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Made-in-the-USA Work Boots: Supporting Local Craftsmanship

CEO Tinh Phung
America's story is intertwined with the legacy of sturdy work boots. But are the boots you're wearing truly made in the USA? Buying products that are locally made is not only a patriotic choice but...

America's story is intertwined with the legacy of sturdy work boots. But are the boots you're wearing truly made in the USA? Buying products that are locally made is not only a patriotic choice but also a way to support local craftsmen and boost the economy. Plus, it reduces carbon footprint, promotes local jobs, and makes you feel like you're supporting the hometown team.

However, when it comes to work boots made in the US, the devil is in the details. The intricacies lie in semantics, historical amendments, and varying degrees of tolerance. So, before you open your wallet to purchase work boots made in America, here's what you need to know.

A Quick History of 'Buy American'

image: Man making work boots in Danner factory Courtesy of Danner

Around a century ago, America found itself in crisis. Caught between two world wars and in the grip of the Great Depression, the US economy was spiraling toward financial disaster. To address this, President Herbert Hoover signed the Buy American Act at the end of the Great Depression. This act prioritized the purchase of domestically made products over imported goods, injecting much-needed funds back into the struggling economy.

Fast forward a decade, and the US was once again thrust into another world war. Equipping soldiers with boots made in Italy, guns made in Germany, and knives made in Japan didn't instill much confidence. Moreover, it wasn't good for business. In response, Congress expanded the Buy American Act to include the Department of Defense (DoD), imposing even stricter requirements.

The 1941 Berry Amendment dictated that the US government had to source American food, clothing, fabric, and metal "whenever possible." Although there are exceptions, any item necessary to keep US forces supplied must be sourced from within the US. This amendment represents the most stringent interpretation of the "made in America" declaration.

Berry-Compliant Boots: Made in the USA

To understand what it means for boots to be Berry compliant, we consulted Dominic Basilio, Director of Commercial Military Sales at Rocky Boots. Rocky has been manufacturing boots in their Ohio factory since 1932, with their popular coyote brown Rocky S2V Tactical boot being the preferred choice of US infantry soldiers.

Basilio is well-versed in the minutia of the Berry Amendment, ensuring that Rocky's boots meet DoD requirements. He explains that for a boot to be Berry compliant, every material, from the hides to the hardware and stitching, must be sourced from within the US. However, it's important to note that the boots themselves are not officially Berry certified. The responsibility lies with the suppliers to self-certify their products as 100% made in America.

While the system largely relies on an honor code, suppliers have a lot at stake. Falsifying information could result in losing lucrative contracts with the government. Consequently, manufacturers of Berry-compliant boots can only source materials from other companies that are also Berry compliant. This ensures that every component in the boot is made from materials that are sourced entirely within the US, with the boots being stitched together by a US-owned company on US soil.

However, it's important to note that not every aspect of the boot needs to be sourced within the US. For instance, the continental US may not have the ideal conditions for supporting the growth of all the raw materials required for boot production. Therefore, the clause "whenever possible" allows manufacturers to mix and compound these materials in a plant on US soil to maintain Berry compliance.

Detangling the 'Made in America' Label

In Basilio's world, there's a clear distinction between Berry-compliant boots and everything else. The Berry-compliant standard represents a truly "made in America" boot, while the standards for other boots are more lenient, with no formal governance in place.

While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides guidelines on what constitutes a "made in the USA" claim, there's no requirement for manufacturers to register their made-in-the-USA products. Consequently, the interpretation of these terms is left to legal teams and can be subject to varying interpretations. This ambiguity creates opportunities for the authenticity of the origin to be called into question. However, there are some general standards that can be followed.

Made in America

A boot labeled as "Made in America" signifies that it is manufactured on American soil using parts that are all (or virtually all) sourced from within America. The term "virtually" is key here, as it distinguishes Berry-compliant boots from everything else. The FTC has an entire standard that outlines the meaning of "virtually." It allows for some level of foreign content but requires that the majority of the boot, including hardware, stitching material, and nails, is made in the US.

Manufactured in America From Global Parts (Assembled in America)

This label indicates that American workers assemble boots using materials sourced globally. While major components like soles, midsoles, and uppers may be imported, the final assembly takes place in a factory on American soil. This allows manufacturers to leverage high-quality components that may not be Berry compliant but still meet near-Berry standards.

