Helm Boots: A Maker’s Studio with Heart and Sole
My Think Space: Joshua Bingaman of Helm Boots
Soul Is Important Here
by MP Mueller
Photographs by Hayden Spears
This story started as a look inside a Maker’s office — a look at the space where they create, and what kinds of things inspire them. But when we met with Joshua Bingaman, the founder of Helm Boots, we discovered his office is kind of an “un-office.” His desk looks like two supersized metal TV trays on wheels. It’s fitting, really, for this energetic, expressive and unassuming leader who is always in motion. His hands and body language rival his words in communication — shoulder shrugs, furrowed eyebrows, hands in his jeans pockets and alternatively pushing back his hair. Bingaman perches in different places around his open office/warehouse space in East Austin to work, and often walks down to neighbor Revival Cycles and conducts business from one of the motorcycle shop’s bays.
A serial entrepreneur (shoe store in San Francisco, successful coffee shop) Bingaman somewhat tripped into the shoe business.
While visiting an aunt in Istanbul — who knew a guy, who knew a guy — Bingaman had seven styles of boots fabricated in a shoe factory there. Minimums were 100 pairs, so he ordered 100 pairs of each style, put them on his credit card and shipped them back to Austin. After the launch party at his then coffee shop, Progress Coffee, local men’s shop Stag picked them up, followed by other boutiques. Nordstrom now carries his boots and Helm is launching their line on Zappos soon. Helm has one store in Austin, with another planned, along with an expansion to Houston.
After the initial launch, Bingaman soon brought manufacturing to the US and today, Helm is one of the few American shoe companies whose products are still made in America. Bingaman is passionate about supporting American manufacturers and their employees. And he’s passionate about caring for his own. “We are not a heritage brand, but this is based on people. The three Ps of Helm are people, product, profit. If people are on board and taken care of, the product will be there. If the product’s taken care of, the profit comes,” Bingaman says.
Names mean a lot here. You know you are a FOJ (friend of Joshua) when there’s a Helm Boot named after you. Bingaman’s company was named after a close lifelong friend, Dave Helm. (Bingaman named his son after him, too). “He used to be in the Peace Corps, ex-hippie, traveled through Guatemala, Honduras, building water wells and rebuilding houses post-hurricanes,” Bingaman says of his friend. “Watching his altruism and work ethic growing up was a large part of me wanting to name my son and business after him.” The Samuel, (for his son), Emi (Hebrew for “grandmother,” which his three kids call his mother), Tante, Poppy, Ernest (“a really rad ¾ monkstrap style boot” named after his dad, an ambulance driver and Cadillac dealer in Altus, OK), the Alan, Stefan, etc. The list goes on and boots on pavement now carry the names of parents of people who work at Helm, friends Bingaman grew up with and local business owners. helmboots.com