Fashionably Ambitious: Crafteing Shoes for the Stars

Written by Mindy Wood in the October 2010 Issue

Former Edmond resident and Edmond Memorial High School graduate, Joshua Bingaman is on a career path that he never guessed would grow so rapidly. His company, Helm Handmade, was born just one year ago. Bingaman’s passion for quality handmade boots is now in high demand by Hollywood stars and best selling music artists.

Bingaman’s down-to-earth Oklahoma val-ues shaped the nature of his business and his boots. His commitment to quality and eye for high fashion are tempered by practicality, comfort, and an unpretentious price of $300 to $500 a pair. Although his journey to popularity seemed to happened overnight, he refuses to mass market his product and remains dedicated to the quality and process in which he is so
personally involved.

It all began in high school. “My brother and I had a shoe fetish growing up. We started collecting sneakers and other styles, but I started wearing more boots in high school,” said Bingaman. “After my brother and I started the Shoe Room in San Francisco, I collected older vintage styles and wore CAT, Sendra, Wolverines, Red Wings, just the whole gamut. Then boots started to become fashionable.”

Bingaman later moved to Austin to open Progress Coffee, which grew to become one of the 10 best boutique coffee shops in the country, according to Bon Appetit. His brother bought him out of the California shoe business, but he continued to wear boots in the sweltering Texas summer heat, as he dreamed of something
more practical.

“I wondered if I could design boots here that were influenced by work boots, but would be comfortable and light weight, he said. “I named the company and our first boot, the Samuel after my son Samuel Helm. They’re not clunky, hot or heavy and they breathe.”

The process is as unique as the boots themselves, which are designed in Austin by Bingaman and a design team. Those drawings are sent to craftsmen in Istanbul, where they are made. The leathers, sheepskin, goatskin and calfskin, arrive from Holland, France and Australia with leather soles from Italy and rubber soles from Malaysia.

The boots require five days to complete and every piece is done by hand. In the beginning, Bingaman wasn’t sure he would be able to pull off an international offering. “Finding all these people to work with me seemed like a farfetched idea – combining these styles, materials, and craftsmanship in one place – but it’s working,” he said.

The company’s straightforward marketing idea also paid off. “While designing the boots, I often have someone in mind. I would think about Robert Redford’s style or Nick Cave from The Bad Seed – just different people I’ve watched over the years,” said Bingaman. “When we got our samples ready, we had a girl in our office try calling stylists, agents or managers for some high profile people, and just about everyone decided to buy them!”

Stars like Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew McConaughey and Andy Roddick are just a few who fell in love with Bingaman’s style. Celebrity exposure and simple word of mouth soon created a viral demand that Helm Handmade is carefully trying to meet.

“It’s been exciting and cool as an artist to see this happening but I’m so involved in the business side of this that it consumes me too. I want to keep it handmade and I don’t want to mass produce because I don’t want to compromise the quality,” said Bingaman. “I always have in my mind, ‘how can we be better, not bigger but better.’ I have to keep the passion and drive in this and succeed with it at the same time, no matter if a model or actor is wearing them or not.”

As trends in niche retail markets appear to shift to handcrafted merchandise, Helm Handmade meets the challenge head on. In addition to accounts in Denmark, Copenhagen, LA, New York, and Chicago, Bingaman plans on expanding his line to meet new demands as they arise. He enjoys reading personal requests and stories about his boots through his blog.

“The response from women has been a little overwhelming. When I was doing a show in Brooklyn, it was cool to see a girl in a skirt on the streets wearing a pair of Samuels and I didn’t design them for women. Girls are wearing these masculine styles, but they look great,” he said. “When the ‘work boot look’ was cool, girls wanted them, but the manufacturer would only size them down to a women’s 9 ½. I’m sizing ours down to a 7 ½ or 8 and I’m working on a women’s line; but I want to keep Helm masculine with a unisex bleed into our styles.”

As he expands and grows, he hopes to keep the company and the product line personal, just like when his first boot was named after his son. “I love that aspect of Helm, because that’s how it started. I’m just hoping to open a college fund for my kids,” laughed Bingaman, “along with the success of it and having fun.”
For more information, visit Helm’s website
at www.helmhandmade.com.

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