Minnesota Legacy Brands: Red Wing Shoes

One of the last shoe manufacturers in the U.S. keeps forging ahead
Workers in 1954

Provided

Red Wing Shoes is one of the last remaining shoe manufacturers in the U.S., and that’s just how they like it. The company was founded in 1905 in Red Wing by Charles Beckman with the simple purpose of supplying workers—including miners, farmers, and loggers—with dependable, comfortable footwear.

In 1914, J.R. Sweasy became the facility’s superintendent, and by 1919 he was the first of four generations of the Sweasy family to own and operate the company. They have manufactured boots that took soldiers into battle in both World Wars. In 1952, the first Red Wing Shoe store launched in Salt Lake City, and today there are more than 700 stores worldwide. Fully committed to employees and the Minnesota town of Red Wing, the brand launched the philanthropic Red Wing Shoe Company Foundation in 1955.

Red Wing Shoes today employs more than 2,100 worldwide in leather tanneries, footwear factories, corporate offices, warehouses, and retail stores. Its legacy of “purposeful craftsmanship” guides the company, and every new product has the same principles and testing applied to it as those first boots.

Classic moc boot models

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In 2016, Red Wing returned to its roots and launched the Heritage Brand that is the fashion-forward line adopted by makers and hipsters alike. Allison Sweasy Gettings, great-granddaughter of J.R. Sweasy, introduced the lifestyle brand for women. The meticulous and timeless designs came from the archives of Red Wing and are handcrafted. All told, there are some 230 steps in making a pair of Red Wind Heritage Boots. Today, the Heritage line includes designs for men and women.

The company crafts over 990 shoe designs, with over 590 workwear styles, plus over 390 accessory styles. It is also committed to environmental stewardship and in 2017 signed a 25-year contract to power its Red Wing facilities with solar power. In 2019, the company introduced a footbed to the safety footwear industry made from algae biomass that reduces dependencies on non-renewable resources.

“Legacy is something that is passed down after people have gone. For Red Wing Heritage, we do this by keeping the classic styles designed and built in the past alive today.  The key to becoming a legacy brand is to build a relationship based on trust.  We do this by building to the same high level of quality and durability as we have in the past. This ensures our passionate reputation continues into the future.” –George Curleigh, president of Red Wing Heritage

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