President Joe Biden’s much-debated infrastructure bill is not the first time Washington has attempted to modernize the country, but it’s among the boldest with a budget of over $1.2 trillion.
As of press time, the legislation was still stalled in the House of Representatives, but among its components is a commitment to expanding clean energy through a range of new-age projects, and workers in these green-friendly jobs will require protective gear that starts with the right pair of boots. So brands are busy creating the tools necessary for these trades.
At Dan Post Boots, VP of sales Tommy Morrison predicts that the shift toward energy-efficient jobs could increase the need for boots with electrostatic dissipative features. “There could be an explosion point as computer robotics gets bigger,” he said, also citing such growing industries as electric car production.
Footwear Specialties, producers of the Avenger and Nautilus Safety footwear lines, also expects an uptick in ESD footwear as a result of increased investment in green solutions. “Some of these jobs, such as producing batteries for vehicles, has shifted [the boot business] to more ESD and indoor work footwear,” said Ken Blanco, VP of sales.
Whether workers will be manufacturing electric cars or servicing wind turbines, said Bob Sineni, VP and GM of Timberland Pro, said there will continue to be a need for lighterweight, flexible footwear with plenty of comfort. For spring ’22, the brand is building on its Radius collection introduced last spring. Retailing for $135, it features breathable knit uppers with abrasion-resistant reinforcements, asymmetrical composite toes and the brand’s proprietary anti-fatigue technology. And, emphasized Sineni, “They’re metal- and mutilation-free, making them a great choice for electric car manufacturing.”
Wayne Lee, president of Genuine Grip Footwear, agreed that the rise of green jobs could change the types of work footwear sold — as well as the volume. “While it takes time and energy to set up a lot of solar panels, once they’re up, you don’t see people working out there,” he explained. “Fewer people will be needed for outside maintenance, while more will be needed to monitor [these systems] on computers.” This shift, he noted, will prompt an increased demand for ESD footwear, including lightweight athletic-inspired looks, popular with a younger workforce.
But even as more high-tech industries emerge, said Blanco, there remains an ongoing need for heavy-duty boots appropriate for more traditional jobs. “The 8-inch waterproof boots for guys laying fiber optic cable are still needed, although we’re seeing an increased demand for footwear with [enhanced] features and benefits, whether it’s a puncture-resistant midsole or better-quality footbed,” he said.
Brent Jennings, VP of marketing for Warson Brands, agrees workers will still be getting down and dirty. “[Despite] other forms of power, including wind and water, workers are still around heavy equipment and dangerous environments,” he noted. Whatever the job, he emphasized, “we see regulation continuing to grow around footwear in the coming years, with worker safety in all areas becoming more regulated and incentivized by the government.”
While workers will be rebuilding America’s infrastructure, the jury is still out on whether they will have a renewed interest in doing it in domestically made boots.
Dan Post’s Morrison is among those optimistic there will be some flag waving. The company is currently developing a collection made in the States that could debut for spring ’22. “Prices will be slightly higher, but people will pay more,” he said, predicting prices to run 15% above current product. “A lot of young people like to wear the flag and have a certain amount of patriotism.”
At Timberland Pro, Sineni is hoping for the same. “We tend to find that most people prioritize comfort, durability and performance when shopping for work footwear, but there’s certainly an appetite for U.S.-made as well,” he noted. “We’ve been exploring the potential to bring some of our production to the U.S. — certain components, for instance — and will continue to evaluate options as the market evolves.”
And as COVID-19 continues to create major problems for the global supply chain, brands could find some financial benefits from manufacturing closer to home.