, these guys just aren’t going to be able to handle what we want to do, in terms of quality standards. So then you go across the street and say hey, can you guys do it better? And suddenly, you’ve got the product that you really wanted. You’ve learned a ton—you can’t make the shoe yourself, to be really clear, because you’re not trained in that. But you know way more about how it’s done. You do that three months, six months, 12 months, 24 months. And then in a very short amount of time, you’ve learned it.
Stitchdown: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned in terms of manufacturing along the way?
Connor: There’s a lot. Plenty are mundane and very boring.
Stitchdown: Not to me! I promise.
Connor: Something we keep at the forefront is just being in the factories and making sure you have a presence. I think I spent about three months last year in our factories, on the floor. We have a network of factories, and we have someone from our team there at least once a week, and most often every single day. Part of it is showing your partners that you care. And part is being really collaborative, so you can pick up on things that need to be better. Manufacturing is hard. Shoes especially, whether it’s completely handmade, or it’s a mostly automated process. Ours is somewhere in between, where you’ve got machines plus people doing different parts with their hands. It takes time. And there’s a lot of little things that can go wrong, if you’re not on it like a hawk.
The other thing is focusing on what people are good at. There are some factories that are really, really good at doing a six-inch boot. You want them to be focused on that six inch boot. But you try to give them a high heel, for example, and it’s not necessarily guaranteed to be successful. And going forward that’s going to be even more of a focus. I want specific products going to whoever can make them the best, in the entire world. I’m not relying on a single factory.
Stitchdown: Anything more specific? I think those are great high-level things to think about. But what are you doing differently, as far as how you’re manufacturing your boots?
Connor: We’ve greatly expanded our whole team. Our team used to be one person who was focused on our primary city of León. Now we’ve got people in our U.S. factory, we’ve got people in Mexico. We’re launching operations in Europe this year. So part of it just having more eyes. I now have an internal leather sourcing expert, one guy who’s literally just focused on leather. That’s all he does.
It used to be, you go to the tannery, the tannery does their inspection. They’re supposed to give you good leather, and then the factory is supposed to take a second look. We don’t really like the incentives there. We actually want to make sure that our guy is there too, to hold everyone accountable and make sure there’s a higher standard. And if we don’t do that, there might not be a problem at all. But we don’t risk that.
Stitchdown: How do those inspections work?
Connor: We go through a portion of the batch. If it’s a small delivery, say 20,000 square decimeters, he’s going through every single hide. But at 100,000 square decimeters, he’ll go through 30,000 to 50,000. And if it falls below a certain threshold, then we do the full 100,000 on that. And then on the line, we have QC inspectors that are going through different parts. Because you can have a hide that looks great on the flat, but when you go to last it, suddenly a vein pops out. It’s all so our customers are happier, but it requires you to basically be a traffic cop.
Stitchdown: How would you say the designs have evolved over the years?
Connor: That’s probably what’s changed the most. We’re very focused on customers. We listen to almost everything the customer is saying. We’re constantly craving as much feedback as we can get. Because as much as I know about my boots, and as much as I care about them, our customers tell us things that we wouldn’t otherwise hear.
We’ve changed so many things in response to that feedback. The outsole is a good example, because we’ve done about 20 different formulations—I think we’ve probably done three to five of those in production. We had people say look, it’s really durable, but I wish it were more grippy. You know what? We agree with that. So we change the compound. Some people say, I love the grip, it’s really comfortable, but the durability could be higher. So you keep testing. Sometimes you just can’t make it perfect. Other times though, there is a clear improvement.
Eyelets are a great example. Most people do one of two different eyelets. You have a rolled eyelet, which they kind of stamp in place. The other is the star eyelet, where it explodes out. The star eyelet is going to scratch your tongue when you tie it tight. Rolled eyelets look a little cleaner, but are not as secure. So we went to our hardware guy and said, we want the security of the star eyelet, but we don’t want to scratch the tongue. What if we put washers on this thing? And we now do washered eyelets on all our boots, which is kind of like a belt and suspenders.
