Just a few miles north of the Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona, sits the Paul Bond Boot Company. You wouldn't know it from the appearance, but the unassuming shop just off "W Paul Bond Drive" houses perhaps the greatest custom handmade boots in the world.
The clientele list reads like a who's who of American culture: actors, musicians, sports legends, politicians. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, George and Laura Bush. Each one of them immortalized in their custom "last," a wooden mold of each person's feet.
That's because, since the mid-1940s, Paul Bond made boots the right way.
A Classic Style for the Modern Era
Paul Bond grew up making boots -- his first apprenticeship coming in a local saddle shop. By the time he was 16, he was rodeo riding across the country bareback (anybody who rides knows bareback is a whole different ballgame). He also became a trick rider and rode the circuit for 10 years before turning his love for custom boots into a business.
It started in his hometown of Carlsbad, N.M. A tiny shop in the 1940s where rodeo circuit riders and real-life cowboys needed boots made with care -- and made to last their whole life. By 1957, Bond moved the outfit to its current location in Arizona.
In those 70-plus years, Paul Bond Boots grew its reputation far and wide. So much so, that even now they have international customers in locations like Germany, France and the United Arab Emirates. And yet the world-famous company refuses to grow to the size of some competitors, instead focusing on the art and craft of boot making. Not to mention the personal touch.
"The fun of making the boots is way more fun than the money," Bond told a reporter in 2010. "I look forward every day to coming down. It's kind of a challenge, to see what you can work out in a pattern." At the time, he was making about 1,800 pairs of boots every year.
Carrying On A Legacy
Paul Bond passed away in 2012 at the amazing age of 96. He never stopped working -- or playing. He even won a local golf tournament when he was 91, wearing his custom golf boots, no less. Paul's granddaughter Alex Bloodworth took on the company to ensure the name stays synonymous with unmatched quality.
The showroom consists of rows and rows of some of the most artfully designed, colorful and unique boots you'll ever see.
A Meticulous Process
As mentioned, the whole process starts with a wooden "last" of the foot. Somebody measures several parts of the foot, including the leg, heel, arch and ball. (For customers who can't make it in personally, they have a form with measuring instructions). They use the last throughout the process.
They then use four different leather panels, designing the stitching and style by hand. Yes, by hand. The boot makers select the leather personally (sometimes with the customer, if they can make it in). Customers can present design ideas or choose from various suggestions and themes to create a truly unique look.
They also begin mounting the boot, stretching the leather around the last and forming the base of the boot. The final stage includes heeling the boot. Each heel is made by layer after layer of leather.
The entire process results in a one-of-a-kind boot meant to last a lifetime. And one motto of the late, great Paul Bond rings true in every pair of boots. "They're supposed to feel good when you first put 'em on," Bond said. "Of course it gets a little bit more comfortable as it goes, but it needs to be very comfortable right then when you put it on."
Check out the Paul Bond Boot website and fall in love.