If you know Amekaji-heritage clothing and boots, you know the name John Lofgren. His footwear has become a staple of this hobby and his engineers are considered by many to be one of the models that kicked off the current engineer revival we have been experiencing lately. Lofgren engineers were my first pair of Amekaji-heritage boots that I ever purchased all the way back in 2015 and to this point, they are the boots that I have worn more than any in my collection. In addition, I own a couple pairs of his sneakers and a shirt from The Rite Stuff that was made by Lofgren’s team.
Suffice to say, I am a fan of John’s work and have talked to him several times online even though I unfortunately have yet to meet him in person. To this point, however, I had not actually interviewed him and I recently decided it was finally time to do so. As a quick disclaimer, I must point out that I am not an experienced interviewer and because I am a fan of John and his products, this is not an unbiased interview. This is coming from someone who thinks John Lofgren boots are some of the best in the world so please keep that in mind when reading this. With that information explained, let’s dive into the questions.
Almost Vintage Style: How did you get into this type of clothing in the first place? What drew you to it?
John Lofgren: Without hesitation, my interest in bygone era styles started in 8th grade when I saw the movie Quadrophenia. That’s a movie about a guy during the 1960s mod scene in England. A major part of the mod identity was the clothing. That was the seed that germinated into my interest in clothing, which eventually got me interested in vintage clothing, and finally into heritage style. Ironically the original mods were about being fashion forward, but I kept going backwards. First the 60s, then the 50s, 40s and 30s and all the way back to the 1900s. Today I’m all over the place. My jeans are usually 1950s style, my shirt might be 1920s style, boots are 1940s style, jacket could be an undefined era style made with Japanese cotton and Scottish wool…I love to mix it up.
AVS: I know that your engineer boots were quite an effort to complete. What was the journey like to get the first run finished and released?
JL: Well there was lots of trial and error for the first year or so. I invested more time and money in producing sample after sample than I care to remember. I got design ideas from my own vintage engineer boot collection. And with pencil and paper I went to work. Taking aspects I liked from various vintage brands, I would try to refine them where I genuinely thought there was room for improvement, or I simply liked my idea better than the original. I continued making pattern adjustments on them for a few years after the first production run. What really hinged on the success of the first production run was were there going to be enough people willing to pay for this level of boot? I wasn’t known for making boots. In the end we showed the boots on Facebook and simply through emails and garnered 50 pre-orders. From this day, the First Fifty they shall be known as. The boots weren’t cheap either as from the beginning I wanted them to be made ethically by craftspeople. That meant no sourcing soles & heels, metal bits or anything from places like China. That’s still how I feel today.
AVS: Why start the footwear line with such a difficult project?
JL: You don’t know how right you are by saying that…I actually started by making 1950s style blue suede shoes. They were nice too, had a double-welt on them and everything. Carl Perkins would have loved them. But nobody wanted them. Sure there were lots of oohs and aahs, but no buyers. Had I gotten the same reaction with the engineers there’s no doubt I would have not continued. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to even had I wanted to try again. I made the engineers simply because that’s what I was into. My boss at the raghouse I worked at got me my first old engineers. They were brown and beautiful. They were also the most uncomfortable boot I ever had on my foot. That may have lead to my obsession with comfort. Also my dad said him and his buddies were into engineers too, back in the 1950s, and he still remembers how uncomfortable they were. He eventually moved into desert boots by 1957 or 1958. Lol.
AVS: What has been your favorite boot model that you have released since the engineer boot (and is the engineer your favorite overall)?
JL: I used to answer this question with, I don’t have a favorite, I put so much into each new model I can’t choose a favorite…That’s changed. My favorite is the latest model we do. Again, a lot goes into each boot so when a model finally meets with my approval on looks, build quality and comfort, I’m really excited to wear it. Now I’m wearing our Horween CXL moc toe. I love this boot. Imagine a moc toe boot that’s built to John Lofgren Bootmaker standards…Now you don’t have to imagine it, because we built them. They’re beautiful and very, very comfortable. Of course our engineer boots will always have a special place on the mantle. I always get me a pair when we release them in a new leather.
AVS: You mentioned that when you released your engineer boots, you were not known for making boots. You used to make a lot more clothing than you do now. Could you elaborate on that transition from clothing to boots and why you do not make as much clothing anymore?
JL: It really just had to do with time and the number of staff I had working for me at the time. I could have done it all if I didn’t want a life outside the office. So I chose to stop making apparel under my own name and concentrate on the footwear. To produce the high quality, style and comfort level I wanted in my boots and shoes meant I had to go at it with full attention. I couldn’t do footwear and apparel both and keep the level as high as I wanted. I got a great team of people helping me out now so we’re able to devote a little bit of time helping a few select brands with their needs.
AVS: I could be wrong because I have not been into this type of clothing as long as some have, but it seems that engineer boots have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the past several years. Do you feel this is true as well and how responsible do you feel for that revival if it does exist?