Does it really make those eyelets that much better? Unclear. And we’re not out there talking about it every day, saying “we have washered eyelets!” But it’s something that for .001 percent of your customer base, it might make all the difference. And so for us it’s: do it. Invest. Make it happen. Go.
You can even look at the way we structure the shape of the toe reinforcement. On a cap toe, you want to make sure that you’re keeping the shape. But if you have a really hard box toe support, it can actually create tension when you’re flexing, and can dig in. So what we’ve done is built in a little bit of a wing bite into it, which ends up keeping the shape, but it doesn’t pinch the way it would otherwise. It’s not something anyone will ever notice, but you notice it because we had three people who said: this is an issue. How do we fix it?
And then it’s literally: iterate, iterate, iterate. And that’s why what we’re doing now is dramatically different from what we were doing two years ago, five years ago. You raise the bar, because if you don’t…what’s the point?
Stitchdown: Well, especially since you haven’t been doing this for 100 years, it’s impossible to have it 100% down. So to raise the bar seems essential.
Connor: We’ve talked to factories and said, hey, we would like to do some contract manufacturing. And they would just look at us and say, well, “what do you want to do? Your own last? Why are you trying to redesign the wheel?” We’ve been doing this for 100 years. I can’t work with you, because that’s the wrong attitude.
Stitchdown: So you didn’t go with them.
Connor: Obviously not. You can’t. The people we’re working with, we’re going to be very demanding, very tough. But with that toughness comes the growth and hopefully you’ll do well, we’ll do well, everyone’s ready to rock. But it starts with the product, and it starts with the customer. And if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. There are other people you can work with, and likewise we’ll find our factories.
The other thing that people get wrong about us is: we’re not perfect. And when we do mess up, I think sometimes there’s the expectation that we did so intentionally. We’re a startup. Whenever there has been an issue, we make it better. But what people misattribute to intention is sometimes just that we’re still getting our stride.
Stitchdown: Do you have an example of that?
Connor: I go back to our first deliveries. We had dumb stuff happening. For example, wrong boots being shipped in the wrong container. So you’d have a box labeled black Captain, size eight. And what’s inside of it? It’s a natural Captain, size 12. And customers look at you rightfully and they say, are you idiots? And you say, well maybe we are. That’s totally a possibility. Fair. But we own that. We make it right for the customer. We do the right thing. But someone might look at that and say, these guys are just clowns.
Stitchdown: People thought that was intentional though? That’s a wild example.
Connor: That’s the point. We say no, not intentional. We’ll fix it. We work with a lot of natural leathers. Some of our rugged oiled leathers are a great example. We had a customer come back and say, the color variance on this is huge. Is it even leather? Guys: it’s definitely leather. And the reason you can tell is because there’s natural variation. But I get it. And if I got that pair again, I’d bring it back. That’s a minus. But that’s just the small minority of things.
But the reason we focus on it is because that’s your guidepost to getting better. If you just focus on people saying I love you, you’re wonderful, you’re just going to be doing a lot of patting yourself on the shoulder. And then what ends up happening is maybe you do well for a few years, but then you’re suddenly the guy who’s been doing the same thing for 100 years. And he hasn’t got any better. Our viewpoint is, we’re better than we’ve ever been. And five years from now, it’s going to be ridiculous. And our real goal here is to be the best in the industry.
Stitchdown: At your current prices??
Connor: And I know why you’re asking that. Because the assumption is that if you’re selling a boot for very reasonable prices, you’re somehow cutting corners.
Stitchdown: No, no. I just know a lot about what things cost.
Connor: We’re using the best leathers, we’re working with the best tanneries, we’re working in factories that aren’t even that cheap on a labor perspective—our wages are good for our factories, and the final cost you pay is still really expensive. And we’re in the same factories as some of these other bootmakers, but ours is a lower price.