Handcrafted in the USA

Handcrafted boots are artisanal creations made by skilled craftsmen on American soil. Although some components may be sourced globally, the majority of the boot is crafted in the US. Brands like Truman Boot Co., for example, handcraft their boots in the US but source leathers from global tanneries. This is often due to the unique characteristics of certain leathers or the availability and cost of specific materials.

The Best Boots Made in the USA

If you're looking to purchase work boots that are made in the USA, we've done the research for you. After reaching out to various companies and evaluating their products, we identified the best of the best in the world of American-made boots. Here are our top recommendations:

Danner Rain Forest

image: Danner Rain Forest

Danner is known for its commitment to transparency when it comes to its made-in-the-USA boot specs. Their Rain Forest boot, priced at $360, is a shining example. The Rain Forest is Berry compliant, meaning that the materials used in its construction can be traced back to their US origins. With features like a GORE-TEX inner bootie for waterproofing and a Vibram logger-style outsole, this boot offers durability and comfort. It's also re-craftable, allowing you to send it back to Danner when it needs to be resoled or rebuilt.

Carolina AMP USA Steel Toe Boot, CA7502

image: Boots Carolina

Carolina Boots takes the made-in-the-USA standards seriously and produces boots that are almost Berry compliant. Their AMP USA steel toe boot, priced at $170, is made with 96% US-sourced materials and assembled in their Union Local 1776 factory. Despite not being labeled as Berry compliant, this boot offers superb quality and durability. It features an 8" tobacco moc-toe design with a comfortable wedge outsole, making it a great option for those who spend long hours on hard surfaces.

Nicks BuilderPro

image: Boots Nicks BuilderPro

Nicks, based in Spokane, Washington, is renowned for its handcrafted boots. The BuilderPro boot, priced at $525, offers a balance between Berry compliance and high-quality materials. While some components are sourced globally, the majority of the boot is made in the USA. The BuilderPro features a 10" shaft, a Vibram V-100 lug sole, and 8mm roughout leather for a rugged yet versatile work boot. With customizable options available, including three different lasts or the option to provide your foot measurements, Nicks ensures a perfect fit.

White's Cruiser 350

image: GearJunkie_Made_in_USA_Boots_Whites_350Cruiser_2_DSC05463

White's boots, handcrafted in Spokane, Washington, have been a staple in the American boot industry for over a century. The Cruiser 350, priced at $560, represents the perfect blend of quality and heritage. While some components are sourced from abroad, the majority of the boot is made using hides from US tanneries. The Cruiser features a 6" shaft and a Vibram 430 Mini-lug outsole, striking the right balance between urban utility and outdoor performance. With exceptional craftsmanship and the option for resoling or rebuilding, White's boots are built to last a lifetime.

Red Wing Heritage Iron Ranger

image: Red Wing Iron Ranger

Red Wing's Heritage line is entirely sourced and manufactured in the USA. The Iron Ranger boot, priced at $330, embodies the vintage and traditional feel of Red Wing's craftsmanship. Made with 2mm full-grain leather and triple-stitched for durability, this boot features a protective leather cap over the toes and a Vibram 430 Mini-lug outsole. The Iron Ranger is the epitome of American-made work boots, with each component crafted by skilled hands in Minnesota or Potosi, Missouri.

KEEN Portland 6"

image: KEEN Portland 6"

KEEN's Portland boots, priced at $210, are part of their American Built line. While some components are manufactured abroad, the boots are assembled in the USA using high-quality materials sourced from around the world. Known for their comfort, KEEN boots feature a unique Bellows flex design that provides flexibility and support during long work hours. The imported sole offers excellent traction, making these boots suitable for a variety of terrains. With a polyurethane midsole for durability and the option to support US manufacturing, the KEEN Portland 6" boots offer both utility and comfort.

Please note that while these are our top recommendations, there are many other American-made work boots available. If you're considering a different brand or style, we encourage you to do your own research to determine the extent to which they meet the "made in the USA" criteria.

In conclusion, when you choose to buy work boots made in the USA, you're not only getting a high-quality product, but you're also supporting local craftsmanship and the American economy. So, lace up a pair of American-made boots and take pride in wearing a piece of authentic American heritage.