Joe Avella: Lee Miller
is a master boot maker. He makes hundreds of
pairs of boots each year in his Austin shop, Texas Traditions. Lee Miller: A lot of people
think that their running shoes are the most comfortable things they own. This is more comfortable. I own running shoes, and my boots feel better
than my running shoes. And I buy good running shoes. Joe: They start at $3,000. The wait list is so long it takes four years to get a pair. These better be the best boots ever. Lyle Lovett, Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, they all got a pair. I have no opinion on those two other guys, but Willie Nelson is a legend. So, why so much, and why
do they take so long? Lee takes his time handcrafting each pair, using old boot-making
techniques and traditions passed on to him by another boot-making legend, Charlie Dunn. Lee: Handmade boots are quite different than a store-bought boot.
So, everything from the last, which is the shape that
the boot is made on, to all the different
methods of construction, we're kinda like the Ferrari. You know, everything here is done by hand. Some methods go all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire. So, unlike factory-made boots, Lee is dedicated to the finest standards. To get a pair, you have to
visit Lee's shop in Austin. Lee: Everybody has sat on
this throne. Everybody. That's where Miss Bacall sat. Gary Hart was running for president. He sat here. Slim Pickens, Tommy Lee Jones came in. He sat here. That was 1989. Joe: Lee starts by
creating a foot blueprint using a pedograph. The ink imprint gives
him an accurate picture of the arch shape and
positioning of the toes, which he will use to build a custom last. A last is a form shaped
like the customer's foot that Lee can use to build the boot around. Lee: And I would take
measurements with a tape measurer to give me circumference. The whole process takes 20 minutes. Joe: Customers work with
Lee on the boot design, picking specific elements they want, including leather, color,
toe style, and heel.
Texas Traditions has a wide variety of leathers to choose from. I didn't know there was
varieties of leather. Lee: So, we have leather
here from all over the world. This is from Italy. This is kangaroo skins. It's very, very strong. Makes a wonderful pair of boots. So we use a lot of kangaroo. This is bull hide from Spain. We use a lot of pigskin, and pigskin is incredibly tough.
Water buffalo. This is French calf here. We use, of course,
alligator and crocodile. This is white alligator. Let's look at some ostrich. It's a product of South Africa. Here's some gray ostrich here. So, I would say that this is the oldest leather in the world. This is a Russian reindeer
from St. Petersburg. It was tanned in 1786, but this was on a ship that sunk off the coast of England in 1786.
And for 200 years it laid
at the bottom of the sea, till they found it in 1986. Had been covered with black mud, preserving the leather. So this leather, even though
it was tanned in 1786, it's still very usable. It's now extremely hard to get. Joe: Once the last is made, Lee attaches a leather insole. He nails down the insole temporarily and trims it into shape. Lee: This is a German pit-tanned leather, specifically made for insoles. And this is an insole.
Joe: Meanwhile, the team
designs the four panels of the top part of the boot by cutting out the details
and stitching them together. Lee: We'll cut out all
the different pieces. The foot portion will be crimped, and little by little we'll just start doing all the fancy stitching and making any details. Joe: He then stretches
the top part over the last and temporarily tacks it into place. Another distinction that
sets his process apart from mass-produced boots is how the team attaches the soles. Lee: We'll start hand-sewing, and then you'll notice, as we put the soles on,
we're using wooden pegs. And the wooden pegs go all
the way underneath the heel. That's something that you'll
see in a handmade boot, not in a factory boot, where they'll just nail it. If you notice the incredibly fat shank, underneath it is a technique
that the Romans used, which was taking a nail
and laying it in there, and that makes it rigid, and it also makes it humpy.
Joe: He hand-sews a small rim of leather known as a welt to the rim of the boot, allowing the sole to be attached. And now they're ready to
be polished and buffed. Lee: The standard handmade boot takes about 40 hours to make. It can take a lot longer, looking at some of the detail that we do. You know, if it's a fairly
simple boot, 40 hours. But if it's a very complicated boot, it might take you 60 or 80 hours. Joe: Lee makes boots for anyone. That is, anyone with a few
thousand dollars to spare.
Depending on your design, stitching, and leather choices, it can really start to add up. Lee: Crocodile is the
most expensive leather that we offer, and so a boot like this would probably start at $5,000. Joe: Before Lee took
over Texas Traditions, it was run by boot-making
legend Charlie Dunn. He's known as the
"Michelangelo of cowboy boots." Lee: I think it was 1973. Somebody said, "Hey, you
gotta hear this song. Jerry Jeff Walker wrote a
song about a boot maker, and his name is Charlie Dunn." ♪ Charlie done the boots
that are on my feet ♪ Joe: In November of 1977, Lee went to work as an
apprentice for Charlie. Lee worked alongside him
until his retirement in 1986. Lee and his wife, Carrlyn
Miller, took over the business.
Today, Lee and his team are keeping Charlie's boot-making
traditions alive and well..