JL: In all honesty, I’m actually surprised engineer boots are as popular as they are. I really thought we were going to see a slump in sales by 2014-15, and we haven’t. We’re selling more now than ever. I thought the trend would end and it would be us die hard fans of the engineer boot that would be left wearing them. That didn’t happen. More and more people who thought they weren’t an “engineer guy” or “engineer girl” started trying them. And a lot of those people are coming back to get them in another color. Perhaps we were somewhere near the beginning of the resurrection of the engineer boot and we’ve been riding the wave ever since. Whose responsible for the revival is probably best left up to the customers to decide. If people thought it was my brand I’d be surprised and delighted.
AVS: A product that you make that I don’t think you get enough credit for is your sneaker. What was the inspiration behind making sneakers and which has been your favorite model you have produced so far?
JL: Inspiration came from the hot and humid summers of Japan. I’m used to heat, growing up in central California. I wasn’t used to heat and humidity. And at the time there’s weren’t many choices for ethically made sneakers. Sure there were some already being produced in Japan, but it seemed to me they were made with as little effort and material as possible. I wanted sneakers that were ethically made, well built and available in interesting colorways. Who doesn’t want sneakers in natural rubber and USMC frogskin camo?
AVS: If you could design and produce one item that you do not already produce, what would it be and why?
JL: I haven’t given this much thought before…But one thing comes to mind. I like the idea of making a boot especially for adventure motorcycle riding. It would need to be a taller boot with both laces and a heavy duty zipper running up the inner sides. Something like our current moc toe but taller and with zippers. I doubt that I have enough customers in the adventure motorcycle community to justify putting a boot like that into production. Tomorrow I may have a different answer to this question.
AVS: Can you give any insights into future items that you will be producing?
JL: Sorry, I can’t. We’re currently working on 3 different styles of footwear right now and it’ll probably take several months before any of them are ready to show our dealers and customers. I apologize for the non-answer.
AVS: Aside from clothing, what else makes you who you are? What other hobbies and interests do you spend your time on?
JL: Besides my footwear and apparel business, I’m helping my dad manage his vineyard. I spend a lot of time on a tractor and doing some repairs in the fields. That’s a great opportunity to put my boots to the test too. My hobbies are two-wheeled related for the most part. I’m into vintage Vespa and Lambretta scooters and riding my BMW R1200GS Adventure motorcycle. Some friends with similar bikes and I do a lot of exploring of not-so-traveled areas of California. And again, another great way to test my footwear. I’m currently reading is The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray. And my friend and I are kicking the idea around of entering the Budapest-Bamako (Africa) Rally in a 4×4 that we’ll buy and prepare here and ship over to race. It’s for amateurs and the race is for charity. After the rally we’ll donate the truck to a local school or charity. I guess those are some facts about me that most people don’t know. That’s about all I have going on at the moment.
AVS: You often make a point of your Vibram soles being made in the USA, something that other makers do not mention, regardless of where their Vibram soles are made. Why is this so important to you?
JL: Because most Vibram soles are made in China, I want to assure customers that we’re not using those. Vibram manufactures in the USA, Italy and China. We also use Italian made Vibram on our Steadfast chukka boots. Vibram has been making soles in the USA since 1965 with the 100+ year old Quabaug Corporation. I like that heritage.
AVS: You mentioned that you were surprised by the lasting success of your engineer boots. Are there any other specific products that you were surprised by the sales of?
JL: I’m always pleasantly surprised by the sales of anything we release. What I mean is when we release a new line, the sales usually surpass my expectations. It’s a combination of hard work to put out unique footwear and customers understanding what we’re doing and wanting to be apart of it. I appreciate it so much.
AVS: What inspired you to put a storm welt on an engineer boot?
JL: To be perfectly honest I just thought it would look interesting, and the extra protection from water was a plus. I think my first pair of 1950s vintage engineer boots had them. Maybe they were from Sears or Penneys? I’m pretty sure I still have them in a box in the backroom of my office in Japan. I’ve been told by many people that they are great at keeping your socks dry. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not totally waterproof. When I was in England a few years back one guy told me that his feet kept dry the entire time he rode his motorcycle around Hungary. I remember that well because he said he toured Hungary on a motorcycle after finishing up filming Blade Runner 2049. He wanted to talk about boots and I wanted to talk about Blade Runner.
AVS: This is a silly question, but one that I would love to know the answer to: If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JL: I guess it would have to be engineer boots, 5 pocket denim jeans (cuffed), leather belt, chambray shirt and military style jacket. I think that classic style will work until the end of time.
AVS: Finally and most importantly: The heel that is on your engineers and donkey punchers- is it a woodsman heel or a Cuban heel? Let’s end this debate now.
JL: Woodsman. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
Thank you so much for all of the wonderful insight John! As expected, John knows the difference between a woodsman heel and a Cuban heel. It is great to get a definitive answer on this debate from an expert such as himself along with all the other great information and insights. I am also grateful to John for talking about his life and interests outside of clothing and boots. It is enriching to learn more about people outside of the interests that we share and connect with. There is always more to someone than we think. Hopefully you enjoyed reading John’s answers as much as I did. Feel free to check out John Lofgren products at his store, Speedway, at Standard and Strange, and at East West Apparel.