Texas Designer Giving Leather the Boot
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you likely won’t notice that these cowboy boots are cow-free.
When it comes to cowboy boots, Texans know a thing or two about leather — from calf and alligator to ostrich and reptile. Kat Mendenhall was one of these leather-loving boot wearers for years. That is, until an incident convinced her to start making her own vegan versions. And she might be the only independent purveyor in the state to make custom vegan leather boots.
Making custom cowboy boots without animals is groundbreaking, especially in a state like Texas, where barbecue reigns and leather is a way of life. But Mendenhall found a way to create animal-free versions from a synthetic, polyurethane-based product — no PVC or off-gassing (a process in which manufactured items release chemicals in the form of gas) either. The boots, available in faux ostrich, faux calf, faux suede and more, can be ordered in a variety of colors: rich browns, reds, eggshell and, upon request, even pink.
An online shop for about two and a half years, Kat Mendenhall Boots opened as a storefront this past spring in Dallas’ Design District. While Mendenhall has been vegan for eight years, it was only four years ago that she realized she was still consuming animals: by wearing them. “I’d made the animal-to-mouth connection, but I hadn’t really made the animal-to-wear connection,” she says. One day as she was driving behind a cattle truck — a sight she’d seen countless times, coming from a cattle ranching family — she realized she had to make a change.
Her biggest hurdle … is convincing mainstream consumers that there are beautiful, ethically made alternatives to animal leather.
After attending a vegan academy in New York and learning about the toxicity of the chemicals used to make leather, Mendenhall came up with the idea to create animal-free cowboy boots. She sourced materials from Majilite, a company out of Massachusetts that only uses vegan leather, and hired El Paso bootmaker Tomasso Arditti to manufacture the boots. Mendenhall takes care of measurements and design.
And customers are happy with the result. “They breathe like regular leather boots, feel like regular boots,” says Renee King-Sonnen from Angleton, Texas, who owns three pairs and is eyeing a fourth (in turquoise). “I walk out into the pastures whether it’s muddy or rainy and I never worry about water getting in my boots,” she adds. In Detroit, Dr. Joel Kahn, who owns two pairs, likes the comfort and “soft, supple, very real leather look” of the boots and sees no reason to return to his 10 leather pairs.
You might expect that many Texans would be outraged at the thought of non-leather cowboy boots, but Mendenhall says people lean toward the curious rather than the defensive. This allows her an opportunity to educate people on vegan leather and cruelty-free options available in the fashion industry. Her biggest hurdle, though, is convincing mainstream consumers that there are beautiful, ethically made alternatives to animal leather, “and [that] you don’t have to sacrifice luxury.”
Or style. Customers can choose from a standard cowboy boot, a Pee Wee boot (a tad shorter) and, a favorite of brides, a Bootine (a shorter ankle boot with an inner zipper). The process from ordering to shipment is typically less than two months; the price for a pair starts at $485 and goes up to $525, which is on the less-expensive end for custom cowboy boots.
For King-Sonnen, it’s more than cost and fashion. “Knowing that no animal had to suffer for my comfort makes these boots the choice in a world that is being eaten up by animal agriculture,” she says.