Not all cowboy boots are created equal. You instinctually know this, but how are they different? I wanted to know. So I did something a little crazy.
I got a boot from two of the big cowboy boot brands and I got a Chisos. I took them out to the shed. I screwed them down to a wooden plank.
And then I sawed them in half.
What makes Chisos boots different from big factory brands?
Chisos is a true small business. We’re not a corporate entity. We’re not backed by millions of investment dollars. And that means we have different priorities. We don’t make thousands of boots a month, we make small batches when we sell enough to afford to make more. We value pride of craftsmanship. And we’re pretty adamant about not cutting corners just to make an extra buck.
Chisos boots are hand-lasted (not pulled on mechanized contraptions). We carve the channel welt directly into our leather insoles (not using canvas gemming like 95% of other bootmakers). We use 10-11 iron center cut leather for our outsoles and similar strong leather for our heel counters (don’t let others claim they have a full leather heel counter when they don’t). We developed our own leathers that are tougher and yet softer (and don’t require harvesting baby calves).
All of this results in a cowboy boot with generational durability. Chisos may look nice, but they’re meant to be used. So beat the hell out of ‘em. They can take it.
Do you have a full leather heel counter?
Yes, absolutely. We’d be embarrassed not to. Our heel counters are the same type of tough leather used in outsoles. This is very important, as the heel counter is a key structural focal point of the boot. Cheaper, factory-made boots often use merely some celastic or, God-forbid, plastic as their heel counter. Then they cover it with a thin piece of “genuine leather” and call it a leather heel counter. Don’t be fooled. Those will at best provide poor support and at worst crack and wear out in a few year’s time, thus rendering the boot useless. Full leather heel counters should last a generation.
What is a channel welt and why is it better?
Goodyear Welting is the method we use to attach the parts of the boot together (vamp, leather insole, outsole) and it’s been around since the second half of the 19th century. Cowboy boots made in this manner are long-lasting and remarkably easy to repair. Traditionally it involves cutting a channel directly into the leather insole and using this to sew the welt to.
But things changed in the 1950’s when factories looked for ways to cut costs. They invented gemming, a canvas ribbing used in place of that channel. It’s faster and cheaper and more than 95% of all Goodyear Welted footwear is now made this way. However, that canvas creates an inlet for moisture and adds a point of failure. It weakens over time, shortening the life of the boot by reducing the number of times it can be resoled. It’s a departure from craftsmanship.
Chisos boots are made using the traditional channel welt method. The welt is stitched directly to the leather insole. We use a hand-cranked tool to carve a channel into the leather insole (we use triple-thick insoles to achieve this compared to the gemming method). This eliminates that point of failure caused by a secondary attachment point.
The way we do it at Chisos is difficult and labour intensive, but we believe it to be the best way. As the good book says, thou shalt not cut corners.
How is your insole more comfortable than other cowboy boots?
Cowboy boot insoles are typically lined with a thin piece of leather and not a whole lot of cushion. They can actually cause harm to your body if worn for long periods of time. What sets Chisos apart from other brands that promise comfort is rigorous field testing—aka Will being tired of his back hurting and deciding to fix it. Our boots come with removable, leather-topped, triple-density comfort insoles that provide ready-to-wear ergonomics that will continue to conform to your feet over time. The insoles are made from two layers of semi-organic polymer, which work to cushion the entire foot, as well as provide arch support and all-day rebound while standing and walking. The entire thing is topped with our cactus-fruit-colored leather lining, ensuring the durability and natural antimicrobial properties of leather. And it looks like a cowboy boot, not a tennis shoe, when you look inside your boot.
What’s so different about your heritage leathers?
The full-grain leather used for the exterior of Chisos boots is sourced from retired dairy cattle destined for greener pastures or for the meatpacking industry. Most cowboy boots are made from calfskin, which, unbelievably, yields only one or two boots per calf (versus ten for an adult hide). As a company committed to conservation, we wanted a more sustainable—and durable—leather source, so we established a process with our tannery to render those dairy cowhides more supple than even calfskin. The resulting leather feels broken-in when your boots arrive, is significantly more durable, and is soft as hell.
Do you have a cork footbed?
Yes, we do. Cork footbeds are traditionally added for comfort, molding over time to your foot. We have 11mm of comfort insole on top of the leather midsole that covers the cork footbed. You’ll probably never need that cork, but if for some reason you decide to wear your Chisos without the comfort insole, the cork will be there ready to support you.
Do you use lemonwood pegs?
Each boot has two rows of lemonwood pegs and six brass nails. Lemonwood pegs have a long history in boot construction. The lemonwood pegs are inserted by hand with a special hammer and the one-two rhythm of the bootmaker driving each one into the sole. Lemonwood expands and contracts at the same rate as the leather sole when exposed to moisture, ensuring a tight fit.
Where are Chisos boots made?
Nestled in the gorgeous state of Guanajuato, the same family-run workshop that mentored Will is the one we still work with today. Everything is done in-house, from the channel welt to the hand-lasting to the heel shaping and finishing. We’re down there about once a month, collaborating on new ideas and brushing up on our skills. Positive, safe working conditions and fair compensation are afforded each worker. The lowest apprentice pay is more than twice the region's living wage and all roles receive state pension contributions and health care benefits.