Know Your Neighbor: Frank English

Taos custom boot maker hones his trade, eyes future manufacturing dream

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How would you like for someone to take a complete, accurate measurements of your feet and make a pair of boots especially for you, even if both your feet aren’t exactly alike? Frank English of Frank English Custom Boots, 1299 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado, offers such a service. He recently described his special process and future plans during a recent interview at his shop.

For 20 years, English worked as what he termed “a hair cutter.”

“I was on my feet all day long for all those years,” English said. “My feet would kill me. In the meantime, I really loved boots, but every pair I bought didn’t fit right. My brother didn’t mind because I’d eventually mail them to him.”

“I first met Jim Covington at Michael Martin Murphey’s West Fest at Copper Mountain in 1994,” English continued. “He made me my first pair of custom boots, and, boy, what a difference.”

Eventually, Covington and English developed a teacher-pupil relationship. English learned how to create custom boots at Covington’s shop in Elizabeth, Colorado. English owned a shop in Pennsylvania for three years and later in Bozeman, Montana for several years. English resides in El Prado where he opened his shop three years ago.

The shop includes a small display area to illustrate English’s work. Also visible to the casual visitor are scrolls of various types and colors of leather, plenty of colorful, large spools of thread and tools of the trade. The smell of leather and glue fill the air.

As part of his learning process, Frank took apart his personal pair of Nocona boots for the purpose of reassembling.

When he tried the “lasting” process (stretching the leather to fit the foot and boot), he could no longer use the boot because manufacturers used the “dry lasting” process and custom boot makers typically create “wet-lasted” boots. “Dry lasting is quicker, and companies can make them less expensive, with artificial insoles and outer soles and heels with pressed paper,” English explained. “Dry last leaves stretch during bad weather. With wet last, the stretch is gone and the leather molds around the foot. The wet last process causes the boot to swell with the foot during the day. At night, the boot dries, becomes snug again and expands with the foot as the day goes on.”

“I soon learned that you can’t put different glue on top of another glue. Companies use nails from the inside out,” English added.

Repair jobs sometimes require replacing heels. This oftentimes requires sanding the leather. English also explains that store-bought footwear isn’t made in proper body alignment. He looks for joint issues and weight bearing from the center to the outside. He prepares an image of both feet on paper, using the imprint of the client. Then, English creates a “last,” a form specifically designed for the individual based on the measurements. The process helps address irregularly shaped feet.

English learns about the habits and intended usage of the future boot owner and steers that person toward the proper leather, ranging from kangaroo to buffalo. He considers that the leather and tanning differ, making the material soft and pliable or more stiff and not so pliable. When one works with the leather, then one finds the weak points of the material. In that case, the boot maker must rise to the challenge. “People don’t realize what goes into this process. They only see what it costs them. Sometimes, a challenge can cost so much in time that the creator only earns about $5.00 an hour,” the boot maker said.

He learns about which of the three heels and toe styles the customer desires and then sets about the manufacturing process. English described the process in the following manner: “No one puts a boot together the way I do. There’s no paper. It’s all leather. My boots have four sections—vamp (forefront), counter (around the heel) and two shafts (front and rear—the patterns are different). Then, there are the scallops, shapes of the top of the boots. Does the owner want pull shafts or holes for pulling up the finished product for wearing? Tightening the shaft helps prevent the boot from wrinkling.”

He checks for proper arch support to benefit ligaments, tendons and muscles that are constantly working. His boots don’t require the purchase of arch supports as this factor is built into the product. Final assembly includes sewing by hand with a huge needle and wax thread and trimming. Currently, the wait for a set of boots varies, usually slightly more than a month. A re-fit seldom occurs because of the thoroughness of the measuring process. Prices for a set of boots vary, depending on leather and special design requests.

When asked about his favorite part of the process, English grinned and said, “When they’re done. It doesn’t look like a boot until it’s wrapped around a foot form. After it gets ‘lasted,’ it now looks like a boot.” In addition to boots, Frank English also creates purses, belts, computer bags and motorcycle bags.

Not content to rest on his laurels, English plans a new manufacturing venture. He hopes to create a crowd-funding company for leather manufacturing, a business-oriented feature similar to Go Fund Me. He views the venture as a means to create jobs in this area. Those who wish to participate and donate may click on to Indiegogo to the Frank English Custom Boots Facebook page and then click on to High Desert Boot Company.

“Watch for more information as the venture progresses,” said English.

Donors could benefit by receiving special bags of various-priced levels of leather, colors and sizes. The project calls for the opening of a storefront and manufacturing space, purchase of equipment and paying jobs with eventual profit sharing for personnel. English estimates a price tag of at least $70,000 for the production of “lasts” and extra money for gradual expansion in stages.

“I think it will take a minimum of a year to get established. Then, we can eventually attend high-end Western shows to promote the product,” English listed as a main goal. His vision includes an assembly-line approach in which each employee works on and specializes in various stages of the entire process. English plans to begin this new business focused on boots and graduate to other leather products, including shoes.

“Right now, my life is full of the world of leather, actual orders and the future business venture. If anyone wants to learn how to make custom boots, I offer monthlong classes in my shop for $2,800. For lessons and orders, feel free to visit my work premises, or call (406) 260-1179,” English said. “I view the Taos area as an important place for producing custom boots.”

The original version of this story had an incorrect phone number for Frank English.

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