The biggest reason we’re able to do that is because of our business model. And I just don’t think that has really registered yet with the world. Walk through the boot. Show me where we’re not investing. We do full glove leather lining, it’s bovine lining, all the way through. Not everybody does that. We’re using premium hardware. There are only a few suppliers that are out there, and our guys are based in the US. We’re paying up for it.
So you’re really putting money into the product. And part of that also stems from, when we got started, we knew we didn’t know as much as we needed to know. And the biggest or dumbest thing we could have done was try to aim for a specific margin or price point. For us, we want to build the best damn boot that we possibly can. Our margins are going to be lower as a consequence. But that’s okay because we think the business model model will support that. Because if we screw up in year one, we screw up in year two, you don’t get a year three or four or five. And we’re very glad we took that strategy.
Stitchdown: So what’s the growth look like then? What’s the delta between what you make now, and making the best thing in the world, for you?
Connor: It’s a lot of little things. Some of it is just building the same boots over and over, and getting a little bit better. The hand gets a little nicer. There are things that if you’re buying your first pair of boots you don’t necessarily notice. But if you’re on your third or fourth pair of Thursday boots you’d say, ok, I noticed that you do a sandblasted outsole, where you get a little bit more grip on it. Versus before, if you don’t sandblast, it’s a little bit slicker.
We’ve increased the weight of our bobbin thread on the Goodyear welt. We have a standardized two-millimeter granulated cork mixture now. These are little things, but as you stack them up, the boot might be 10 percent better than it was originally.
Stitchdown: So who are your targets then? Who do you think is doing the best work? To whom can you create a similar product, at a much lower price?
Connor: Trust me, it would’ve been easier to buy a pair of boots than to start a company. If the product existed, we wouldn’t have had this level of conviction, and we wouldn’t have been working seven days a week for the last five years. No one out there was doing it. It’s just the honest answer. I think there are people that sell at higher prices and you get something marginally better. The finish might be a little bit better or a little more detailed. And that’s what you’re paying for when you’re doing an $800 pair of boots. I’ve also seen $800 boots with quality control defects, and people just shrug them off, which I never understand.
I want to provide absolute quality, a product that you can wear for years if you take good care of it. It’s something that’s comfortable. No one really talks about comfort. We focus on it intently. It’s one of the reasons why I think people like us so much. And then just something that isn’t going to break the bank. And part of that goes into long term trends. The big brands are used to approaching it from a price point. I can spend X amount of dollars to get to my 2.5x, 3x markup, because it’s going to go to wholesale etc, etc.
We look at it and say, I know that you guys are used to shaving pennies out of things, and just cheapening the product to make a specific price point. We’re not doing that. If you come to me and say, this is going to cost you an extra two dollars per pair. But it’s going to make the product infinitely better? Do it. And we’ve done that multiple times over. I think longer term, the companies that are penny pinching are ultimately going to be in really big trouble. Just because of what’s going on in the world.
Stitchdown: Go on that a little bit. Why?
Connor: We have a direct to consumer, digitally native vertical brand. Without giving away all of our secret sauce, I think there’s a point at which people are going to recognize that the incremental value provided by a wholesale price is not sufficient to justify what they pay. And I say this as someone who is manufacturing product in the same factories as other large brands—brands that sell at a much higher price.
We are using the same people. We’re using many of the same components, using oftentimes better or more expensive components. Specifically we invest a lot more in leather. I don’t know their cost sheets, but I just know that for a fact. And I look at that and think, how long can this be sustained? And my bet is that, longer term, offering better value to your customer is going to be better for them and better for you. Some of that seems to be coming into play. Some of it, we’ll see.
Stitchdown: So this is working towards a question I was going to ask—which was going to be, is there a super premium Thursday boot that competes with the best stuff out there? And what does it take to do that? But your answer seems to be, the boot to compete with Alden and Viberg and whoever else, in customer’s minds, is not a $400 or $600 or $800 Thursday boot.
