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The Rubber Boot Brand Hipsters Will Love

What do professional fishermen and fans of reality television have in common? A knowledge of Xtratuf, a division of Honeywell and makers of the waterproof rubber boots worn by the Alaskan fishermen on Discovery Channel’s reality program “Deadliest Catch.”

Known for being built to battle the elements, the brand’s core Legacy range is equipped with an unique triple-dipping technique designed to keep feet dry and comfortable. There are non-insulated and insulated options rated to sub-freezing temperatures. Meanwhile, its signature Chevron outsole has remained unchanged for years, providing reliable traction in extreme conditions. A steal toe option offers added protection.

Along the way, the Legacy boots, in its understated brown and beige colorway, have become a staple in men’s, women’s and children’s wardrobes in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. And thanks in part to the cache that heritage brands have with hipsters, Xtratuf is garnering a younger and more fashionable following. In fact, photos of moms and daughters in matching boots, girls wearing the boots while horseback riding and lots of pets posing with pairs, has as much real estate as fishermen do on the brand’s Instagram account.

This spring Xtratuf is peeling away more of its tough-guy persona with a new range of light and casual footwear, however, Sean O’Brien, Honeywell VP, General Manager, Global Retail, pointed out consumers can still expect the same amount of performance and comfort from the new range. “We hope to leverage our brand heritage and performance to further expand into other product categories’ down the road,” he explained.

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Spin off product include two new deck boots (available in 15″ or 12”) outfitted with the same waterproof and non-slip performance outsoles fans have grown to rely on from Xtratuf. The boots are a much lighter weight package for people out on fishing working on the docks, O’Brien noted. Likewise, the new Bluefin shoe has the same non-slip Chevron sole as every Xtratuf boot, but is constructed with micro-fiber leather which is naturally resistant to salt water. O’Brien said the air mesh upper also allows the shoe to get wet but then dry quickly.

Vamp caught up with O’Brien to learn more about Xtratuf’s expansion, and how its fans take brand loyalty to a whole new level.

How has a brand that mainly offers one colorway in just a couple of silhouettes been able to stay in business for more than 50 years?
O’Brien: Our success can be accredited to the loyal following that Xtratuf has developed over the past 50 years. When Xtratuf was founded in the 1960’s, the brand developed a boot specifically for fishermen on the West Coast. It was then adapted in areas like Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as a staple item in everyday attire. The classic brown color way known as “The Legacy” is synonymous with battling the elements—it has a loyal following which has been amazing for our brand.

Vamp: And how can it be that many consumers are just discovering the brand?
O’Brien: While the brand might not be top of mind for the mainstream consumer, Xtratuf Boots are part of everyday life for almost all Alaskans. We have the majority of the footwear market share in Alaska. It becomes apparent when you visit Alaska that the majority of the population has Xtratuf boots on their feet. It’s just a way of life up there—a sort of rite of passage for people to get their first pair. For more than 50 years, Xtratuf Boots has provided comfort and unparalleled protection to fishermen around the world. We hope to leverage this unique brand story, with its years of heritage and passionate consumer base to grow the brand in other markets and product categories.

Vamp: Describe Xtratuf’s core fisherman consumer.
O’Brien: The Xtratuf consumer is loyal; bar none. They are hard working. Passionate about their job, their family, and their lifestyle. If you think about the people wearing these boots, they are literally doing the deadliest job in the world—fishing for King Crab. It’s 26 times more deadly a profession than the national average. These guys ooze tough, and they only wear our boots to get the job done. That is saying something when you are considered essential to work a job like that.

Vamp: What are the key performance qualities that have made it the go-to boot for fisherman for so long?
O’Brien: What really differentiates our boot from others is the unique manufacturing process we use. All of our Legacy products are triple dipped in liquid neoprene rubber creating a rubber boot that has no seams on the outside. This eliminates points where the boot could potentially fail. The simple design, without gussets, heel kicks or molded pieces was developed so that while on a boat, nets and ropes have nothing to catch on to. The rubber is naturally resistant to any harsh chemicals, fats or acids that your traditional fisherman may run into during the course of his day. The boot also features a heel so that fishermen can safely climb ladders while out at sea. The triple dipping technique also makes the boot softer, thinner and more pliable than other rubber boots on the market. Our boot and its Chevron outsole have remained unchanged for more than 50 years—a true testament to its quality and timeless design.

Vamp: Where do you see the brand gaining traction?
O’Brien: Our Legacy products have been given nicknames such as the “Alaskan Sneaker” or the “Sitka slipper” thanks to our loyal following in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The brand is also growing in popularity with our newer lightweight casual offerings within the sport fishing community along the California Coast as well as coastal regions on the East Coast and Mid Atlantic.

Vamp: We’ve seen a lot of work brands pick up steam with the hipster crowd. Xtratuf seems like it fits that bill. Is this something the brand is benefiting from?
O’Brien: There is a trend, particularly in footwear, to find brands that have a heritage and can tell a story. Additionally, some consumers are drawn to products that offer credible functionality with a unique style. As a result, Xtratuf is beginning to appeal to a new consumer base. Additionally, there are currently over a dozen reality-based TV shows on the air about Alaska and almost everyone on these shows are organically wearing Xtratuf in their everyday life in Alaska, this has also opened the brand up to new consumers.

Vamp: Is the brand’s appeal expanding to more fashion-conscious consumers?
O’Brien: The brand has been seeing some halo benefits from the “lumber chic” and the outdoor lifestyle trend. Consumers following and adopting these trends are looking to find brands that have deep heritage with a unique story to tell. The fact that they are incredibly durable and functional is appealing to the fashion minded consumer as well.

Vamp: How has social media played a role in reaching new customers?
O’Brien: Social media has allowed us to open up a dialogue with our consumers—to really see how the authentic consumer wears and appropriates the brand in different ways. It has shown us that people may wear our boots in different applications or lifestyle contexts that can give us ideas about new products to serve them. Continually monitoring how our brand is worn, and what our consumer is saying is extremely important to us. We are active across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, and see a lot of activity around the hashtag #Xtratuf. You can really get a snapshot of the lifestyle that our consumer lives and breathes.