Red Wing Iron Works: London, United Kingdom

  • Shop manager James Moss talks to David Hellqvist about the iconic boot brand, 200 year-old beams and the new Soho storeRed-wings-shoes,-jasper-fry
    Text David Hellqvist
    Photography Jasper Fry

    On the corner of Newburgh Street and Ganton Street, in the heart of London’s Soho district, shop manager James Moss – a young gentleman wearing high-waisted trousers with slicked back hair and a well-trimmed beard – is standing in front of the Red Wing store’s newly painted facade, pointing at an Irish Setter boot from 1953 in the shop window. “You can see that the leather just carries on going, it gets better and better,” he says. “We wanted to make an example that in the store, you’re spending money on an investment but you’re going to get your money’s worth.”

  • Shoe-with-hammer,-red-wings,-jasper-fry-photography “These have stood the test of time for 70 odd years. It’s nice to show customers that. It’s a durable piece, it’s well-made and it’s not something you’ll throw away in a year – you’ll get attached to it. It’s your personal piece. That’s very valuable.”

    Red Wing boots, and admittedly other qualitative leather footwear brands, are like good denim; they only get better with time and, more importantly, it’s you the wearer who shape the look of the garment: “The leather will age accordingly to how you wear them, what terrain you’re going to be on, where the pressure points are and how your foot moves and things like that. Each boot will be singular to the wearer. It’s nice to see that.”

    Moss, and his Red Wing colleagues, has taken over a classic spot in a great Soho corner. The street has had its ups and downs over the last decade, trying to find its sartorial voice in the battle between commercial tourist brands and authentic and independent shops trying to to make and sell qualitative products. The new Red Wing store, plus a few of its neighbours, are a definitive step in the right direction. And Red Wing, although a giant on the durable footwear market, doesn’t have that many stand alone retail spots. “No, we only have six in Europe – four in Germany, one in Holland, one in the UK now. The first one was in Frankfurt 35 years ago. Then it took us 30 years to build the second one.”

  • shop-window, red wings, jasper fry photography
  • red-wings-shoes-logo-jasper-fryThe expansion and increasing popularity of the brand is organic: “I think one reasons why it didn’t grow earlier is because the company just has a very different focus. They never really looked outside of oil platforms. But the owners soon noticed there were a lot of people wearing the boots for leisure as well, so he decided to expand – but his purpose was just to bring them good footwear, he never intended it to be a fashion thing. It still isn’t for him, which is good. Then I think, about 10 years ago, our boots got more grounds for other people to wear. So it kind of grew.”

    As a brand though, Red Wing is next to ancient. “Yes, since 1905 it’s been supporting America and its growth as a country – and it’s spread to the world,” James says proudly. Founded in Red Wing, Minnesota, by Charles Beckman, the footwear company produced army boots for US soldiers during both World Wars, and in between they specialised on functional and durable workwear boots. The combination of the heritage, craftsmanship and classic design has made Red Wing a well-respected and much-loved footwear staple. “Guys don’t want to just go and buy a fancy old boot, they want a boot that’s going to last. It’s not the guys that wear all the gear; it’s not necessarily just them we’re after. It’s the everyday man,” James says.

    Inside the store, the 1950s boot James was holding, and many more like it, are scattered around. Though not for sale, they help paint a picture of what it means to own a Red Wing boot. They are there to remind customers and staff alike of the timeless quality of the boot, and that – with a little bit of TLC – they can hang around for life.

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    The sole can be upgraded, and you can get new laces here – or come in and learn how to best treat the leather. The aim is not just to sell you another pair, but to help you get the most out of your existing ones. “This is the reason we’re displaying all the old stuff – you can see for yourself it’s clearly going to last you for the rest of your life. People will feel more comfortable with spending that money as well. Sometimes we get E-mails saying ‘these are my pair of boots’ and they send an image, and they tell us ‘I got them form my father’. They’re 50-year-old boots and they’re still wearing them! We actually got donated two pairs of 50s Setters by two young lad that came in. Their dad gave them both a pair of old boots for their 18th birthday or something and they still had them to this day and it was really cool that they’ve passed on. The dad had used them in the fields, on the oil rigs!”Once you’ve stepped over the store’s Red Wing emblem (“It says Red Wing Iron Works, London, United Kingdom. Every shoe store has one of these. They just took a picture of one of the few remaining manhole covers in Redwing, Minnesota. Those say ‘Red Wing Ironworks, Red Wing Minnesota’ and we make them for each store”) you’re almost as taken aback by the interiors as the boots; the first thing you see is an impressively oversized shelving unit. “This interior detail is inspired by functional factory cabinets. It was built by the Red Wing handyman, Jacob, and it’s 3.2m wide and 2.1m high. It’s made out of solid steel, inspired by the industrial aspect of Red Wing boots.”
  • Further down the store, sitting comfortably on the wall, are two wooden beams. Up to 200 years old, these pieces of wood even pre-date all Red Wing boots in the store. “We found them a couple of hours outside London. It took us, I think, about four different trips before we found the correct ones. Wood makes sense in here as it’s a material that gets better over time,” James explains. “Like Red Wing boots, wood turns more beautiful as it grows older!”

    Red Wing, 17 Newburgh Street, W1 7RZ London. More info HERERedwing-boot-Jasper-Fry