Jim Duran chats with the straight-shooting Texan about business, family, and success.
Plus, learn why he’ll never (ever) use trendy marketing ploys to sell his shoes.
Josh Bingaman wears many hats, from family man and entrepreneur to designer and even professional coffee roaster. The multi-tasking Texan founded HELM Shoes in Austin after the success of his capital city east side staple, Progress Coffee. Available in Dallas at Stanley Korshak, HELM specializes in handmade boots for men crafted from Dutch and Australian leather. Think classic, not cowboy.
We chatted with Bingaman to learn the secrets behind his balancing act, and why he’s not a fan of a certain current trend in shoe marketing.
From left: Ray Ray ($398), Tante ($315), and Emi ($335)
DFW Style Daily: What inspired you to launch HELM Shoes?
Josh Bingaman: Long story short, I had a shoe store in San Francisco about twelve years ago, with my brother, called the Subterranean Shoe Room. He collected a lot of sneakers and I collected a lot of boots. He bought me out of that [business] a few years into it, just so we didn’t kill each other. I had learned a lot about footwear in the process, and that planted the seed that someday I wanted to launch my own line.
Why is it that boots have been of such great interest to you?
I remember in elementary and junior high, I was into Air Jordans and whatever Scottie Pippen was wearing. In junior high, I found a pair of my father’s old hunting boots in the garage, and they were really tall and cool and I just remember being attracted to them. That turned me on to finding older hiking boots and work boots at thrift sores and vintage shops.
You have had many successful business ventures. At what point did you know you made the right decision entering into footwear design?
About 18 months into the brand, I saw a girl in Manhattan wearing the Samuel and a guy in Copenhagen wearing the Brock. Then, fashion lines started getting interested. I would pick up a periodical and see a sports star or rock star wearing HELM. But it really hit me when I saw our business grow from people telling friends and sharing their experiences with our boots. That is when I realized it was working.
Most of your shoes are named after family members. How did this come to be?
My son’s middle name is Helm, and he has nicknames for everyone in the family. We have the Samuel, which is his name. He has an uncle he calls Ray Ray, Tante is his aunt, and Emi is his grandmother. That was how I started it, and since then, we have continued to name of all the styles after close friends and family.
How do you feel about the current trend of using advocacy as a marketing tool, such as with TOMS or Kenneth Cole?
I think it’s natural in business for things to trend, but I don’t go to our factories and take pictures of the guys and tell their stories. All of our companies are fair trade. I know everyone I partner with, and their families and where they come from, but I don’t stamp that shit on the bag. If you are doing business, that is just what you should do. That’s just my work ethic. I would rather the shoe sell itself, or the person wearing it to sell it by telling a friend, because they like it and they believe in it.
For more information on HELM Shoes, visit HelmHandmade.com.
(All photos, credit HELM Shoes)