John Lofgren makes some of the best vintage-inspired boots money can buy. His uncompromising focus on quality manufacturing and design elevates his footwear above much of the competition. Unlike many designers in the industry, however, his resume lists neither fashion schools nor high-profile internships. Instead, his experience is rooted in a hands-on education with vintage products.
A Central California native, Lofgren grew up on a farm in Kingsburg and started buying vintage clothing in his early teens. After college, he started working at a second-hand shop, where he met many Japanese buyers stocking up on inventory for shops overseas. In 2000, Lofgren opened a vintage store in Japan called H.T.C. (Honky Tonk Company), specializing in vintage clothing, and in 2007, he opened Speedway, which focused on new throwback clothing.
Lofgren knew from personal experience that modern remakes were many times better than the real thing. “Back in the day when I would travel to the USA on buying trips, I would only wear remake stuff like Japanese Levis and Sun Surf aloha shirts. I always thought it was funny how all the dealers at the Rose Bowl thought it was all real vintage,” he said. In the mid-aughts, he began producing products under his name. His specialty: vintage-inspired pieces that combined the best qualities of classic garments with modern fits and quality manufacturing.
After 17 years in Japan, Lofgren moved back to the U.S. and bought a home in Fresno last July. He helps manage his family’s vineyard, but still flies to Japan on business. (While H.T.C. closed a decade ago, Speedway is still a destination shop in Sendai.)
Though his footwear isn’t widely available, you can pick it up stateside at shops like Self Edge and Standard & Strange. From canvas sneakers to engineer boots, each piece is carefully considered. While the investment-level prices may scare off some buyers, the components and construction are second to none. We recently caught up with Lofgren to discuss the inspiration behind his brand, Japanese craftsmanship and what he’s wearing this summer.
Q: What is your background in the footwear industry?
A: None. No background in apparel design. I just surrounded myself with people who knew more than I did. Since I learned about design and manufacturing in Japan, I’m more comfortable talking details in Japanese than English. Even today, there’s terminology I know in Japanese but don’t know in English.
Q: What inspired you to start your own brand?
A: I was inspired to start my own clothing brand simply because the Japanese brands weren’t making anything my size. I’ve always loved boots and shoes. I really wanted to make a pair of engineer boots that would be the best available, and all parts to be ethically sourced and manufactured. I wanted to make the Stratovarius of Engineer boots, if you will.
Q: What is special about Japanese manufacturing?
A: Attention to detail and pride of craftsmanship. It’s simply part of the culture.
Q: How do you go about designing each model? Where do you get your inspiration?
A: This may sound a little selfish, and I suppose it is, but I design and produce what I want to wear myself. Simply put, if you like what I do, then you and I have similar tastes. Look at my boot and shoe line… I’m obviously not making what I think I can sell the most of. My tastes are classic, though, so nearly everything I make would look right at home from the 1900s to the 1950s, or even ’60s.
Q: How do vintage boots inform your designs?
A: They very much inspire me. I collected vintage boots and shoes for years, for inspiration and to look at construction techniques. I always try to surpass anything that inspires me, though. Ethically made and superior quality is what I strive for always.
Q: Do you have any favorite pieces you’ve designed?
A: I can’t answer that, because every time I get dressed I struggle with deciding what boots or shoes I’m going to wear. Recently I’ve been wearing my newly released Desert Boots, Combat Boots and the M-43 Service Shoes a lot. As it warms up, sneakers I produced for Eastman Leather and the Standard & Strange x TSPTR collabs will be on my feet a lot.
Q: Are there any other brands in the space that you’re excited about?
A: There are a couple brands making great looking footwear now but I honestly don’t know enough about any of them to form a solid opinion. I don’t know where they’re sourcing their parts or if they’re sewing their uppers in Mexico and what not, so I’ll hold off on mentioning any.
Q: What does the future have in store?
A: Just keep on keepin’ on. I’m always busy with my own boots and shoes and doing collabs with other brands. Farming too. Did I fail to mention I’m also a farmer?