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Well Grounded

Danner draws on timeless style to create boots you’ll be wearing for years to come.

Well Grounded

Starting a business takes tenacity. Starting a manufacturing business in the middle of the Great Depression? That’s next-level game. Charles Danner did something right, though, when he brought his fledgling boot company to the Pacific Northwest port town of Portland, OR in 1936. He saw an opportunity in the city’s booming logging industry, and Danner quickly became the boot of choice for those famed (and oft-imitated) Portland lumberjacks.

As happens with these things, the boots’ reliability in the forest made them incredibly popular with other enterprising Northwest types: tradespeople, outdoorsmen, longshoremen, and so on. Within five years of coming to Portland, Danner had vastly expanded its product line to meet demand.

We live in an interesting time in men’s style. Say the word “Heritage” and you’ll likely get an eye-roll. But the fact remains, there’s a strong (and growing) craving for quality. We’re all still living a collective consumer hangover from the Mad Men era of twisted words and empty promises:

We want to own things that are real – things that will last.

If you don’t have at least one thing in your closet that lives entirely outside the concept of trend, we recommend trying it. It’s an incredibly refreshing feeling.

Incidentally, a quality pair of boots is a great place to start. Invest more than you’re comfortable with – you’ll thank us in 20 years. A good pair will be built using construction techniques that allow it to be refurbished and repaired over time. Danner’s stitch-down method means the upper is literally sewn down onto the midsole and outsole. It’s a traditional method (one that Danner helped pioneer) that allows the boot to be entirely reconstituted by Danner’s bootcrafters. Wear the outsole down to nothing; pay a small fee; get a like-new pair of boots back. Repeat steps one through three.

The current iteration of Danner’s bootmaking facility sits at the northeast outskirts of Portland. Built in 2010, it is high-tech and efficient, but retains a distinct focus on handcrafting.

Over the years, Danner has been careful to only adopt new technologies that make the boots better, not cheaper to produce.

Many of the company’s boots are made right here, using top-drawer materials. At a station that looks remarkably like an artist’s drawing board, an employee named Jay does what he has done for over 23 years with Danner: he puts each individual hide of high-grade, domestically-sourced leather through a 6-step hand inspection process. “It’s my job to determine what – and how much – we can do with each hide.” Some of the tests are simple pass/fail strength tests, while others are highly subjective grading evaluations: How attractive the grain is; whether there are branding marks or bug bites; etc.

From there, the leather embarks on a complex and well-mapped journey along the yellow-tape pathways marked on the factory floor. It weaves in and out of each station and runs through a series of machines that shape it incrementally into the form of a boot. But no matter which machines it touches, it first is touched by a skilled worker’s hands. Even the pattern-cutting machines, using patterns designed by 43-year Danner veteran Alfredo Contreras, are operated by men and women who spend an entire year learning the skill before they’re allowed into the full production stream.

Mountain Pass is a whopping 25% lighter than the already-svelte Mountain Light

Well Grounded

At the end of the line, the boots are finished and packaged. Amid piles of boxes and paper marked with a classic Portland street map, boots of all different types are waiting to be sent out the door. Some are modern evolutions of the classic logging boots that brought Charles Danner to Portland back in the ‘30s. Others are high-tech, lightweight combat boots destined for the feet of U.S. Marines. Still others are part of Danner’s recent Stumptown Collection: a line of boots built to the same high standards as the others, but designed with an eye on classic style.

Danner has been exploring this facet of their business for a few years now, having recognized the aforementioned Heritage trend for what it is. This year, the series is primarily built around the Mountain Pass, an evolution of the famous Mountain Light: A boot that has, since the ‘70s, been considered one of the best technical hiking boots of all time. New for 2015, the Mountain Pass makes significant strides in progressing hiking boot technical features. By combining the midsole and lasting board into one unit and fitting Vibram’s latest Kletterlift outsole, the Mountain Pass is a whopping 25% lighter than the already-svelte Mountain Light it follows. It’s completely waterproof and breathable thanks to a Gore-Tex liner (did we mention Danner was the first ever to use Gore-Tex in a boot?). And it also happens to look great, hence its position as crown jewel in the Stumptown line.

But they’ve also been exploring other interesting silhouettes that are a bit more refined. The Williams, a clean-lined 6” oiled-leather boot, is a modern take on the original logger styles from the company’s infancy. It’ll elevate any around-town look, but its two-piece Vibram rubber sole underscoring a time-tested Goodyear welt construction will serve just as well off the pavement.

A major perk of the Heritage trend is that we somehow find ourselves with an abundance of options that fit multiple scenarios – and willing acceptance from society to experiment. Whether it’s a rugged stomper that also looks classic enough for a cocktail date, or a clean-and-classic boot that can stand up to anything you throw at it – we at Classfare think this fortuitous circumstance worthy of celebration.

Who knows how long we’ll be able to get away with wearing boots like this wherever we want. Hopefully for a while, because it looks like these boots are going to be with us for a decade or two. And that’s fine by us.