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Inside Steven Alan

Q&A: Oak Street Bootmakers

  • Drew, our Chicago shop manager, recently interviewed George Vlagos, founder of Chicago-based footwear company Oak Street Bootmakers. Some highlights from their conversation, and information about our collaboration:

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    Master Cobbler John Vlagos, George’s father

    What was it that attracted you to boot making, not just in the US, but specifically in Chicago?
    From a young age, I apprenticed at my father’s Chicago shoe repair. In fact, some of my earliest memories are at the shop — I learned how to tie my shoes by practicing on shoes that my dad was working on. When I was in middle school, that’s when I first got my start — shining shoes. Then in high school, I began to truly learn the craft — how to Goodyear welt, build stacked heels, and truly re-craft a shoe. After graduating college, I came back to my dad with a desire to continue my apprenticeship. Soon after that, I started to lay down the roots that would become Oak Street Bootmakers.

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    George in the family shop as a kid

    How does your process differ from other domestic boot makers?
    There are very few shoe manufacturers left in the USA. Of those, we are among the last to truly craft by hand. On a bench with the leather before us, we begin with just a needle and thread. Handcrafting is an art that’s been passed down from generation to generation — we are simply doing our part to preserve this history. Additionally, as a small manufacturer, our attention to detail is second to none. Our craftsmen have an incredible sense of pride, and love to see the process take shape, to ultimately create a beautiful finished boot in a matter of weeks.

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    Can you elaborate on the famed Elston last?
    For those who are unfamiliar, a shoe last is the wooden form that shoe makers use to build their shoes on. It is what gives the shoe its fit, shape and overall appearance. In many ways our Elston last is what has transformed and introduced Oak Street to a wider audience. Over the course of five years, I worked to develop the perfect boot last. Unsatisfied with the boot shapes on the market, I set out to create a unique last that would provide exceptional fit and shape. It is engineered specifically for the trench boot line, and it provides the comfort and durability that we all demand. It’s truly a boot that you can wear for a lifetime.

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    What excites you most about the continued interest in and growth of American manufacturing?
    The interest in American manufacturing is something that truly excites us. We often hear from customers who tell us that purchasing their first pair of Oak Street was an investment, but after a few years of abuse and love, they realize that their money has been well spent on something that will last, and they’re also supporting American manufacturing, and quite frankly, supporting an art that is disappearing from our country. The continued and widening support of our customers is nothing short of incredible, and we can’t be more thankful.

    For us, domestic manufacturing means quality. When you buy a pair of Oak Street boots, you are buying a pair of shoes or boots that you can wear for a lifetime. We make use of replaceable outsoles, so when it’s time for re-crafting, you can send them back to us, or take them to a local cobbler.

    Additionally, as I mentioned previously, we only use Horween leather, from a famed American tannery employing a substantial workforce right on Elston Avenue in Chicago.

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    Tell us what you did with the Oak Street x Steven Alan exclusive.
    Each season we work with our retail partners to develop new shoes and boots that best fit their customers’ needs. We call our Steven Alan exclusive style the Black Dainite Sole Trench Chukka. With harsh winters in mind, we sought a design that would allow customers to face the elements head on. Crafted with 6 oz Horween Chromexcel leather (the oldest tannery in America, located right here in Chicago), the boots are naturally water resistant. Paired with a Dainite sole, we’ve created a boot that is slip resistant, appropriate to wear to work, and durable enough for weekends.

    Do you have any tips for caring for Oak Street boots as we get into winter and encounter the inevitable salty sidewalks?
    This is my favorite question to answer. Just wear your boots and enjoy them. They are designed to hold up against the elements. For those who do like to take care of their boots, however, we suggest periodically cleaning them with a wet cloth, applying a bit of Venetian Shoe Cream (also from Chicago), and then using a horsehair shoe brush to bring back the leather’s original luster.

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    Many thanks to George and the Oak Street team! If you’re in Chicago this weekend, stop by our shop at 1659 N. Damen this Saturday from 12-7 PM to meet the team and check out an expanded selection of products.

    - Photos courtesy of Oak Street Bootmakers

    This entry was posted on Thursday, November 7th, 2013 at 5:28 pm and is filed under Events, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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