When I go boot shopping, I want only the best of the best.
That means more than just the most stylish design and sturdiest construction (at the lowest price, if possible). I also look for the top-quality materials used to craft the boots. And it all starts with the leather.
Over the last few years of being boot-obsessed, I’ve gone deep-diving into the various American leather tanneries that are providing materials to my favorite bootmakers (inlcluding the best American made boots). I’ve done my research to bring you an in-depth look at the best tanneries around the country worth the investment for their quality, longevity, and, most of all, the beauty of their leather.
Note: There are a lot of American companies that produce leather, but not all of them turn out boot leather. I’ve kept my list below limited to tanneries that make leather specifically for boots.
5 American Leather Companies You Need to Know
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Founded in 1905, the Horween Leather Company is one of America’s oldest surviving tanneries. Five generations of leathermakers have kept the tannery at the top of its game for more than 100 years, using traditional Old World techniques and tannages modernized just enough to increase production without sacrificing quality.
Thanks to their practices, they’ve earned a reputation as being the premier maker of some of the best-known American leather: Horween leather.
The Horween Leather Company is best-known for two types of leather:
- Chromexcel, a pull-up leather made using full aniline leathers that are given a hand-rubbed finish of hot wax or oil that permeates the hides and adds durability.
- Genuine Shell Cordovan, a type of leather made using the “shell” (connective tissue) on hide taken from a specific part of a horse’s rump. The painstaking six-month production process results in rich, glossy, and highly prized leather.
The Thursday Captain is an excellent deal. Made with Thursday's Chrome leather from Le Farc tannery (often compared to Horween Chromexcel), these boots are still holding up well after five years of wear. When (if?) these ever wear out, I’ll be getting them again.
2. Hermann Oak
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Founded in 1881, Hermann Oak is a company dedicated to crafting “superb leathers for customers who create works of art”.
They focus primarily on vegetable-tanning processes, using tannins derived from limestone, fish and animal oils, and tree bark. Vegetable tanning was used in the production of 95% of boots prior to the 1990s, and Hermann Oak is fighting to conserve tradition and maintain quality in their leather production.
In addition to prioritizing high-quality leather, they’re also a company that takes environmental friendliness seriously. 5% of their sale price covers the cost of compliance and the cleaning of their wastewater.
3. Wickett and Craig
Location: Curwensville, Pennsylvania
Though Wickett and Craig was founded in Toronto, Canada, its headquarters and facilities are now in Curwensville, Pennsylvania. There, more than 4.5 million square feet of premium vegetable-tanned leather are produced every year.
Their vegetable tanning process blends traditional practices and modern technology. The result: gorgeous, highly durable leathers renowned around the country for both its rich patina and the depth and complexity of its colors. Leather produced by Wickett and Craig strike just the right balance between form and function, good looks and superior durability.
- Nick’s Handmade Boots Wickett and Craig Heritage Boots collection
- Baker’s Boots Wickett and Craig X White’s Boots Custom Baker’s Bounty Hunter
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
What makes Seidel stand out as one of the best American leather companies is its approach to personalizing its leather to its customer’s needs. As their website states, “All our leather is made-to-order, and we work closely with each client to develop the perfect formula to fit their exact needs.”
With multiple leather types, finishes, and colorways available, Seidel offers bootmakers the opportunity to choose materials that are entirely unique to them. The result: one-of-a-kind boots that stand out from the pack.
5. SB Foot Tanning Co.
Location: Red Wing, Minnesota
Founded in 1872, the SB Foot Tanning Co. has made its mark for being a manufacturer of high-quality leather products. So high-quality, in fact, that they have become the primary leather supplier for Red Wing Shoe Company, as well as a main supplier to the U.S. Military.
As far back as World War I and as recently as Operation Iraqi Freedom, the majority of boots worn into combat have been produced using leather derived from SB Foot.
The tannery is famous for a few types of leather, including:
- Oil-tan full grain
- Distressed waxy nubuck
- Gore-friendly waterproof
- Antique full grain
- Fire resistant
- Tumbled full grain
Quality Leather = Quality Boots
I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m shopping, the first thing I look at is the leather used. After all, I want to make sure the materials that went into crafting it are the best quality possible because that contributes to making the boots last longer and look better.
Now that I know about the best American leather tanneries, I’ve got a better idea of where to start hunting for top-notch boots made using locally sourced and eco-friendly materials. That all but guarantees a durable and stylish pair I can fall in love with and wear for many years to come.