Self-designated “distinctly all-American” shoe and leather brand The Frye Company made its first foray into colder climates with the aptly-named “Alaska Lace Up Shearling Boot.” “Born in the wilderness and raised in the city,” the Alaska Boot features a heavy lug rubber outsole designed to be waterproof provide stability and traction via deep indentations. Above the rubber, the boot features prominent brown leather presumably included as much for function as for fashion. Finally, the boot is lined with shearling wool which provides insulation and allows for a more molded fit.
As indicated by the location in the name, the Alaska Lace-Up evokes images of exploration and adventure in the American Tundra. Not surprisingly, the shoe checks most standard snow boot boxes, including
- a high side that keeps snow from entering
- a rubber sole to keep water out (and significant waterproofing)
- easy-to-clean materials
- A layer of insulation underneath the waterproofed outer layer
Interestingly, however, Frye’s history lies less in outfitting pioneers than soldiers. The first Frye Boot was designed in 1888 by founder and renowned British shoemaker John A. Frye. In 1936 the company began to differentiate itself after developing the Goodyear Welt footwear construction method which combined sturdiness and breathability in a new way. A few years later, Frye’s reputation and brand awareness skyrocketed worldwide after they were chosen to provide boots for US servicemen during World War II. In fact, Frye’s history of supplying soldiers as early as the Civil War, when they supplied shoes for both union and confederate soldiers.
This tradition continued through the Spanish American War and past WWII. Yet in the 1940s while making boots for the war effort, Frye simultaneously began to branch out. They designed their first cowboy boot, the Rancher, which started a “western trend” for the company. While their geographic customer base expanded to include pioneers who crossed the west, their desired utilitarian demographic stayed constant.
Recently, it appears this target demo has shifted. It’s worth noting that included inside of a long list of the ways in which the leather is treated, the company’s website specifically mentions that the leather is prone to scratching, which seems a bit out of place in a winter boot, and perhaps reveals belies an underlying shift in Frye’s brand direction. Similarly, despite the massive emphasis on the all-American history of the company (they even have a “Giving Hunger the Boot – Frye X Feeding America” promotion online), Frye specifically emphasizes that they use European leather designed and tanned in Italy. Maybe appreciating the shift in focus from function to fashion, Frye has changed with the time, targeting “weekend camping trips” and “morning hikes” (according to their website) as opposed to battlefields and uncolonized terrain. Either way I still like the shoes 🙂