I am an extremely opinionated person. If you have read even one article here, you will know that. However, I am aware that there are people with opinions that are not the same as my own. This, coupled with the fact that I am always interested in the dynamics of the raw denim and heritage clothing market gave me the idea to see what people aside from me thought. The idea was to poll Instagram to see what their favorite brands were. With boots being my favorite piece of clothing, I decided to tackle them first and thus, created the Boot Battle.
With some assistance from friends on IG, I compiled a list of heritage/heritage-inspired boot brands that fit into our style of clothing in some way. Then, I seeded them and put them up against each other in a bracket in a series of one on one battles, March Madness style that would leave one brand as the most popular boot brand. Some of you are already shouting that this is hardly a scientific poll and you are right. My Instagram page is not that big, I obviously lean toward certain brands so it is likely that the people who follow me will lean similarly.
This is not a perfect system at all, but I at least hoped that it would give me some interesting information about people’s preferences and awareness of different brands. I wanted to see how much people valued aspects such as locality of construction and absolute quality because these brands are certainly not all equal in terms of construction quality. Fortunately, this poll was very informative and I am excited to share the results.
First of all, let us take a look at the results. The first round went as follows:
|Red Wing 132|
|Mark Albert 19|
|Mr Freedom 85|
|Clinch Brass 49|
|Oak Street 47|
|John Lofgren 85|
|RM Williams 12|
|White Kloud 50|
|Rolling Dub Trio 22|
|Role Club 93|
|Lone Wolf 26|
Keep in mind that I asked people to pick their favorite boot brand and not which brand they thought was best. For the most part, these results are not all that surprising. Red Wing destroying Frye, Clarks losing to Trickers, Viberg beating Lone Wolf, etc are not surprising considering the fact that Frye and Clarks are not known for super high quality construction and Lone Wolf is relatively unknown, especially on Instagram.
On the other hand, there were some major upsets right away. White Kloud taking out Truman was easily the biggest surprise. White Kloud is a relatively obscure brand that I figured almost nobody knew about. It is true that I have mentioned White Kloud before, but I have not even received my White Klouds yet. In addition, Goto-San of White Kloud only joined Instagram 11 months ago and only has 5 customers outside of Japan, including me, a person who does not even have his boots yet. All of this stacked up against Instagram giant Truman meant that I was certain of White Kloud’s defeat.
I am sure that on almost anyone else’s feed, Truman would have won, but even so, the fact that this many people voted for White Kloud was surprising. Goto-San is a man who is dedicated to quality at the utmost level and it is encouraging that more people appear to be aware of and appreciating of the work that he does. The people that I interviewed that voted for White Kloud all mentioned his extremely high quality products and skills as reasons for voting for him, which is very telling that a larger amount of people than I was expecting value quality and craftsmanship above locality and familiarity.
Role Club beating Thursday was a bit of a surprise to me as well, especially given the scale to which he won. With Thursday advertising so much and clearly giving away a large amount of free footwear to prominent denim Instagrammers who will remain nameless because you all know who they are already, I would have expected them to do better. It appears that Brian’s reputation is stronger than I thought on Instagram. He is highly respected on forums, but his clout on social media was not expected and he absolutely walked all over Thursday*
Overall, the brands that seem to have made their names and sales through social media (Thursday, Truman, and Mark Albert) all fell in the first round of a social media voting poll. This was surprising and I would assume that it shows that while people may buy these products, they are less likely to be considered favorites or grail items buy people.
Second Round Results:
|Red Wing 124|
|Mr Freedom 104|
|Oak Street 26|
|White Kloud 50|
|Role Club 94|
The second round featured two surprises. The first was the fact that White Kloud was trounced by Alden after managing to beat Truman. I do not know if this means that Truman is a lot less popular than I initially thought, that Alden was far more popular than I thought, or that White Kloud’s win over Truman was a complete fluke. I am going to guess that it is a combination of the first and third reason, especially given to what happens to Alden in the next round.
