Last year, I did a series of polls to discover which boot brand was most popular according to my followers. Despite my proclivity for high end, expensive, and often relatively obscure brands, I fully expected brands like Red Wing, Viberg, or even Truman to win. However, to my very pleasant surprise, the winner was John Lofgren. Obviously, this small sample size did not mean that John Lofgren was the most popular bootmaker in the world, but it did show that the brand was more popular than I, a fan of the brand, thought initially.
After this result, I talked with my good friend Paul AKA @partial2denim about the result and he made a great point that stuck with me. Essentially, he said that John Lofgren was on its way to becoming the high end version of Red Wing. I thought that he was onto something. Lofgren boots had been niche in the beginning, but after joining Instagram, I was seeing them more and more often on the feet of people who used to wear only Red Wings or Vibergs. In addition, their lineup had expanded quite a lot around the time of the poll with the desert boots, M-43, Steadfast Chukkas, and the Combat boots added to the mainstays of the engineers, Donkey Punchers, and sneakers. Lofgren boots was on its way to a full lineup of high end boots that hovered just around or above Viberg pricing, depending on the model.
A recent announcement from John Lofgren Bootmaker recently confirmed to me that the company was pushing to be the ‘high end Red Wing.’ Near the end of August, they announced the release of a new monkey boot and then a day later, the big news came. John Lofgren Bootmaker announced that they were making a moc toe boot. This floored me. Of course, Lofgren will not be competing directly with Red Wing. The price difference is too great. With that said, I do think Paul was right and that Lofgren is becoming, whether they are attempting to or not, the high end version of Red Wing.
What does it mean to be the high end version of Red Wing, though? In my mind, this means having a wide range of iconic styles that have a cohesive look made from similar or the same leathers that have consistent quality control and a recognizable name that is well regarded by those who love heritage menswear, even by those that do not actually own any products from the brand. This is what Red Wing has done since introducing its heritage line. The Minnesota-based brand has a fairly wide range of styles including engineers, pecos, derby shoes (which Red Wing incorrectly labels as Oxfords for some reason), chukkas, moc toes, and several different lace up boot models. This range includes some fairly iconic boots such as the Blacksmith, Beckman, Iron Ranger, and moc toe. Red Wing has quite a few heritage models, but they are all recognizable as Red Wing products. Their quality is not all that high, but it is consistent and they do an excellent job of avoiding major faults.
With these new models, John Lofgren now has the same strengths as Red Wing only on a smaller scale and catering to a higher end market. They have a wide range of styles that are usually quite easily recognizable as John Lofgren products and some of them, such as the engineers, Donkey Punchers, and already the M-43 boots are modern icons in the heritage menswear world. Now, they also have equivalents to Red Wing models such as their own moc toe and their own equivalent of an Iron Ranger, the combat boot. Lofgren uses Horween leather, especially CXL on most of their boots. While I maintain the strong opinion that this leather is catastrophically overrated for consumers, this does keep things consistent for Lofgren, much in the way that Red Wing does with their own S.B. Foot tannery.
Obviously, many of the JL boots are not alike those of RW, but there are some very similar models and those unique silhouettes work well for the higher price bracket that Lofgren is in which often caters to a more vintage/repro-style customer that loves woodsman heels (such as myself.) Along with this and a reputation for quality and customer service, the Japanese brand is poised to become a true heavy hitter in the boot market. Even with the new moc toes, I do not believe that there will be very much direct competition with Red Wing, though they may steal a few customers away from the American brand due to the fact that they are producing higher quality versions of many of very similar, if not essentially the same products in some cases.
What I believe that Lofgren is doing is attempting to solidify themselves as the Red Wing of the over $500 boot market. With this many models to choose from, they could easily meet the entire footwear needs of potential customers given that they even have derby shoes and sneakers available. I personally do not believe that anyone should only buy into one brand in a given category (even I own quite a lot of jeans aside from my Conner’s Sewing Factory models). However, technically Lofgren offers almost everything a boot fan could ask for and I think this makes them more apt to encroach further on the territory of brands such as Wesco, Whites, and Viberg.
The moc toe and combat boots can (and already have) won over some former Red Wing fans looking for something better, but those customers were already looking for something superior to Red Wing, Lofgren is now just making it easier to upgrade with more models similar to Red Wing. However, I feel that this ease of buying into them from Red Wing along with the shear range of models makes them bigger competition to other $500-$1000 boot brands. Previously, fans of Red Wing looking to upgrade would basically have to go to models that were quite different than they were used to from brands such as Clich, White Kloud, Viberg, Role Club, Mister Freedom, Wesco, Whites, Trickers, Nicks, and Alden. Now, someone who is used to Iron Rangers can just buy Lofgren Combat boots and someone who likes moc toes can just buy Lofgren moc toes.
With Lofgren quality being clearly above any American or Canadian brand aside from Role Club, this does make them the most obvious choice in their price range. They certainly aren’t the only choice with Rolling Dub Trio, Role Club, and Motor offering extremely high quality around that price range. Still, with their name recognition, model range, and availability, John Lofgren boots are the most obvious choice for people that aren’t already devoted to one of the other brands in the price range of $500-$1000. The real kicker would be if Lofgren launched a direct Viberg Service boot competitor. I would love to see this just to see the competition between the two brands. While Viberg has gone in a decidedly non-heritage direction and even having to pull back by going back on some of their more progressive promises (they tried to make service boots with GYW, and then went back to making them with stitchdown exclusively for example), Lofgren is doing the opposite, releasing clearly heritage-oriented models.
To put the brakes on a bit, this is all speculation by myself. Our denim and boots hobby is not nearly as open in terms of information, sales, and overall numbers as other hobbies such as photography, cars, video games, and films. All of these models could end up being too much of a stretch for Lofgren and it may actually hurt the company to try to create so many different boots. Perhaps the quality will go down due to increased output. However, I do not think either of these potentialities will occur. My expectation is that John Lofgren will become one of, if not the go to brand in the sub-$1000 price range, especially if they decide to encroach further into Viberg’s territory. Time will reveal the outcome and I can say with confidence that I will be paying even closer attention to John Lofgren in the coming years.