May 25, 2024

Have You Clocked These Boots?

Perhaps what recently happened to Jenn Stimple, a wardrobe stylist for TV and film, has also happened to you. Ms. Stimple said that after a colleague complimented her shoes — a pair of Chelsea boots from Blundstone — she pointed out that several people on set were wearing the same style. “If you look around, that person has them on, and that person has them on, and that person,” she said she told her colleague.

On a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles in December, I had a similar experience: Three people in my row (including me) were wearing Blundstone boots.

Ms. Stimple, 40, who lives in New York, owns two pairs from the brand: one in brown leather with a round toe, which she bought in 2015, and another in faded black leather with a square toe. “They’re just really easy to pull on and take off at home after a long day,” she said.

Boots, like other clothes, every so often become characteristic of particular moments in time. In the early 1990s, there were Timberlands; in the early 2000s, Uggs; and in the early 2010s, Red Wings. After years of an unpredictable pandemic in which many people sought comfortable, versatile clothes that didn’t compromise style, it seems that Blundstone’s Chelsea boots — a shoe free of laces and buckles — may be what fashion historians point to as the boot of the early 2020s.

The Worth Global Style Network, a trend forecasting company also known as WGSN, named Blundstone a brand to watch in 2021. “It’s a brand that’s associated with traveling a lot of miles and being able to weather that punishment, providing durability, longevity and comfort in extremes,” Lorna Hall, the director of fashion intelligence at WGSN, said in an email.

These qualities, she added, align with another shopping trend her firm has observed: “Consumers taking a soulful, minimalist approach to what they buy, prioritizing longevity and investment pieces with character.”

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A wall featuring framed photos and rows of shelves displaying boots in various colors and materials.
Blundstone’s Chelsea boots, which start at around $200, are available in several styles.Credit…Blundstone
A wall featuring framed photos and rows of shelves displaying boots in various colors and materials.

Woldy Reyes, 36, a chef and the owner of a catering company in New York, bought his Blundstone boots in 2017. “I can stand in them for hours,” he said of his black leather pair with shearling inside. “I know so many other chefs who wear them in the kitchen.”

The boots have “some level of slip resistance,” Mr. Reyes added, “and they’re easy to clean up, just wipe with a rag.” From the kitchen, he will wear his pair “out onto the dirty streets of New York,” he said. And when he goes upstate, he wears them in the woods.

Carina Wolff, a content creator in Los Angeles, was inspired to buy Blundstone boots in 2021 after constantly seeing her husband in his pair. “I wear them with overalls or mom-jeans-style pants,” she said, “during the day, running errands all over.” Ms. Wolff, 32, added that she can wear her faded brown-leather boots out to dinner, too.

The frequency and zeal with which product recommendation websites, including those of GQ, New York magazine and even The New York Times, have written about Blundstone’s boots over the last few years may suggest that the brand is some hot new label. But as some of those websites have noted, the company was founded more than 150 years ago, in 1870, by the married couple John and Eliza Blundstone.

Back then the founders imported Chelsea boots made in England, where the style originated, to the Australian state of Tasmania, where they lived and started the business. By 1900, the company had opened its first factory in Tasmania, and in 1932 the business was acquired by the brothers Thomas and James Cuthbertson, whose descendants are its current owners. Though some Blundstone footwear is still made in Tasmania, it’s also made in Vietnam, China, Mexico and Indonesia.

Tim Engel, the vice president of sales at Blundstone, started working for the company 17 years ago. He said that interest in its Chelsea boots, which start at about $200, began to surge over the last five to eight years because of a confluence of trends.

“A few years back heritage brands got really hot, and then Chelsea boots got really hot, and here we were, with this 150-year-old company that makes Chelsea boots,” Mr. Engel said on a video call.

John and Eliza Blundstone founded their namesake company in 1870. Over the centuries, it has also made boots with laces, like the pair shown in this ad from the early 1900s.Credit…Blundstone
A black-and-white advertisement with text that reads, “The Blundstone shoe.” The advertisement shows a man wearing a suit, who is holding a boot and pointing to a factory building behind him.

Around the same time, Blundstone began expanding its retail footprint in the United States. Its footwear, which was already sold at REI locations, tack-and-feed stores and small boutiques, started to be carried by Nordstrom in 2015. Madewell began carrying the brand in 2019, the same year Blundstone opened its first store in the United States: a seasonal pop-up shop in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. That was followed by another seasonal store in Manhattan.

Last year, about 20 percent of Blundstone’s total sales were in the United States, said Adam Blake, a joint chief executive of the company. Five years ago, purchases in the United States accounted for about 5 percent of Blundstone’s total sales, he added.

Beth Herget, a vice president of merchandising at Madewell, said Blundstone’s Chelsea boots have an adaptability that resonates with consumers. “You can really take them from city to country,” she said. “It’s an all-weather boot, and it can be dressed up or dressed down.”

Logos, for the most part, are subtly embossed on the boots’ soles and embroidered on their pull-on straps. Ms. Herget said the boots have a sleek, classic look that appeals to customers who want something “modern,” as well as to those who want “a sense of timelessness.”

Mr. Engel, the Blundstone executive, said that one of the most telling signs that the boots were reaching a wider audience came last fall. When his two children returned from their separate colleges for Thanksgiving, both told him they had seen a lot of Blundstones on campus.

“I was just laughing to myself,” Mr. Engel said. He added, jokingly, “I didn’t even know that my kids knew what I did.”

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