Over the past decade, heritage brands such as Minnesota-based Red Wing Shoes became extremely trendy, almost by accident.
While some fashionable folks embraced Red Wings purely for their rugged aesthetic, other socially conscious consumers admired their sturdy, U.S.-made construction.
But Minnesota-made footwear goes far beyond Red Wing. For a handful of time-honored Minnesota footwear brands, heritage isn’t a trend — it’s a way of life. Combining artisanal skill with contemporary design, these companies continue to make the same stylish yet high-quality footwear they’ve made for decades, while offering modern updates to classic styles.
Red Wing Shoe Co.
Red Wing Shoe Co. was founded in 1905 by Charles Beckman, a shoe merchant based in Red Wing, Minn. The company originally manufactured high-quality work boots for tough industries such as mining, logging and farming. They also created footwear for soldiers during World Wars I and II. Today, Red Wing boots are primarily handmade in the U.S. with American materials — including leather tanned at Red Wing’s own S.B. Foot Tanning Co. In 2008, Red Wing capitalized on its growing popularity as a fashion item and debuted its Heritage catalog, which features fashion-oriented styles not intended for hard labor. And it recently introduced a line of women’s boots.
Where to buy: Various Twin Cities retailers, redwingshoes.com or redwingheritage.com
Steger Mukluks & Moccasins
Patti Steger learned how to make mukluks and moccasins during an Arctic dog-sled expedition in the early 1980s with her former husband, famed Arctic explorer Will Steger. Her teachers were the Native women they encountered in villages along the way. In 1985, she began making the traditional footwear out of her home. Then, three years later, she opened the first Steger Mukluks factory and retail store in Ely, Minn. Twice as warm and half the weight of traditional winter boots, Steger Mukluks are rated for extreme weather — meaning minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit and colder — making them a popular choice for expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica. In recent years, the brand has begun to offer trendier options for women, men and kids, including styles trimmed in faux-fur and American Indian-inspired tapestry.
Where to buy: 33 E. Sheridan St., Ely, 1-218-365-6634, mukluks.com
After enjoying a wave of popularity in 2008, when celebs such as Kate Moss were spotted wearing the brand’s lace-up, knee-high boots, Minnetonka Moccasin has dipped its toe into the high-end fashion market. Over the past year, it debuted buzzed-about collaborations with designer Rebecca Minkoff and cult brand Opening Ceremony, producing styles covered in colorful Swarovski crystals. Minnetonka Moccasin was founded in 1946 by Philip Miller, selling moccasins as gift shop souvenirs to cater to roadside tourists. Back then, a pair of moccasins set you back $3.80. Today’s prices start at $40.95 for moccasins and $99.95 for boots. The fourth-generation, family-owned business has since expanded to manufacture trendy knee-high boots, slippers and sandals made from premium deerskin, sheepskin, moosehide, cowhide and shearling in its Minnetonka factory.
Where to buy: Various Twin Cities locations and minnetonkamoccasin.com
Chanel gets all the credit for kicking off the clog craze by introducing its platform mule variation in 2010. But Chisago City-based Sven Clogs has been producing the classic Swedish footwear since 1974. Founded by Sven Carlsson, the original clogmaster at Sweden’s Sandgrens Clogs before leaving for the U.S., Sven Clogs is now owned by Marie Rivers, who started as a seamstress at the factory and later purchased the company from its namesake. Sven’s leathers come from all over the U.S. Its sheepskin is imported from Austria. And every shoe is handcrafted in its Chisago City factory. Though Sven Clogs still produces traditional Swedish styles, it also offers fashion-forward twists on the classics, such as high-heeled mules, 1970s-inspired sandals and metallic finishes.
Where to buy: Sven Factory Outlet Store, 10,000 Lake Blvd., Chisago City, Minn. 651-257-4591, svensclogs.com
Lanona Shoe Co.
Founded in 2012, Lanona Shoe Co. hasn’t been around as long as the other Minnesota shoe companies, but it’s well on its way to becoming a heritage brand. Founder Ben Ransom was inspired after ordering a pair of custom-made shoes. Four years later, his company offers fresh takes on men’s classics, such as workwear boots, boat shoes, moccasins, drivers, even a leather slide. Everything is designed at Lanona’s Lowertown workshop, where shoppers can view more than 30 customizable, vegetable-dyed leather hides. Everything is handcrafted in factories in Maine and New York. Available in unconventional colors including deep Mahogany and hunter green, Lanona prices range from $145 to $380 — but that’s a bargain for this level of quality and craftsmanship.
Where to buy: Northern Warehouse, 308 E. Prince St., #125, St. Paul, 651-734-5527, lanona.co
Jahna Peloquin is the style editor of Minnesota Monthly and a freelance writer and stylist in the Twin Cities.