As Pee-wee Herman once said, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
The actor’s classic refrain seems appropriate to apply to the footwear — a kitschy hybrid of cowboy boots and sandals that have gone viral and won fans in the comedian, who has tweeted about them, twice, as well as other netizens who’ve propelled the label to success.
“Pee-wee Herman tweeted my company and after he did it we got tweets from all types of people,” Scotty Franklin, owner of Redneck Boot Sandals revealed to Footwear News. “I had no idea who he is.”
— Pee-wee Herman (@peeweeherman) June 7, 2015
Last year, Herman — actor Paul Reubens’ alter ego — shared images of the shoes on the social network in June, and then again one week later. The result was like a domino affect, drawing Web traffic en masse to the label’s website from Twitter, Facebook and other digital publishers.
Franklin credits Herman for making his brand go viral, which has continued as others share images of the striking footwear. “I’ll get phone calls from radio shows,” he said.
The quirky silhouette — a traditional cowboy boot carved and redesigned like a sandal with a toe post and straps — started out as a joke when he whittled his first pair in 2012 using a pocketknife on a pair of old boots.
He was inspired after observing a beachgoer wearing cowboy boots in Gulf Shores, Ala.
“I saw flip-flops next to my feet and thought about putting them together,” he said. “I wore them around and people thought it was funny — I just wanted to see the reaction. I thought this could be a business.”
With no formal training in shoemaking, the former deputy sheriff began producing the shoes in his garage using “basic tools” at his home in Springfield, Mo.
The design process happened organically.
“I pretty much trained myself,” he said. “I had a drill and also a shoestring that I would pull through, and then I’d take an industrial stapler and that’s what held the shoe together when I cut it out.”
The operation is much more sophisticated now. Franklin is equipped with leather sewing machines and professional tools. He also partly outsources jobs to two local cobblers, including one who has 31 years of experience — but Franklin does some of the initial cutting himself at home.
“The work we’re doing now is more advance than just a pocketknife,” he said. “We put in a new insole for the customer if they need it, just to make it look good.”
Franklin estimated that he has fulfilled 1,000 orders so far this year and has a total staff of eight, including his niece, a college student who pitches in during summers off. “My mother’s the C.F.O.” he added. “It’s been our first year as an actual LLC, we got a trademark and we’re just looking to expand to doing mass production.”
Orders are placed through the brand’s website and customers ship their own boots for the remanufacturing services, which cost $75, plus $25 for shipping and handling in the continental U.S.
Redneck Boots have also charmed international consumers seeking a piece of quirky Americana.
“Surprisingly, Canada has been big for us — Australia, Switzerland,” he said. “We’re getting more attention from Asia. Mexico. Italy’s been popular, which is not surprising because they are leather fanatics.”
Of course, it’s Texas where demand for the cowboy-boot-sandals is highest, “surprise, surprise,” he said, adding that California and Oklahoma, respectively, follow behind. “The New England area is popular as well, which kind of surprised me.”
The novelty of the footwear has led to a variety of customers, including a group of bank executives. “I loaned them a pair of mine and they’re auctioning off a gift card at some sort of bank conference in Dallas,” Franklin shared.
And he believes a San Francisco-based professional, who recently had a pair shipped to Washington state for a business conference, will be doing the same thing.
The Redneck Boot Company also supports charities, Franklin added. “We donate to Isabel’s House, here in Springfield, for child abuse and neglect, and we try to give back to the community and have fun with what we’re doing.”
For fans of the footwear, its name is an apt tribute.
“Everybody thought it was so redneck and silly,” Franklin said. “I just figured — it fits the item. It’s redneck, it’s a boot and it’s a sandal. People call them cowboy boot sandals too.”
Franklin’s first customers — a couple — found the humor in the boots like he did. Doug and Tonya, he recalled, ordered a pair of his-and-hers sandals just to get a reaction out of onlookers.
“They’ve taken them to Dominican Republic,” he shared. “They take them all over the place and love people’s reactions. It’s like cruising around in a fancy sports car — I’m not comparing it to that because it’s a different kind of thing — but it turns the eyeballs and makes people look at you. You think you’d get negative attention but it’s the opposite. It’s definitely different.”