One of the first words that comes to mind when describing the founder and owner of Austin-based brand Helm, Joshua Bingaman, is multi-faceted. Born and raised in small town Oklahoma, the self-defined artist went from recording and playing music to opening the Subterranean Shoe Room, a shoe store-cum-art gallery, in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2004 to opening Progress Coffee, a cafe and coffee roaster in Austin, to starting the Helm Boots line (and store) for men in 2009. All because, he says, he simply loves beautiful things.
Originally made in Istanbul using mostly European materials and spanning many, many SKUs, Helm moved its production to the U.S. in 2012. “It helped us to focus more on design and primarily boots,” Bingaman notes. “We’ve homed in on what we’re best at and what best fits the brand as a whole.” Sourcing as many homegrown materials as possible, like beautiful leathers from Horween Tannery in Chicago and waxed canvas from Fairfield Textile in New Jersey, the handcrafted line, which now includes women’s styles, is anchored in heritage. “I personally started Helm with a nod to work boots, but I wanted to add a touch of classic sneaker and even a dress shoe so that you could wear them with denim or a suit,” explains Bingaman. “Our approach to design is to create a versatile style that can go from the sidewalks to the office.”
To that end, he’s starting to see more of his men’s styles worn with suits, while female customers tend to pair theirs with leggings, denim or skirts. “The diversity and unisex style tells me I’m doing what I intended to,” he says, adding, “I also love the fact that we have super loyal customers that ‘get it’ and continue to come back for more Helm styles. Some people even buy multiple pair at a time and that’s awesome. They know and understand that they are getting a fresh design and good quality.”
For Spring ’15, Helm is bringing back two of its original first season U.S. releases, the Marion Olive and the Railroad Boot. “We’ve had too many requests for these styles to be ignored,” Bingaman reveals. Elsewhere in the collection, a hand sewn women’s boot in blue makes its debut, while both genders will enjoy a unisex boot with a zipper and no laces. “My team and I are very involved in the design and fabrication of our boots every step of the way–no pun intended–from the ideas and drawings, to the samples, to the hands-on involvement on the factory floors,” he says, noting that as one of the main things that sets Helm apart from other heritage-inspired boot brands on the market. “It feels really good when it all lines up and fits.”
Q: What is your first shoe memory? A: Opening the white Air Jordan IV’s that my mother got me for Christmas. The smell and the texture and the box and the design details. I remember clearly realizing that what I put on my feet could give me a really good feeling. That’s never changed.
Q: Who is your style icon? A: I often go back to Robert Redford because he’s always been fashionable, handsome and on the cuff but never trendy. That consistency of simple and classic and worn, yet still keeping a refinement about himself.
Q: Which celebrities (if any) would you love to see in one of your designs? A: It’s always exciting to see someone well known wearing Helm, especially when it’s someone whose art or acting or music I admire.
Q: Where do you like to shop? A: I’ve really been enjoying buying locally made brands. The most recent have been Traveller Denim Co. jeans and jackets and Paleo Denim jeans. Whenever I find a brand and product I like, I usually buy a few of it, and/or every color of a shirt or pant or jacket, etc. So I do quite a bit of that online directly from the brand if I can (once I’ve found it at a store).
Q: Which shoes in your closet are getting the most wear? A: Three helm boots: the Jack, the Muller Brown and the Railroad, an old pair of burgundy Vasque Sundowners, and a couple of New Balance–one Made in the U.S.A. pair and one U.K. pair.
Q: What shoe must every man and/or woman have in his/her closet? A: Any pair or style that was handed down from a parent or grandparent.
Q: Which trends do you hope to never see again? A: Uggs and overly embellished back pockets on jeans.
Q: Which designer do you admire the most? A: Ralph Lauren.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job? A: People.
Q: If you could invite anyone, alive or dead, to dinner, who would it be? A: Bill Murray.
Q: What three things can you not live without? A: Coffee, a good pair of sunglasses, and the perfect boots.
Q: If you weren’t designing shoes, what would you be doing? A: Writing and playing music.