Bowen Bootwear designer Dustin Bowen stumbled upon the western industry in college. He joined the KA Fraternity, and all pledges were taken to a local mom-and-pop boot shop to purchase a pair of cowboy boots. “That was truly what got me to where I am today,” he remembers. The Tennessee native ended up working at that boot shop, cleaning up and fixing boots with manufacturer’s defects for resale. “Upcycling the boots was a way for me to express my creativity.”
Deciding college wasn’t for him, Bowen persued a career in the music industry as a touring drummer. To help make ends meet, he bought boots with his employee discount and sold them out of the back of a van on shows. Eventually, he realized bootmaking sang to him more than the music industry. We sat down with the designer to learn about his craft, celeb client list, and commitment to sustainability.
I’m a musician at heart. I joke that I’m working in the entertainment industry more now than I did when I was pursuing music and touring. Similar to music, custom bootwear tells stories. I compare it to writing a song. The minute I sit down with a client, we begin writing a song together.
What made you want to launch Bowen Bootwear?
One day, my band opened for Old Dominion in Chicago. A fan knew me because I had sold him and his wife boots at a show in Indiana. I found myself engaging in more conversation about the boots, rather than the music I was playing. As a musician, what you wear is just as important as how you play. The perfect pair of boots made the best musician better, so I started designing boots with different, creative styles that took the history and tradition of bootmaking and brought it into the future.
I eventually landed a seven-year-long opportunity with a major boot brand and started to create custom boots for celebrities, musicians, and an entirely new demographic of individuals who wouldn’t have ever considered wearing boots. I pushed the boundaries of what was considered kosher within the industry and for this brand, and it led to me being fired. Customers would ask for “Bowen Boots” rather than the brand I was working for. This ultimately led to me creating Bowen Bootwear in 2020.
Why is a custom-ordered model more appealing to you than traditional retail?
Bowen Bootwear is bred out of the fires of “different.” Custom bootwear is an extension of your personality. It’s all about individuality. Everyone is looking for something that sets them apart from everyone else. I love having a space where people can come and express their own style. A good pair of custom boots makes even the most timid individual feel like a rockstar—whether they’re city, country, blue collar, or white collar.
There are a lot of brands out there where you know immediately what they’re wearing, but I want to be the brand where people are like, “Woah, what are you wearing?” Bowen Bootwear is a conversation starter in the shoe.
Can you walk me through the order process?
Bowen Bootwear is a hand-designed full-service boot studio made completely in the USA. No matter who you are, you begin the journey with an appointment. This can be booked online or through the Bowen Bootwear social media. From there, you would be invited to the studio where we get to know each other. I love to get to know my customers during this meeting. I ask questions such as “How did you hear about Bowen Bootwear?” “What brought you here?” “Are you wanting something to add to your collection?” “Are these for a Special event?”
We then start talking through different design elements. We will discuss the silhouette, whether they want zip-up boots or pull-on boots, etc. We dive into details, color, adornments, custom details, laser etching, etc. We build each pair of boots from the ground up. Lastly, I take your foot mapping and measurements to ensure the proper fit specific to you. After that meeting, I then sketch the boots myself. I then send them the build sheet of every detail we have discussed as well as the official sketch.
Once approved, the customer pays a 50% deposit and I send the order to my boot shop in El Paso where the boot is hand-cut and handmade by eight boot artisans on my team. If the boot is made of specialty materials, I have all materials shipped to me for inspection to make sure they are what the customer was looking for and I make sure it is the right weight, color, etc. for their design. From there, the boots are sent back to my studio here in Nashville where I inspect each aspect of the boot and do finishing touches by hand like stone washing, tarnishing, etc. Once the boots are finished, I contact the customer for final payment, package all the designs myself with a handwritten note, and send them to their new home!
What are some of the materials you use?
At Bowen Bootwear, all leather is ethically and sustainably sourced from licensed tanneries around the world. We have three different categories of materials: classic, fun, and upcycled materials. Classic materials include your typical cowhide as well as gator, python/snakeskin, etc. Fun materials include leather from ethically sourced animals such as elephants, hippos, sturgeons, stingrays, salmon, Teju lizards, and more! Something we pride ourselves in at Bowen Bootwear is that we are also committed to sustainability and like to deconstruct made materials and incorporate them into our boots. Examples of this would include using supreme jeans, canvas, and even deconstructing leather from things such as jackets.
You’ve worked with some pretty big celebrities. Any interesting anecdotes or memorable moments?
I feel so incredibly blessed to have worked with the clients that I have. One collaboration that sticks out to me is the opportunity to design for Jeffree Star in 2022 because it happened so organically. I actually designed a pair for Ryan Charles who lives in Wyoming, which is where Jeffree lives. Jeffree saw Ryan’s post about his boots and loved them. Ryan gave the referral, and I woke up one Sunday morning to a DM request from Jeffree. He said, “Love your stuff, let’s make magic.”
We ended up creating two different designs: a 13″ classic western boot with barbie-pink ostrich and neon pink piping detail paired with a matching pink heel and sole. We also created a pair with pearl white crocodile hide with intricate stitching. You can see them on my Instagram. When it came to discussing payment, I was happy to offer him a discount, but he declined. I will never forget that. He acknowledged the offer but wanted to support me as a small business owner and pay for the art I created. To this day, all the opportunities I have come across have been paid in full by these celebrities. I know that is incredible for a small business like myself and I feel so incredibly lucky. I have had the opportunity to design for Post Malone, Pro-Hockey player Matt Duchene, Joe Jonas, Thomas Rhett, and so many more.
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Sustainability is an ever-growing concern in fashion. Why is this a priority for you?
Fast fashion is out of hand, in my opinion. I am not trying to make a political stance…but as someone who grew up surrounded by the working class in Tennessee, you learn to finish what is on your plate. I was raised on the idea of buying things that are built to last. When you spend your hard-earned money, you want it to last a lifetime and be something repairable. Working in the saleroom of the mom-and-pop shop throughout college showed me how sustainable the bootwear industry is. I would clean up, recycle, and resell boots with manufacturer’s defects to give them new life. At Bowen Bootwear we also emphasize that not only do we source high-quality materials, we also ensure that all materials are ethically sourced. We don’t source materials from those who make a profit off of hunting these species. Animals are gifts to this earth and we want to be a voice for these animals. I am passionate about making sure these species thrive and we respect them.
For example, as mentioned above, we are in the design process of upcycling a client’s supreme jeans to create custom boots that outlive the fit of the jeans. This past weekend I attended SCI and had a sample of Capybara hide from Argentina. This older gentleman approached me at the booth with an old jacket of his. It was a jacket made entirely out of Capybara hide in good condition after 30-plus years. The jacket no longer fit this gentleman and he was hoping to extend its life in a new way. We brainstormed and landed on deconstructing the jacket to create custom boots, a belt, and a wallet! This project just enforces how much the boot industry supports sustainability.