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|Articles - October 2010|
|Tuesday, September 28, 2010|
Roberta Shoemaker runs a family-owned company that has produced rugged men’s work boots for 92 years. But as the first woman to run West Coast Shoe Co., she has itched to produce a feminine boot line.
After two years, the new line is more than just a dream. Shoemaker, the granddaughter of Wesco’s founder, John Henry, is ready to send her luxury handmade women’s boots out into the world.
Though the men ran the family business for a long time, it was Shoemaker’s Dutch great-grandmother Klaasje Van Spijker (pronounced like spiker, translating literally as “with nails”) who inspired the name of the Van Spijker line of boots (and one shoe), and five generations of family women lend their names to the styles: Jentje, Klaasje, Harmina, Fenna, Johanna. If those women were anything like their namesake boots — sexy, expensive, with a dollop of dominatrix — god help the Van Spijker men.
“I wanted something with a little edginess to them,” says Shoemaker. “There was no plan to start a whole new business. It just evolved.” The all-leather shoes each take a full day to make. Customers can go to the Scappoose factory for a custom fit, or just order a size, and they retail between $1,240 and $1,800. Shoemaker wanted the collection to be timeless, one that “a woman would treasure and want to wear year after year. It’s going to be a woman that just wants something different and unique.”
The line had a summer soft launch and will hard-launch in January. Shoemaker hopes to distribute them in high-end boutiques, along with making them available online.
The 40-person company also has launched a new electrical hazard boot and a women’s line of Wesco boots in four styles. Shoemaker, who took over from her father, Robert, in 1999, sees the custom business as key to her company’s strategy. Custom-fit boots make up 60% of Wesco’s business.
But this new luxury line is most exciting. “Not only because it is something very different, but it’s something for women,” she says, “And it’s luscious.”
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Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.
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