More surprising was the fact that Role Club very handily defeated Viberg. My article criticizing Viberg’s current direction as a company is by far my most popular post so maybe it should not surprise me that the once monolithic boot brand could be beaten so soundly by a one man brand run by the quietest guy in work wear today. The fact that I own Role Club boots and do not own Vibergs almost certainly plays a role, but at the same time, a far larger number of people who follow me and voted in this poll own Vibergs and do not own Role Clubs. In fact, there were a couple of people who match this description who voted for Role Club over Viberg.
Third Round Results:
|Red Wing 98|
|Mr Freedom 85|
|Role Club 84|
Again, Red Wing winning is not surprising, but I found both of the other results to be slightly unexpected. As great as John Lofgren’s quality is, I expected that the American stalwart Wesco would win in a vote. The same goes for Alden vs. Role Club. In both of these battles, the newer brands won and while both Alden and Wesco make high quality products, it is important to note that the John Lofgren and Role Club, with even greater reputations of quality won. In a vote such as this, I would have personally expected familiarity and heritage to win, but the new heritage-inspired brands were the ones that won. However, this was nothing compared to the results of the final round.
|Red Wing 91|
|John Lofgren 112|
|John Lofgren 93|
|Role Club 77|
|Red Wing 102|
|Role Club 83|
This three way battle was shockingly won by John Lofgren both in terms of direct competition and in terms of overall votes. Myself, along with just about everyone I talked to both before and even after the voting thought that Red Wing would win. I would have bet money that Red Wing would have won. Their following is massive and the dedication to the brand is probably the largest in the raw denim and work wear world with dedication rivaled only by Iron Heart. Despite this, the much newer brand with higher construction quality won.
However, Role Club, the brand with arguably the highest level of quality out of the final three, being a one man brand who utilizes hand sewn welting did not win, so obviously the result was not completely due to quality. Perhaps my friend Paul, AKA Partial2denim said it best when he basically said that John Lofgren has become the high end version of Red Wing. I think he is correct about this. Lofgren has the perfect balance of being run by a Western man while utilizing Japanese craftsmanship, beautiful design, and a wide range of products that can please just about any denim head. What used to be a niche engineer boot brand has blossomed into a footwear force in the denim and work wear scene. This is not to say that John Lofgren is the greatest boot brand in the world, but that it is has essentially become a more aspirational version of Red Wing in many ways.
Of course, I cannot fully explain the results of this poll which is why I made sure to include all of the results in their entirety for everyone to read and draw their own conclusions from. As I mentioned before, this is not a perfect system, but I did find the results quite interesting. Many results and conclusions were drawn from the polls. Firstly and unsurprisingly, people voted for what they already knew and recognized. Especially with the Japanese brand such as White Kloud, Lone Wolf, Attractions, Moto, and Rolling Dub Trio, the lack of awareness was their biggest obstacle. All of these brands make very high quality boots, as high or higher quality in fact than all of the brands that they lost to. American brands unsurprisingly dominated given their name recognition and my largely western audience. With greater marketing push, Japanese brands could likely have greater success in Western markets, but this may not be in their interest at all. People also tended to vote for what they already owned which is not surprising at all, but is still of note.
On the other hand, there were some surprising results and conclusions drawn from this process. Firstly, quality played a larger role in this vote than expected. While high quality brands with little name recognition such as Clinch, Moto, and Rolling Dub Trio were all knocked out in the first round, Role Club and John Lofgren made it to the final round and John Lofgren took a very easy win. In fact, looking at his numbers shows that he comfortably won each round. Secondly, the brands that promote themselves and have very strong Instagram-based followings did not do nearly as well as expected. Finally, the brands that I thought were the most recognized and respected in the boot world all did much more poorly than I thought. Viberg, Wesco, and Red Wing, all placed lower than I personally expected. What this means to me is that at least to some degree, horizons are broadening.
This was a very enjoyable process and a very revealing and interesting one as well. I hope that the results have given you food for thought as they have for me. Indeed, this was far better received and much more successful than I initially expected and as such, I will continue with future battles in the future. As of right now, I am doing a poll on leather jackets that will surely be just as fascinating and I will make sure to write a summary of that poll as well. Stay tuned for that in the future! I want to thank everyone who participated in the polls as well as those who answered my post-poll questions and I hope everyone is excited for the next battle.**
*Pun very much intended