“Two years ago, if you would have told me I would have been designing cowboy boots, I would have called you a liar,” says Brittany Allen. “I never really wore them.”
But for Acumen Brands, Allen has designed cowboy boots that are a favorite among singers and politicians alike—from Jon Bon Jovi, Jewel, and Cowboy Troy to Sarah Palin. She gets to work with country singer John Rich as a designer for his Redneck Riviera lifestyle brand.
Allen couldn’t seem more different from Paul Hedrick, a country boy at heart who was tired of spending $400 to $600 on a good pair of boots. Inspired by Warby Parker and Bonobos, the Texas native started Tecovas, which sells high-quality boots at affordable prices.
These up-and-coming designers didn’t just end up in the same industry—they are both based out of Austin’s WeWork Congress office. When we got them together to chat about their cowboy boots, turns out they had lots to discuss.
Getting into the cowboy boot design
How did Allen, whose fashion career began with an internship with fashion icon Betsey Johnson, end up in the rough-and-tumble world of cowboy boots?
After working on a project for the Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Acumen Brands a month out of school, the company asked her if she could sketch 100 boot designs in two days. They loved her work and hired her as a designer, at which point Allen immersed herself into the country-western world.
“It’s pretty much eat, breathe, sleep once you get into the industry,” says Allen, who has a master’s in accessory design from the Savannah College of Art and Design. “It’s all about cowboy boots.”
“Yeah, it’s just such a unique industry,” adds Hedrick. “And it’s way bigger than people who are not part of it understand.”
The Western boot market is approaching $3.5 billion, and it has been growing a crazy amount since 2010.
“Boots are almost always associated with fun things—relaxing, music, football, concerts—and it’s funny because it’s also an enthusiast category that people pay a lot of money for,” he says. “I never thought I would be in the fashion industry. I always considered boots to be unique because they are all kind of their own industry, and they’ve had their own trends over time.”
According to Hedrick, “Country music has become the most popular music genre in the country, and we are seeing a lot of first-time boot-wearers enter our market.”
Starting from scratch
“I had no background in design, but I always loved it and wanted to be an artist as a kid,” says Hedrick. When he started Tecovas, he decided not to hire a designer.
“I had an idea of what I wanted and used inspiration from other boots I admired,” he says. “So I gave it a shot. I definitely needed help from people who knew how to make boots in terms of turning what I had into something.”
“The good thing about Paul,” says Allen, “is that he wore boots and knew about boots before he got into the industry, but me—I still don’t wear boots—I have to completely separate what I like and throw it out the window.”
“You still haven’t been converted?” Hedrick asks.
“I have pairs to wear, but I don’t actively wear them all the time,” says Allen.
Hedrick, who likes a more classic boot style, designed Tecovas boots for people like him. Allen, on the other hand, loves more innovative, fun, and fashion-forward pieces.
“You have to think about your customer all the time,” she says. “I find myself listening to music I don’t love to get the vibes going. The good thing about Western boots is that there is a little bit of something for everybody. There are customers that want ‘blingy,’ and there are customers that want good stitch patterns or high-heeled fashion boots.”
“I think your brands do a good job of covering the wide spectrum,” says Hedrick.
Allen admits that she has some help when it comes to designing.
“I have a really hard time with men’s boots,” says Allen, “but I married into Western—my husband was Cowboy of the Year in 1996, and my sister-in-law was Miss Rodeo USA—and they’ll help me out and give me guidance. Thank god, because there have been a couple of sketches…”
Hedrick learned from his biggest investor that feedback is the most important thing.
“I started out doing trade shows,” he says. “When I was giving him an update, he didn’t ask me how the sales were, and the sales were good. He wanted to know what I learned about my customers, my designs, what’s good, what’s bad.”
For Allen, inspiration doesn’t come from anything specific: “I’ll go walk around the mall, I’ll find the end of the internet, I’ll look at existing styles from other brands and try to innovate something that’s just as good. It’s a lot of imagery, and then I actually do look at some trend forecasting. You look at magazines and images, the cover stories and trends, and then you look at people. You go to a café and look around.”
“That was my second biggest thing besides going to stores and seeing existing boots,” says Hedrick, “just going to concerts and bars…”
“…even if you look like the weirdo because you walk inside and ask someone ‘Why do you love those boots?’” says Allen. “You can really find inspiration every place you go. In the past two years, I’ve done like over 500 boots.”
“I’ve only done four, so…” says Hedrick.
“But they’re a good four,” says Allen.
Both Hedrick and Allen have their dream customers in mind.
“Chip and Joanna Gaines from the television show Fixer Upper,” says Hedrick. “If I could get Tecovas on them, I would die a happy man.”
For Allen, it’s Miranda Lambert. “You can tell she doesn’t just pick up any type of boot,” she says. “To see her in our boots would be validation that we’re doing something right.”
Photo credit: Adam Saraceno