Like many heritage brands, the Portland, Oregon-based boot manufacturer Danner Boots has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. Danner was founded in 1932 as a manufacturer of top-of-the-line work and logging boots, but when Japanese footwear retailer ABC Mart acquired Danner’s parent company LaCrosse Footwear in 2012, the purchase opened up new avenues of exploration. In addition to their partnerships with J. Crew and local Portland companies like Tanner Goods, Danner was able to expand their presence in Japan via collaborations with the likes of Commes des Garçons. However fashionable Danner’s new capsule collections have become, the company’s manufacturing standards remain as they have for nearly a century. Each boot upholds Danner’s commitment to rigorous testing standards, materials sourced in the US and meticulous handmade construction in their factory outside Portland—standards so high that the company is also called upon to make footwear for not only loggers and fashion enthusiasts, but also hikers, hunters and the United States Marine Corps.
We recently got the opportunity to tour the Portland facility with pattern engineer Casey Rakoczy. It takes three to four days to make each boot, with nearly every step done by hand—from selecting and cutting each piece of leather, to sewing and molding to each one of Danner’s custom lasts. Each boot is then attached to the sole through a two-step process of applying adhesive then stitching, meaning each sole can be replaced by Danner’s recrafting department which provides free services including part replacement, overhauls and simple leather care. Some of the equipment has been modernized, but other machines remain as effective now as when the company started; a triple needle stitcher that is still in use on the floor dates back to 1906.
Between two and three percent of the finished boots are randomly selected for waterproof testing in a specialized Gore centrifuge. The tested boot is filled with water and spun at high speeds to locate any pinhole leaks to verify that it's able to withstand the Northwest’s chilly, damp winters. The company also maintains a small workshop within a workshop to make prototypes and samples, as well as a testing laboratory where boots are put through a range of flex testing—most notably dry, wet and cold flex testing—to simulate the conditions that they would undergo during long days outdoors.
CH was also able to preview boots that are destined for the Japanese market. Those differ mainly from the American version in the thickness of the heel and vividness of the dye. It’s clear that whatever high-fashion collaborations may be in the company’s future, Danner’s solid construction methods will continue protecting feet on muddy trails and city streets. Danner’s latest collaborations with Woolrich and Boston-based Ball and Buck are currently available online. For more information, check out Danner’s website.
Photos by Adrienne So