Welcome to HeartMade, the podcast where you can listen to insightful conversations with founders, CEOs and creative directors on how they build unique brands that combine excellence with personality. Or as I like to say: craft with glory. My name is Siems Luckwaldt, I am a Germany-based writer and 20-year veteran of luxury and lifestyle reporting for publications such as “how to spend it”, the Financial Times Deutschland, Robb Report, Capital, Business Punk and many others.
If you like what you hear please subscribe in your favourite podcast app, give me a five-star rating and tell your friends and colleagues about this show. Thank you! You can also drop me a line anytime on the website craftandglory.com to let me know which interview guest I should invite for future episodes. But now to today’s guest, brand and story.
In life as in business, footsteps are an important metaphor. Some lead the way through uncharted territory. Some belong to our mentors, and we try our best to fill them. And then there are those we leave behind for others, so that they may in the future start their own journey. Now this image of footsteps is just perfect to keep in mind for my conversation with Aaron Seymour-Anderson, who is Director of Brand & Creative at Red Wing Heritage, the more fashion-driven line of the legendary bootmaker. A company founded 115 years ago in Aaron’s home state of Minnesota. But before we jump right into what turned out to be a wide-ranging discussion about brand-building, keeping your product relevant and also the joys of culinary creations, let me provide you with some context on Red Wing Shoes. Lace-up, everybody, because these boots are made for walking. And talking.
„Following in the steps of those who have made Red Wing Shoes what it is today, my guest Aaron Seymour-Anderson steers the creative direction of Red Wing Heritage, the line that connects the companies past to its present and future, the high-quality craftsmanship with a more contemporary design, edgy collaborations and a modern yet timeless vision. Aaron is a creative allrounder, with a strong background in creative and art direction for companies like Nike and also the co-founder of an Art Gallery in Minneapolis.“
Our story begins in a once small outpost one hour by car southeast of Minneapolis, on the banks of the upper part of the Mississippi River. This settlement, named Red Wing after an early 19th-century Dakota Sioux chief, had early in its history focused on the farming of wheat. It was the year 1873, when Charles H. Beckman, a German-born shoemaker arrived in Red Wing, making a name for himself as a retailer of footwear.
In 1905 he branched out on his own, backed by 14 fellow investors to found the Red Wing Shoe Company. Production swiftly increased in the following years with World War I and II and the equipping of American soldiers for combat being major sales drivers. Other target professions in those early days were mining, farming, logging and hunting. The construction of boots was based on pegging and nailing. That method evolved to welting, meaning the sole is stitched to the upper part of the shoe. In 1914 JR Sweasy became head of the company, the first of four generations of that family to own and operate Red Wing.
The company later expands to Texas, introduces shoes for women in 1927 and ups its game in the niche of safety footwear. To this day steel and aluminium safety ties, puncture-resistant options, footwear that provides extra protection from electrical hazard are an integral part of the offering.
In 1953 the first retail store opened in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1955 the Red Wing Shoe Company Foundation solidified the commitment to the company’s respective surroundings and communities. As an example, in 1977 the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing, Minnesota, was added to the company’s investments.
With its success in the area of oil field workers, e.g. in Libya Red Wing starts to expand internationally. With its own tanning business in 1986, Red Wing continues to become one of the most vertically integrated footwear companies. While innovations – new, lighter, more comfortable soles, waterproof outer materials and new brands like Irish Setter, Vasque and Worx diversify the business.
In 2005 Red Wing Shoe Company celebrated its 100th anniversary with the construction of the world’s largest boot, size 638 ½ D. Two years later Red Wing Heritage was introduced as a new line that enables Red Wing to bring back archival models while at the same time collaborating with modern artists and tastemakers.
In 2016 a women’s line in the same vein was launched by Allison Sweasy Gettings, the great-granddaughter of JR Sweasy. Sustainable innovations like solar-powered manufacturing in Minnesota and a footbed made from algae manifest Red Wing Shoes standing and importance for heart-made footwear.
Sturdy, well-made leather boots from Minnesota and other factories in Missouri and Kentucky are still at the heart of the Red Wing history, present and future, led by CEO Mark Urdahl. While the Heritage line keeps in touch with younger, more style-conscious audiences and brands that are also part of Red Wing, like Irish Setter Boots, Vasque and Worx complete the line-up of footwear offerings.
Following in the steps of those who have made Red Wing Shoes what it is today, my guest Aaron Seymour-Anderson steers the creative direction of Red Wing Heritage, the line that connects the companies past to its present and future, the high-quality craftsmanship with a more contemporary design, edgy collaborations and a modern yet timeless vision. Aaron is a creative allrounder, with a strong background in creative and art direction for companies like Nike and also the co-founder of an Art Gallery in Minneapolis. And, I might add, a pleasure to talk to. You can surely sense his connection to his home state of Minnesota and the privilege is for him to work for one of the most renowned brands from that region of the United States. So we talked about shoes, how to build a long-lasting heritage brand and also about streaming habits during quarantine and his passion for Italy and its culinary blessings. I hope you will enjoy our conversation!
Check back soon or subscribe in your favourite podcast app so you won’t miss future episodes of this show. Until then thank you very much for listening, getting the word out there about HeartMade and feel free to provide feedback and your ideas for my guest list anytime on craftandglory.com
Links from this episode:
- Red Wing Shoes
- Red Wing Heritage
- Aaron’s website
- S.B. Foot Tanning Company
- Zero-G Lite
- Red Wing Shoe Company History
- Red Wing x Fragment collaboration
Theme: „Honey and Milk“ by The 126ers / YouTube Audio Library
Background music: „Meet Again“ by Emily A. Sprague / YouTube Audio Library
Cover art: Jack Moreh / Jooinn.com (illustration); Siems Luckwaldt (design)