Connor: No. I can make a $400 boot in the sense that I can charge you $400 for it, or $800. But the honest answer is, it’s not our philosophy. We’ve done shell cordovan for $400. I don’t think people are even aware of that. So that would be expensive because the raw material justifies the higher price. But I take no pleasure in, nor do I ever desire to overcharge customers.
And I don’t think that others are trying to do that. I understand the economics, which I think very few people do, by the way. Viberg’s a good example. They make a great product. But they’ve got a very different business model with a very different volume. Without knowing their business it’s hard for me to say definitively what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, but that’s just a different mindset. Alden is also focused on a specific customer doing specific things.
But when I look at the broader economy and what most people are actually purchasing, if you say you’re selling a shoe for $400 wholesale, I just know for a fact that I can replicate the quality and the specs. My design is going to be different. My approach will be different. But I can sell it to you for a much lower price because of our business model. And that just hasn’t registered yet. And the longer that takes, great. We’re just going to focus on what we can control, which is product, taking care of customers, and then coming up with stuff that we’re excited about. It’s not rocket science.
Stitchdown: Let’s talk about leather. Are you looking at new stuff? And what’s the evolution been? For example, you didn’t always use Chromexcel, right?
Connor: We always did. We’ve used natural Chromexcel from day one. On other leathers we do chrome tannages, or a joint veg/chrome tannage like our Thursday Chrome. Thursday Chrome we built with Lefarc because we wanted a specific color brown, and they were able to do it. We thought it would be really cool to have our own exclusive leather that no one else can have. But we’re one of the largest purchasers of Chromexcel—not compared to the big-big guys, but we’re definitely a significant client for Horween. We do all kinds of different suedes. For us the philosophy is to work with good providers who are environmentally sustainable and responsible. One, it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also just very pragmatic.
I’ve been to probably 50 tanneries. I’ve been to stockyards, I’ve been to packers, which is code for slaughterhouse. I’m personally very into the full supply chain and how this happens. I say that as someone who’s a carnivore and who has gone hunting, but who wants to do it in the best possible way. There are some things that we can’t change today. There are some things that we can start making a dent in now. And I want to make sure that this business is always at the forefront of the best things, as opposed to the opposite. I’ve been in tanneries—we call them dungeon tanneries, where they they’re dark, they’re creaky, there are chemicals leaking. That’s irresponsible. It’s just not right. We said we’re going to go through the big guys who have clean, modern machinery, with third-party auditors. They’re modern.
Horween is a good example. Horween looks amazing. The environmental controls that are in place there are huge. And the quality of the product is fantastic. But a lot of what they’ve done is to focus on environmental stewardship, because they recognize that’s the future. So when you think about tanneries and leather, we work with the best people and pay up for it, because it does show through in the product.
Stitchdown: There are certain popular boot brands that do a lot of “whoa, check this one out”-type stuff with very wild new leathers. Something crazy and interesting is always happening. You guys seem to have an approach of: you know your customer, you know your product. I guess the best question is, do you want to expand that?
Connor: So it’s funny. We take a lot of inspiration from the broader business world, because the best really sustainable businesses are focused on the customers. It could be Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, but they focus on the customer first. We know what our customer likes. And we were fortunate that when we launched it was just a thunderbolt, and made a big splash. People were happy with the product, and we’ve just been refining. That’s been probably 80 or 90 percent of our effort. At the same time, you do want to play around the edges just to see. A person only wants so many brown boots or black boots in their closet. So what else can we offer them, while still being consistent with who we are? A lot of it also, with some of these other brands, is just the use case.
Stitchdown: Sure, it can get very specific.
Connor: Very specific! With some boots, if you’re actually a logger—sweet. Totally fine. But most people are not doing that. So how do we find something that’s authentic? We focus on something that you can wear on a regular basis and get good utility out of. If I have a bright red boot that I can never wear, that’s fine. It’s just not what we are. I want to fill a core place in everyone’s closet.
