How did you get involved in the world of bootmaking?
I had worked in the medical field for years and I was ready for a change. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a secretary. When I went to my first interview it was by the office manager for a doctor and so I thought it would be for a medical office. It turns out that this doctor also owned a boot shop. My second interview was with the accountant for that office. I found out later that it was between me and another woman but the accountant liked my name. I was happy to finally find a job because I had been looking for weeks. I was told that I would be working for a bootmaker by the name of Charlie Dunn, which I had never heard of. I told my best friend that I had been hired to work for Charlie Dunn. She said, “You’re working for Charlie Dunn? How did you get that?” She filled me in on who he was and was very impressed. She is now married to one of the bootmakers that worked here.
How did you learn the ins and outs of the boot business?
I had been a secretary at the shop for so long I was able to see how things were run. I was very good friends with the accountant for the shop and she gave me a lot of advice. There was certainly a learning curve because it is different from being an employee and an owner. It was difficult at first. People were wanting Charlie Dunn Boots and while we worked for Charlie our boots were not Charlie Dunn’s. There was certainly an influence that he left with us that we still incorporate today, but Charlie had such a mystique that anyone could not fill those shoes/boots 🙂
What were some of your early struggles and successes running a bootshop?
The biggest struggle was how to get the word out that while this wasn’t Charlie’s shop any longer we still make quality boots. When Lee and I bought the shop there was not social media available. So, we had to rely on regular mail and phone calls. We spent quite a bit on advertising in print media which was very expensive and didn’t bring in any business. One thing that we did learn though is that our work was the best advertising tool that we have. Even today with social media it is still the work that counts. I think that has been our best success.
What advice would you give to young bootmakers just starting out?
Bootmaking is hard work and you have to keep at it. There is a long learning curve and it’s wise to visit and talk to as many bootmakers as you can. Don’t skimp on quality and don’t be afraid to ask other bootmaker’s questions. Use any social media that you have access to get your work out to a wider audience.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of the craft?
I would like to see this trade and craft continue. I think that there is still an appreciation for handmade, quality items especially in this day of mass production and instant gratification. Handmade boots give the bootmaker the opportunity to create something while using the lessons he’s learned along the way and making it his own. It gives the customer an opportunity to have their designs made in leather and then they get to wear them. This is a win, win for everyone involved.
Texas Traditions • Boots by Lee Miller
Austin TX 78704
The Cowboy Bootmakers. Memories and photos collected by Dana Perrotti, 2019.