With the ethical and environmental impacts of ‘fast fashion’ being questioned and criticized by many – brands, large and small, are making a concerted effort to produce more garments and accessories in the United States – using higher quality materials and slower production methods to attract the new breed of customer.
While this shift in values is very much a product of the last decade or so, there brands out there that have been keeping it real and American-made since they first opened their doors decades ago, brands like Danner. Based in Portland, Oregon, Danner has made work boots in the U.S.A. for over eighty years, and their commitment to producing goods of the highest quality has seen their boots reach the feet of hikers, servicemen, and even elephants.
The History and Philosophy of Danner
The Danner story began when Charles Danner founded Danner Shoe Mfg. Company in 1932. His intention was to make high-quality boots that were durable and affordable. After initially setting up in the then-logging town of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Charles heard about the booming timber trade in the Pacific Northwest and moved his operations to Portland, Oregon in 1936. Danner was soon one of the premier producers of calked (spiked-soled) logging boots in the region, which he could sell for the then-considerable sum of $20.
Making such a bold move in the height of the Great Depression proved fruitful for Danner, and by 1939, Charles had integrated his two sons, John and Bill, into the company, which had earned a reputation for stellar boots that were tough, reliable, and fit for purpose. This hard-earned prestige held Danner in good stead for the years to come. And like many American manufacturers, they expanded their business even further after winning a contract to supply work boots to the government during World War II. This allowed the company to build a considerably larger factory in North Portland to accommodate higher production demands.
John and Bill Danner both served during the war and came home to tell the tale. Bill got straight back into the family business, while John attended law school. Returning to the company in the fifties, John used his business skills to expand the brand’s offerings to include more variants of boots and shoes but still made using the highest quality materials and production methods.
While the logging and timber trade provided a firm business foundation for Danner, the boom of hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities in the sixties acted as a springboard for Danner to grow even further. With John and Bill now in full control of the Danner business, they began the production of Danner hiking boots, premiering with the 6490 boot in the early seventies. For a time when most hiking boots weighed in at around five pounds – the 6490 was much lighter at just under four, a groundbreaking innovation at the time.
Bolstered by gleaming reviews from hiking and backpacking magazines, the 6490 boot yielded great success. The design was a lace to toe boot with a handcrafted, one-piece leather upper, and D-ring eyelets with contrasting hiking laces. This allowed the 6490 to provide great balance and minimal break-in times for maximum comfort. After releasing more hiking models throughout the seventies, Danner’s triumphs saw them relocate to their biggest Portland location yet, a factory so large it allowed them to double their production to 480 pairs of boots a day – all by hand.
In 1979, Danner worked with Gore-Tex (then known as W.L. Gore & Associates) to create the first fully waterproof hiking boot. The project resulted in the birth of the Danner Light boot, an even lighter boot with a shape similar to the 6490. Using a combination of synthetic denier materials and a sock-esque waterproof lining developed by W.L. Gore & Associates, the Light was a sensation and a revolutionary innovation for hiking boots.
A few years after Danner famously made size 150 boots for an elephant at Washington Park Zoo, Bill and John sold Danner to Eric Merk in 1983, on the condition that he would take the brand forward with the same commitment to quality and craftsmanship that the Danner had ensured for over fifty years. Eric stuck to his word, and even tightened quality control, before the company merged with the Portland-based LaCrosse Footwear Inc. just nine years later in 1994.
Danner is still a subsidiary of LaCrosse Footwear to this day, parented by Japanese company ABC-Mart. Upon acquiring LaCrosse and its subsidiaries in 2012, ABC-Mart relocated Danner to its current 59,000 square foot factory, and opened Danner’s first brick and mortar branded store. Danner has two stores in Portland, and their boots are stocked in dozens of retail and online stores across the globe. Still offering wholesale and contracted production, Danner continues to supply footwear to the U.S. Military and law enforcement.
Much of Danner’s production is still carried out in the U.S.A. with the same attention to quality and detail that made the brand so successful all those years ago. Meticulous checks are carried out at various points during each boots production – each hide is assessed before being cut, extensive water tests are carried out for every waterproof liner, and thorough quality control checks are conducted prior to packing and shipping.
The brand’s continued focus on quality, and loyalty to its heritage, allow their products to resonate within the heritage fashion market. Danner boots are up there with Red Wing, Chippewa, and Wolverine, as the stomper of choice for those after a hardwearing but handsome boot, and their ongoing partnerships with Gore-Tex and Vibram allows for the production of boots for any purpose. An in house re-crafting service is also available on the majority of Danner boots.
Iconic Danner Products
A product of the 6490 and Danner Light boots, the Mountain light is a lace-to-toe hiking boot with a one-piece leather upper, and a durable Vibram Kletterlift sole that provides shock-absorption and great traction. Every pair of Mountain light is lined with a Gore-Tex lining that’s 100% waterproof whilst remaining breathable.
With Danner branding and the iconic D-ring eyelets, the Mountain Light is easily recognizable and built with stitchdown construction that allows the boot to be recrafted time and time again.
Designed to withstand all terrains and weather conditions, the Marine Expeditionary – or combat – boot is constructed with the toughest materials, and comes equipped with a Vibram 360 Dri Ice sole, made from a plastic compound that remains flexible in extreme cold.
Designed in partnership with U.S. Marine Corps, the Expeditionary has been field tested and proven in military operations across the globe. Built with a sturdy Nubuck leather and 1000 denier upper, this combat boot is also lined with Gore-tex fabric that’s 100% waterproof, but breathable, to keep feet as dry as possible.
The ultimate rugged outdoor boot, the Rain Forest is a tank of a boot that weighs in at over 73 oz. and features a beastly Vibram 132 Matagna sole that is resistant to electric shock should a workman step on any stray wires. The upper is made from a full grain leather and uses super-strong threads to reinforce the booth with triple stitching throughout.
Gore-tex lined for waterproof functionality and crafted with stitchdown construction for easy re-soling, the Rain Forest boot will help you brush off any environmental barriers faced during manual labor or the daily commute. Complete with speed hooks for easy fastening, a pull tab on the upper shaft, and vintage-style fringe detailing at the toe, the Rain Forest comes finished with a ‘Made in U.S.A.’ tab which acts as a mark of Danner’s quality.
For more information on Danner, visit their website.