These Red Wing boots are made for women to walk in

Kavita Kumar
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Red Wing, Minn. — Red Wing Shoe Co. executives figured it probably wasn’t young boys who were suddenly snapping up the iconic Minnesota company’s $300-plus boots.

Allison Gettings, Red Wing Shoe director of product creation, says the company deconstructed and reconstructed the shoe for women.

The more likely explanation for the surge in sales of men’s shoes in sizes 3 and 4? Women.

There have been other tipoffs that the boots, for decades a symbol of rugged masculinity, are reaching a new audience. On Instagram, for instance, women have posted hundreds of pictures posing in the boots, often paired with rolled-up jeans or dresses, tagged under the hashtag #redwingwomen.

Now, after seeing that women account for as much as 10 percent of its Men’s Heritage collection sales, the company that has been making shoes along the banks of the Mississippi River since 1905 is launching a new line for women.

The Women’s Heritage boots will start showing up early next month in select Red Wing stores, on its website and at independent boutiques around the U.S.

Some of the styles are nearly identical to the men’s, whereas others hearken back to boots the company made for women nearly a century ago. Others are more modern styles with modest heels that give them a more feminine spin.

The rollout is a reflection of a gender-bending fashion moment as well as of how Red Wing has transformed in recent years. The shoes, once used just in various work trades, have become a staple in the closets of hip, urban professionals who wear them to the office and on weekends.

The Women’s Heritage boots will begin showing up next month.

A newer generation of fashion-focused consumers has adopted the brand not only because of its classic — and somewhat nostalgic — design, but also because the shoes are handcrafted in the U.S.

Emily Otto, a 38-year-old Minnesotan, is among those anticipating the new Red Wing women’s line. She owns two pairs of the men’s boots, inspired after trying on some from her husband’s extensive collection of 16 Red Wings. She often gets compliments when she wears them.

“It was like a tractor beam for men. They would be like ‘the 877s?’ ” she said, referring to one of Red Wing’s more popular styles. “My husband would beam with pride.”

But while she adores the rustic look, she admits wearing the men’s boots has its challenges.

“I love them — but I don’t wear them as frequently,” she said. “They’re really heavy. And you have to be super dedicated to break them in. They’re getting much better now, but I’ve worked really hard at it.”

That, in fact, is one of the biggest complaints Red Wing has heard from women. It still takes men a few weeks to a few months to break in the boots, but they tend to have an easier time at it because of their weight and because they are more likely to wear the same shoes every day.

“We deconstructed and reconstructed the shoe for women from the guts up,” said Allison Gettings, Red Wing’s director of product creation who spearheaded the new line.

To make the shoes lighter and more comfortable for women, Red Wing used hides from female cows, which have softer skin than steers, and made other adjustments to the leathers.

Instead of the heavy rubber sole used in the men’s boots, the company used a lighter polyurethane material that is more flexible and durable. They made other adjustments to the insole and cushioning. But at the same, they use the same Goodyear welting and lasts, or molds, that the company has used throughout its history to keep an aura of authenticity.

To make the shoes lighter, Red Wing used hides from female cows, which has softer skin than steers, and made other adjustments to the leathers with the help of its tannery.

The company has factories in Red Wing and Missouri, but the women’s collection is being manufactured at one of its partner factories in Arkansas that has more expertise in making women’s shoes.

Red Wing boots aren’t the first to transcend gender. Timberland started off mostly as a style for men, but it branched out after women took a liking, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with the NPD Group. Sperry Top-Sider and L.L. Bean’s shoes have had similar story lines.

One reason for the blurring of the lines is that fashionistas find ways to fill in a void when the footwear industry isn’t coming up with a lot of newness, he said.

Part of the magic to Red Wing’s rise in fashion circles, he added, is the element of discovery in reclaiming an older brand. “Every generation picks something to define who they are,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for (Red Wing) to take advantage of.”