But within that, you also want to push the boundaries a little bit. And we’ve launched stuff where we were explicitly testing the waters.
Stitchdown: Can you get specific?
Connor: Shell cordovan is a great example. We’ve done it with dress shoes, we’ve done it with our Vanguard. It’s hard as hell to work with, it’s super expensive. But I think the models turned out great. And part of that is an opportunity to learn, right? You’re pushing people. You get them out of their comfort zone a little bit. Otherwise they’re just going to get complacent.
I think we’ve done some pretty interesting leathers actually, over time. But we’ve focused mostly on high quality leather versus, say, a bold print, which you can do really easily. And it’s a great way to use cheap leather, actually. And maybe there’s a reason to do it from a fashion standpoint in the future. That said, I don’t think there’s room for a lightning bolt boot in our lineup today. But never say never.
Stitchdown: So let’s talk about the shell. You did it a couple years ago—do you want to do more of it?
Connor: We do. And every time we do it, we sell out. Shell, we’ll keep doing it in small batches. I think our core group is really into it. I literally have shell cordovan at factories now, we just have to decide how we’re going to use it. I do want to make sure that when we release things, there’s a reason to do it. It’s not a money grab—I want it to be compelling and interesting and unique. So for that stuff we don’t know yet, is the short answer.
Stitchdown: What’s some stuff that you’ve tried to give a go, but didn’t end up happening?
Connor: In terms failed product launches?
Stitchdown: Sure, something like that.
Connor: Let’s see. We didn’t take a big bet on it, but when we first did our Vanguard line, and moved that to the US, we wanted to figure out, oh do we want to make it more rugged? Or more clean? And so we really fell in love with these gum honey Vibram commando outsoles. They’re good, but…
Stitchdown: Not quiet.
Connor: No, they’re not quiet. We kinda thought they were, because they’re tan and a little bit more muted. But we did that and paired it with a yellow Kevlar lace. And I think that it ended up being just a little bit loud. And I look at it now and I say, oh yeah, that just didn’t work. But we give ourselves permission to fail. We haven’t had anything that was a big, resplendent failure. Yet. And I hope that continues to be the case.
I can think of some limited editions. The Dollar Boot was an absurd idea that was fun. It was a hundred times better than the penny loafer, so it had an actual dollar coin in the tongue. And it was just kind of dumb. But I’m proud of that in the sense that it shows our ideals. And when it came out, we ended up doing a partnership with Soles4Souls. If we tried to actually launch it as a commercial product, I don’t know if it would have been a success. But that’s kind of beside the point. Sometimes you just have to say, passion project, let’s roll.
Stitchdown: Can you run me through what’s made where? I know you have a bunch of different factories.
Connor: So it’s changing, and it’ll continue to change. We never really focused on specific geography to start, because things can change, and you want to be flexible. Part of it’s also that certain people do certain things really well, and there are good and bad factories in all countries. So it’s never that one’s better the other.
Our Vanguard product is made in the U.S. The bulk of our men and women’s production has been made in León since the start of the company. We are starting to move some models to Portugal and Spain, partly because we’re finding that the hand can be a little bit finer, whereas for some boots I actually want something that’s a bit more rugged or burly. So some of let’s call them the more dressy boots are going to be coming from Europe over time, I think. Again, that could change. But we’re very omnivorous in terms of where we end up placing our manufacturing base.
Stitchdown: Something that’s really interesting to me is that there are a lot of people out there who have, for whatever reason, let’s say, less than positive views of your product. There seem to be considerably more people who wear your product and really enjoy it, buy a second pair, and tell other people to do it too. But I get the impression that most of Group One hasn’t worn your boots. Why do they care? Do you know why they care?
