WHAT DO YOU get when you mix coffee beans and men’s footwear designs? How about entrepreneur extraordinaire Joshua Bingaman, owner of Progress Coffee, a popular Austin, TX, hangout for the caffeinated crowd, and founder and designer of Helm, a men’s line of finely crafted leather shoes and boots. Bingaman splits his time between the two ventures, but admits serving up mouthwatering shoe designs is his primary love.
His mother’s “Imelda Marcos syndrome” spurred his own fixation with shoes at an early age—boots in particular—but it wasn’t until Bingaman and his brother opened the trendy Subterranean Shoe Room in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2001 (since closed after the brothers relocated to Austin in 2003), that he first thought about designing his own collection. “I wanted a line of shoes that incorporated all of the attributes of my favorite shoes: lightweight, trendy, a good price point and a look that could skew dressy but be influenced by great hiker styles,” he explains.
To do so, Bingaman calls upon the talent of artisans from across the world. He brews up designs in Austin, the shoes are handmade in Turkey, using leathers from Holland and Australia, and the soles are crafted in Italy and France. Previous seasons included oxfords, accessories and shoes sized down for women, but by zeroing in on men’s boots for Fall ’12 Bingaman sees the Helm brand coming into its own. “We’re releasing a redux of our most popular tall boots, tweaking them a bit with fun textures, new shades of brown and black, and adding denim straps and inlays,” he says. “Fall will be a rebirth of the originals.” —Angela Velasquez
Which footwear designers do you admire the most?
Jil Sander, especially her women’s collection. I’m blown away by Wells Stellberger’s Heutchy line for men. He’s just started to pick up some press in the last quarter, but my hat goes off to that guy. He’s doing some amazing things.
Who is the best-dressed man?
Robert Downey Jr. always has a perfect head-to-toe look, no matter if he’s dressed up or wearing a T-shirt and jeans. He can balance a classic suit with a pair of sneakers and make it look good.
Do you have plans to expand Helm into other categories?
We offered belts and bags in our first two seasons and we’re offering some for spring. There’s also going to be a limitededition Helm scent. I’ve been working on it for the last 18 months. At first I thought I wanted to work with heavier scents, like leather and chocolate, but it’s evolved into a clean and classic year-round scent with a bit of citrus.
Which shoes in your closet are getting the most wear right now?
My favorite Helm shoes are the Ray Ray and tall Samuel boot, which is my son’s name. To be honest, I have a ton of shoes, but I always go back to my blackon-black Frye engineer boots. My father wore them when he was in college.
Where would you like to see Helm in five years?
I hope the brand continues to grow, but I don’t want to take over the world. I want to work with retailers that truly love the business and their products.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t designing shoes?
I used to be in the music business and sometimes think I’d like to revisit that. And I love to write and compile literature. Writing is an art, just like shoemaking.