St. George, Utah
"I think there's only about six bootmakers in the state of Utah now," says Schmidt.
Given his age of 24 years, and his enthusiasm for his craft, there's every reason to suspect Schmidt's Bootmaker will be in business for years to come.
Presently, Schmidt offers a versatile collection of sturdy and elegant-looking footwear -- whether for doing construction work during the day or enjoying a night out on the town. There are work boots. Dress and lace-to-toe designs. Hiking boots. "We'll do welding boots and different safety boots, made to be tough," says Schmidt. "We're getting into [making] wildland fire boots."
Customers can choose from different hues of leather or bison material, as well as the type of sole they want. Most boots sell for $600 per pair. And they're designed to be recrafted easily, should they ever need a repair. Schmidt can also make hunting boots from hides provided by hunters, like crocodile or alligator, after they've been treated by "one of the tanneries we work with over in Wisconsin." Other leathers he uses come from Texas and California.
It was while living above a cobbler's shop in Dublin, Ireland, while doing his LDS missionary work, that his interest in shoe-repair was piqued, he says. Back in the States, Schmidt began fixing shoes, learning from two of Park City's competing outfits. But it eventually grew frustrating for him to discover how much "cloak and dagger" there is in the construction of many commercially made boots that purport to be "handmade," which he'd be called on to repair. Schmidt says, "As you tear into the boot to do a resole, or re-welt, you'll find that all the materials that you can't see, they're all made out of cardboard, plastics, and papers."
Schmidt began fabricating better constructed boots on his own. "After making one or two pairs, I just realized, 'Hey, this is so much better than repairing Chinese shoes all day.' So let's just make this our full time gig." As an outfit, Schmidt's Bootmaker averages two or three pairs of boots per week.
Recently, Schmidt moved his shop out of a smaller shared space in St. George and into his own 400-square-foot garage. There, he employs various hand tools -- including awls for inseaming, and leather hammers which have "a polished head to it, so you don't make any marks on the soles or anything else like that." And there are sewing machines for a variety of applications: for instance, there's one for sewing the uppers of the boot and another for attaching the soles.
Schmidt received some of his training in bootmaking from Randy Merrell of Merrell Foot Lab. Prior to that, he learned how to make boot patterns from cowboy boot legend Don Roundy. "I went to learn more from him, originally, just to become a better cobbler -- but it turned into me just wanting to learn the full trade," says Schmidt.
While Schmidt doesn't make cowboy boots himself, he hasn't necessarily taken the easier path in the footwear he does make. Sometimes certain patterns in cowboy boots can be re-utilized from pair to pair. But with lace-up boots "the pattern has to be redesigned from scratch every single time," based upon each separate customer's calf and ankle measurements.
Schmidt wants people to know that they don't have to be measured in person for him to make boots for them. He can send a sizing kit to someone, so they can provide him with their measurements. Then, Schmidt will send back a taped-up template of how the boot will fit for the customer's approval, before he begins actually making them. He's made a pair for someone in Kentucky and another for a customer in Idaho. Given that, Schmidt has sought to increase his online marketing potentials. He also attracts customers via word of mouth. And through doing shoe repair demonstrations at farmers' markets.
Although Schmidt had previously worked at, or investigated, other ways to make a living -- roofing, running a pool business, trying to get into the police academy -- he steadfastly says, "This is my life now."
Schmidt envisions practicing his trade for decades to come, calling it an "amazing blessing" to be doing a job in which "I'm constantly going to be working -- and constantly going to be learning how to just make it better."
Challenges: Marketing. "Finding more people to make boots for," says Schmidt.
Opportunities: "There's so many different directions we can take this," says Schmidt, before listing off potential markets. "We can go into just police and military boots and fill our time with that. Or we can go just into wildland fire boots. . . . We can just go into dress [boots]."
Needs: "Finding different ways to reach out to new clients," says Schmidt, which would include further online sales.