Connor: I focus on what I can control. I was a cross-country, track guy—you’ve got to run your own race. If my customer comes to me and has an issue, that matters to me immensely, and I treat that as seriously as a heart attack every single time. It’s why, still, when someone gets a response on Instagram, on Twitter, any of our platforms—it’s not some PR flack. It’s me or it’s Nolan. I know our customers like us, because they get a pair and , wow, this changed my life. We made them affordable to a whole group of people that were not even exposed to quality footwear in the first place. We’re making things that were previously inaccessible accessible for people, and that’s very democratizing.
Why would anyone care who is not a customer? I don’t know. I guess people just have time on their hands? But I also think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding about who we are, and what we’re trying to do. And that goes back to that idea of how we started this as two people who were super-passionate about this idea, who said we don’t know everything, and we’re going to approach this as beginners. We’re going to work really, really, really hard. And we have. We’ve put in the time, and I’ve got the gray in my beard to show for it.
I don’t understand why that’s not an inspirational story. We’re trying to take what was previously very low quality, and raise the bar. And I think we have. I still think there’s a long way to go, to be very clear. But we’re trying to fight the good fight. And if people don’t like that, that’s ok. It doesn’t matter to me. If my customers are happy, that matters. That’s exactly how I deal with it. And I think if you do anything else otherwise, it’s just like punching the waves. You can’t live your life that way.
Stitchdown: Do you still go on Reddit and other places, and try and correct things? Or is that something you’ve just lost the stomach for?
Connor: Whenever I see anything that is egregiously factually incorrect, I try to be helpful. I’ve had people tell us that we use plastic welts. Well, it never happened. We use leather welts, always have. That’s pretty easy. Again, I don’t know why that person feels the need to comment that. But I’m very happy to step in and say, no that’s not correct. If someone has a different opinion, they’re entitled to it.
I want us to be active in the community and give back to a group that’s been very helpful to us. I have a lot of respect for other people running other brands, even if we have different strategies or philosophies. Everyone works very, very hard, especially the people who do it well. My experience from is that 99% of my interactions with customers and even non-customers are just massively positive.
Stitchdown: The industry from a bigger picture perspective is something I like to talk about with everybody. What do you see not being necessarily Thursday Boots-specific problems, but industry problems? And do you think that there are ways to correct those troubles?
Connor: On a global basis there actually is a labor pool, and there are lots of factories that can make good Goodyear welted products. But to make the best products I think it’s a smaller pool. And I’ve seen our factories get better as a consequence of us working with them. I don’t think that’s bragging, that’s a real thing. I also think the industry is going to have to come to terms with being thoughtful about the environmental impact and where this goes long term.
Calfskin is a good example. We don’t use calfskin in our products today. We’re not on our soap box. It’s not a holier than thou attitude. But there’s just something about it that’s just a little weird. Maybe that changes in the future, and I’m not taking a hard line on it, but it’s something I prefer not to use. I also think there are a lot of bad tanneries in the world. But I don’t think that many of them are supplying to the high quality guys.
Stitchdown: Bad how? Environmentally bad?
Connor: Those dungeon tanneries as I say. Those worry me. The other thing I think is that for the digitally native vertical brands, the business model is also a really big part of this. I don’t think people really appreciate the power that you’re able to provide in terms of bang for the buck for your customers. I think that’s something that is going to create very big changes in the next five years in terms of the industry structure.
And trade. We’ll see where things go, but I think the world is getting a little bit more inward-looking and it’s not just the U.S.. A lot of what enables footwear across the globe is the unrestricted trade of goods. And if that goes away, this can get harder for some people. I think consumers would probably bear the brunt of that.
The opportunities are interesting too, though. One is the fact that I think people are becoming more educated about footwear than they ever have been, from an environmental standpoint, and a quality standpoint. I think more people are trying to upgrade their shoe game in a way that they weren’t, even when we got started. I think that’s really positive for a lot of the existing players as well.
Stitchdown: How long do you think you can keep your prices where they are?
