Since the 1900s, Tony Lama boots have been the premier boot of choice for fans of the cowboy culture. Back in those days, anyone looking to get a stylish pair of boots looked towards Tony Lama. So, how did this company become so famous? And, why do we not hear about them as much these days? We’re going to tell you everything below.
The story of Tony Lama boots:
The progenitor of this company, Anthony “Tony” Lama, was born in 1887. He was born soon after his parents left Italy for the USA. His parents wanted to make a place for themselves in the American dream, though sadly, they met their demise when Tony was 11. After this life-changing incident, Tony’s uncle adopted him and sent him to a shoemaker in Syracuse, New York. Here, he learned this trade thoroughly and made the legendary Tony Lama boots that everyone came to love.
Unlike other kids of his age, Tony was an intelligent child. Therefore, at the age of 16, he joined the US Cavalry in Fort Bliss, Texas, lying about his age. Tony worked as a cobbler there and mainly repaired boots for the soldiers. However, it wasn’t long before the people at the fort recognized his skills, and he became famous for crafting custom boots. Slowly, the reputation of Tony Lama boots spread across the southwest, bringing many cowboys and ranchers to his door.
After completing his stint with the cavalry, Tony moved to the Mexican border town of El Paso, Texas. He soon realized that the market there was overflowing with demand for western-style boots. Seeing an excellent opportunity to utilize his expertise, he set up his own company there in 1911. However, the Tony lama boots didn’t come into existence right away. The company started as a small repair shop first. But, his reputation soon spread like wildfire, and he began receiving hundreds of orders for custom boots.
The Lama Family:
Tony Lama got married to Ester Hernandez in 1917, and the couple had six children over the coming years. They taught every one of their kids the art of shoemaking and made them master the ways of the industry from a young age. The effort paid off, and eventually, all the kids took up an active role in manufacturing Tony Lama boots.
In 1933, the family business was booming, and the company was producing 40 pairs of boots in a day. This boom didn’t last for long as World War 2 came around and caused the business to halt to a snail’s pace. Luckily, this lull didn’t last for long, and the demand for Tony Lama boots exploded again post-war.
Soon after, Tony Lama decided to convert the family business into a full-fledged corporation in 1946. Then, the year 1948 came around, and the company’s first great success story happened when the eldest son Joseph “Bert” Lama presented kangaroo skin Tony Lama boots to then-president Harry S. Truman.
By the 1950s, people hailed Tony Lama as an innovator due to his use of new leathers, techniques, and construction methods that no one had thought of. He completely transformed the industry, and Tony Lama boots became so famous that the company was making 3,100 pairs per day. Their global reach had also expanded to 4,500 retailers worldwide, making them a force to be reckoned with.
Not everything was smooth sailing, though, as following the move of the plant to a new location in 1967, the workers got split as half of them were being represented by a labor union. This divide shortly resulted in a dispute between the union and non-union workers. The conflict forced the Lama family to work overtime to ensure the continuous production of the Tony Lama boots.
The next wave of growth happened between the late sixties and 1970s as Bert Lama increased his participation in the company. He was the driving force behind the company adapting to such massive growth. To ensure that Tony Lama boots maintained their quality, Bert set up best practices and purchasing standards. He also was the first one to use Ostrich leather to make boots.
Under Bert’s watchful eye, the company went public in 1971 and grew more prominent than ever.
The end of an era:
After Tony Lama Sr. passed away in the January of 1974, the middle son, Tony Lama Jr., assumed the company’s presidency. He continued the legacy of the humble cobbler who became a successful entrepreneur and revolutionized the industry through his determination and skill. Tony Lama boots saw another meteoric rise in popularity in the early 1980s due to the movie Urban Cowboy.
This John Travolta and Debra Winger starrer gave rise to excessive demand for cowboy boots. The lizard wingtips Tony Lama boots were the stars of this show, and the company’s production increased to 5,200 pairs per day. Following this demand, the company moved to a larger 80,000 sqft plant. But it wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t take long for disaster to strike, and the recession came and caused a crash in demand.
After braving all these challenges, finally, the Lama family sold the company to Justin Industries in the August of 1990. Justin Industries is a part of Berkshire Hathaway and owns several other brands like Nocona boots, Chippewa, and Justin. Even after this sale, the Lama family continues to play a part in the production of Tony Lama boots as Joe Lama, the grandson of Tony Lama still works at the company as their leather purchaser.
Why do we no longer hear much about Tony Lama boots?
There was a time when westerners were the most favorite film genre. These movies used to be a way for the audience to learn about the history of their culture in a fascinating and entertaining way. Movies like the original Django (1966) and Unforgiven (1992) being released every few years spoiled the viewers for choice. Arguably, the genre reached its peak in 2012 when Quentin Tarantino released Django Unchained. So, even after all these bangers, why did the popularity of Tony Lama boots wane?
Well, the answer is that people slowly moved on. We have explored the genre through every possible lens in the past decades. And now, the new age of fast-paced action movies involving fast cars, big guns, and explosions has taken over. This change has also molded the audience resulting in the dwindling demand for Western fashion like Tony Lama boots.
Why should you buy Tony Lama boots in the present day?
Even though the trend of cowboy fashion has crashed over the past few decades, in our opinion, the quality and uniqueness of Tony Lama boots are an undeniable fact. Even now, the company produces the boots with the utmost quality standards to ensure that they last longer than anything else in this market. Each pair of boots is still largely handcrafted, and the company still uses premium materials to make them. Add to that the fact that these boots have some of the best designs. And the idea of owning one of these suddenly sounds enticing.
Did you know that the world’s most expensive boots are a pair of Tony Lama boots? These boots were created by the highly acclaimed artist Jack Armstrong, famous for his unique art style “Cosmic Extensionalism.” He made these one-of-a-kind boots as a part of his art portfolio, and these Cosmic Cowboy Boots will set you back a handsome $6 million.
So, what do you think of the Tony Lama boots? Do you want to buy one after knowing all the remarkable history behind them, or do you remain indifferent? Let us know in the comments down below!
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