Innovative design has put Old Gringo ahead of the fashion curve and set boot trends for Western aficionados worldwide. As the brand celebrates 20 years in the boot business, its co-founders reflect on how passion and community have built their success.
As the saying goes, you can’t reinvent the wheel. However, as Old Gringo Boots celebrates its 20th anniversary, the iconic boot brand has proved you can reimagine a classic with designs that captivate fans season after season. What is the secret to building a cutting-edge reputation in the boot industry? “If I could say one word, passion,” Old Gringo co-founder Ernie Tarut says. “We show passion in everything that we do. When you see a pair of our boots in person ... you see the difference.”
Tarut has been a part of the fashion industry for more than 45 years, his experience aiding in the brand development of Old Gringo from its launch in 2000. With roots in leather manufacturing, Tarut was showcasing a line of leather jackets when the opportunity to jump into the boot category arose via a French bootmaker named Yan Ferry. “I was a one-man band, so to speak,” Tarut says. “I was doing everything myself, going to the shows. [Ferry] and I were friends. He came up to me at the WESA [Western and English Sales Association] show in 1999 and asked me if I’d like to put together a boot factory with him. He showed me some numbers on a yellow pad … and we started the factory within nine months.” With an idea and an old-fashioned handshake, the Old Gringo company concept came alive. With the no-contracts-attached partnership between Tarut and Ferry at the helm, Old Gringo became the largest handmade-boot factory in the world.
“When we first started, we had 10 styles,” Tarut says. With help from friends overseeing Boot Barn, Cavender’s, and Western Warehouse, Old Gringo had narrowed its brand focus to incorporate timeless styling, bringing forth an authentic Western look fitted with a fashion edge. After dipping their toes into the market in 2000, Tarut and Ferry began to see momentum as word of the line’s distinctive styling spread. Western fashion trends hit a peak in the mainstream around 2005, which led to explosive growth, elevating Old Gringo to the status of a household name. “[We] could’ve sold as many boots as [we] could have possibly made but wanted to be careful at the time, because I always felt you could wear a good thing out,” Tarut says.
Sure enough, the Western trend slowed down in the coming years, but Old Gringo’s popularity drove forward regardless. “I think people realized we truly had something special, and we just skyrocketed from there,” Tarut says. With the advancement of boot-making technology, designers now have the capability to expand into sophisticated detailing, marrying intricate patterns with exclusive leathers. “What we do now is not what we did back then with simple inlay boots,” Tarut explains. “The combinations we do now were never available before.”
The company now uses the creativity of 35 designers to stay innovative. Tarut and Ferry have personally kept a finger on the pulse of fashion as well, watching trends internationally to create the next big thing. “[We] can make a style today that is so far in advance that people don’t get it,” Tarut says. “I’ll keep showing it, and three years later it hits and sells like crazy. ... They never believe I’ve been behind the line for three years watching it be made. We’re ahead of the curve.”
Since the brand gained worldwide visibility, Old Gringo styles have been spotted on many a famous foot. However, it’s the stories beyond the photo ops that bring authentic job satisfaction to the company’s team. “The stories we get from people about the day we became a part of their family ... I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Tarut says. “The goal is to make a woman smile. I know that if I can do that, she will be drawn to our boots.”
In celebration of its platinum anniversary, Old Gringo is unveiling a brand-new limited edition collection boasting 20 reimagined styles inspired by the company’s roots. This collection features metallic leathers in both gold and silver, accented in Swarovski crystals and studded details.
Reflecting on what they hope the next 20 years will look like, Tarut and Ferry are optimistic about the brand’s prosperity. The key to their success is simple — it’s all about the boots. As Tarut elaborates, “That has been the story. That has been Old Gringo for the past 20 years, and it will be Old Gringo in 20 years from now. The boots make us look good. The boots speak for themselves.”
Photography: Images courtesy Old Gringo
From our July 2020 issue.