Connor: That’s hard thing to say. Our philosophy has always been to focus long term. We’re not looking to flip this thing. We’ve run this business as if we’re going to own it forever. So you have to have a sustainable business. I see a lot of what’s going on within the consumer Internet space and there’s stuff that isn’t sustainable in my mind. But again, we run our own race.
Stitchdown: But I imagine they can’t stay exactly there forever, right? Costs are increasing and inflation is a real thing.
Connor: Inflation is always been around, just to be clear.
Stitchdown: Haha, yes I’m aware of that.
Connor: I’m always careful to say never say never. I mean for us, the price point is sort of separate. The value is always going to be excellent. And because our business model is so much more efficient relative to a legacy player, we can operate at a lower margin. We can invest more in the product.
So we’ll keep the prices as low as we can, for as long as we can, so long as it doesn’t compromise product quality. We have very high standards. The product quality is first and foremost, and the price is literally the last decision that gets made. We don’t decide the price until the week before we actually launch the product. Everything else is going into: is good enough? Is it comfortable enough? Does it look good? Do we like these leathers? What’s the fit feedback? The product gets named before it gets priced. That’s how we do this.
Stitchdown: So what’s next? And dow do you do it?
Connor: We’ll continue to get better but it’s a lot of 10 percent improvements. The way that we order materials. The way that we do our shipping, our packaging. The way that our retail stores operate. We only have two locations right now. That’s a great way to get in front customers and make sure that you’re gaining feedback face to face.
We set the foundation right, and now it’s ours to screw up. And so we just have to say laser focused on continuing to execute and moving that forward. You’ll see new models, we’re doing women’s Goodyear welt.
Stitchdown: For the longest time all the women’s stuff was cemented, correct?
Connor: When we first launched women’s, we did probably 100 different samples. We tested Goodyear welt with focus panels, maybe 30 women. And they just didn’t like them. Heavy, not very comfortable, etc. And I said, they’re resoleable, and they’re virtually waterproof. And one woman said, “I don’t care if they last a long time, if I want don’t want to wear them in the first place.”
She was right. They were too heavy. We were using some of the same outsole components that we’ve used in the men’s. The welt extruded a little bit further out, four or five millimeters, but it went out further than it should have. And the footbed was pretty basic, we did a latex underfoot where it conforms a little bit, but doesn’t give you a true cushion. But we’ve learned since then.
And now, we feel that they aren’t too wide or too clunky. We’ve got specific women’s molds. There’s going to be Poron underfoot for more cushioning. It’s there. But it took us a while to get it right. The last had to be redeveloped as well too, because the cement versus Goodyear welt lasts are different. But I think people didn’t understand that the reason for doing cement was because that’s what customers wanted.
Stitchdown: Anything else new from the men’s product side?
Connor: We did a Cuban heel last year, for one of our limited edition Vanguards. We’re going to be bringing that back in, but with some some changes. The top lift is going to be a little bit thicker on that most likely. We’ve been playing with motorcycle boot ideas but haven’t gotten there quite yet. But that heel could work on it. We have a rider boot as well, which is taking some of the success we’ve had with the Jodhpur. The new wingtip is going to be coming out, it’s a chisel toe this time.
New leathers. We’re doing some water buffalo for the first time, just to see if that looks the way we want it to. You’ll see some textures making their way in, cross-hatching and pebbled grain.
Stitchdown: And you haven’t really done much Scotch grained leather, correct?
Connor: Scotch grain’s tricky because there are times when it’ll come out in lasting. If you have a really nice veg-tanned leather it’ll hold a little better. But we haven’t been able to do it in way where it’s consistent. But I think we’ve got something that will work there. We might do some hand-staining to get a little more of an antiqued, marbled feel to things. And you’ll see some one-off collaborations and some limited edition stuff. Just pushing the envelope and trying some new things.
Stitchdown: Great. I think that’s all I’ve got! Thanks for all the seltzer.