To Boot New York is certainly not the most conspicuous of brands. You haven’t seen big ad campaigns, celebrity endorsements, or editorial coverage. But, conversely, the brand is sold in many of the biggest department stores and luxury retailers, available in most states in America, and internationally. What started in 1980 as a cowboy boot store on the Upper West Side has grown slowly but surely into one of the most ubiquitous shoe brands in America.
We caught up with founder Adam Derrick to shed some light on the surprisingly unsung story.
I think the first time I saw your shoes was years ago in Austin, TX, and I was so impressed, and surprised to see that the company was based in New York. As soon as they were on my radar I started to see them all over the country. How does a brand like yours achieve such an incredible level of distribution with so little fanfare?
Absolutely, it was all very stealth: World Domination and nobody knew it [laughs] but seriously, it really was just this organic process. People bought the shoes, they sold. The customer bought a pair, they liked them, they came back for more, they told their friends, and the company grew. It takes longer to build a business that way but it’s a real business; it’s not something that you’ve pumped up with marketing or advertising.
And you started off in cowboy boots. That’s quite a switch to the elegant shoe that we see today.
In 1980 we started as a little store on Columbus Avenue, 72nd Street selling cowboy boots, so yeah, it’s been a long road. I started customizing and designing the cowboy boots, and people liked that a lot, so we expanded the store, took on twice the real estate, and a huge increase in rent because business was so great, but not really understanding (we weren’t seasoned in retail) that cowboy boots were just a huge fashion trend for New Yorkers. People don’t wear cowboy boots in New York anymore, and there wasn’t much repeat business when they were a thing. Everybody bought their boots and they were done, so we had this new store which we filled up with really cool American sportswear and we were the very first store in the world to sell Kiehl’s, and we moved down to Second Avenue.
Wow, now Kiehls is in every store, airport, gym…
You know what? If I’d just locked up the Kiehl’s thing [laughs]…But so it was fun, we played around with it and then I had this dream one night, a literal dream of this fantastic men’s shoe store where you walk in and you just wanted everything, it looks so great, they were almost like Walt Disney shoes, they were just vibrating and dancing and colorful and all that dreamscape stuff, and I woke up the next morning just so vitalized and wanted to bring that concept to life. I started going to Italy, meeting manufacturers, learning about shoes, shoe making and what works and what doesn’t and why and how and trying things and just getting little special things for my store and that grew and grew. Actually Rubenstein’s was the very first wholesale customer. They called and asked if we wholesaled our shoes. I started to say, “well no. we don’t…” but instead I said yes, and that was that.