Chisos Boots Made from Wild Texas Alligator Skin Are Exotic Yet Sustainable
The new boot will change the way you think about (and see) luxury leather footwear
By Laurel Miller
Photographs by Dimitri Garcia
When native Austinite Will Roman launched Chisos in November of 2019, his goal was to make “damn comfortable, handcrafted cowboy boots” from a sustainable leather source, and emphasize conservation and traditional production methods.
Completing that mission wasn’t easy but Roman succeeded by working directly with partner dairy farms in León, Guanajuato (Mexico’s leather and boot-making capital) and hand-selecting hides from retired cattle destined for the meat industry. At the same time, Chisos donates a percentage of every sale to various Texas conservation agencies, including the Big Bend Conservancy and Hill Country Conservancy.
For Chiso’s first anniversary, Roman wanted to release their first exotic leather boot, which debuts today. Forty pairs of the black, wild alligator Anniversary Edition boots – the first release in the company’s Chisos Reserve collection – are on sale at chisos.com for $4,000 a pair.
“The Anniversary Edition is an embodiment of what it means to be a Texan,” says Roman. “It’s an unabashed celebration of our great state.”
The road to producing the Anniversary Edition boots, however, was a long, laborious process because the luxury goods industry historically hasn’t been committed to sustainability or animal welfare, particularly when with regard to exotic leathers.
“This has been a huge adventure,” says Roman. “We’re making the only small-batch cowboy boots made from wild Texas alligator skins. We tracked down hunters, wholesalers and tanneries, and worked within the CITES (Convention International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) regulations to ensure this project contributed to the conservation of habitat. It’s important that we not only focus on sustainable practices, but also perpetuate the unique traditions and livelihoods specific to the regions that make Chisos boots possible.”
Partial proceeds from sales of the Anniversary Edition boots will go to a Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation initiative to protect alligator habitat.
The boots are made almost entirely by hand at Chisos’ partner workshop in León, including the removable, leather-topped, triple-density polymer insole designed by Roman. Each one is numbered and pressed with an interior emblem that reads “Chisos Reserve.” The heels are stamped in the shape of Texas. The boots feature an alligator vamp and cowhide uppers. The collars are hand-tooled with a relief of the Chisos Mountains.
Initially, Roman found it difficult to find quality skins from a traceable, sustainable source. The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, much of it used for luxury goods. A study published earlier this year by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York states, “The fashion industry remains the largest importer of illegal wildlife to the USA and has the potential to impact the status of wild populations … the origins of the raw materials used to make them reveal a vast, global network spanning at least 32 countries.”
Because Roman wanted distinctive skins for his boots, he was specifically seeking wild alligator skins over farmed. He eventually found a source for his leather – which included months of exhaustively researching hunters, wholesalers and tanneries – in Anahuac, Texas. The town in the southeast part of the state was designated in 1989 by the state legislature as the, “Alligator Capital of Texas.” Roman partnered with Porter’s Processing, a company that offers guided hunts, processing and tanning of wild-caught animals.
From Marsh to Marketplace
In late September, Roman, who is hands-on with every facet of his company, participated in a commercial hunt with Porter’s owner Casey Hedges, who purchased the company several years ago from his mentor, Mark Porter. “Casey really emphasizes respect for the alligator and the minimization of harm during each step,” says Roman. “He and Mark are keenly aware of the impact harvesting female versus male gators has on the population as well as the local economy.”
The American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, is native to the southern U.S., including the eastern third of Texas. The demand for luxury leather goods from the late 19th century to mid-20th century was so great that by 1969, the gator was nearly extinct. That same year, Texas gave it protected status; by 1973 it was declared a critically threatened species by the Texas Endangered Species Act. Those measures, combined with improved conservation methods and illegal trade enforcement over the last 30 years, have led to a complete rebound of the wild alligator population in the U.S.
While still protected, the alligator was delisted as endangered in 1985. Today, that healthy population is managed by two established hunting seasons in spring and fall; permits are limited and only access private land, giving owners an economic incentive to protect its habitat. According to Dr. Jonathan Warner, TPWD’s Alligator Program Leader, alligator farming has largely replaced the need to hunt the animal, because fashion houses and consumers prefer unblemished, consistently patterned skins. Roman notes that farms are required to release 10 percent of their baby alligators into wild habitat for conservation purposes.
Roman is currently working on concepts and sources for other exotic leather boot releases, but he’s also quick to note, “Handwringing isn’t something I encourage. Most participants in the cowboy boot supply chain are well-intentioned and conscious of modern best practices. We’re simply attempting to take some of the guesswork out of the equation.”
Visit the new Chisos showroom at 3507 S. 1st Street in Austin. Give them a call at 512 866 7222 or go to chisos.com to check out the new boots.