Made in Xiamen – An Interview With Grant Stone

Grant Stone is making serious waves in the industry for producing what many consider Alden quality shoes for Red Wing prices. That might sound incomprehensible to the average person, but it essentially means all their shoes cost one or two hundred dollars less than you’d imagine.

Their praises are consistently sung on the Goodyear welt subreddit, I’ve reviewed several of their boots, and I should note that their Penny Dune Loafer is the only shoe I’ve ever given my father:

grant stone penny dune loafer
Stridewise Senior with his new shoes  

That’s how legit the quality is.

So I sat down with Grant Stone’s founder, Wyatt Glimore, to learn a little more about the brand, transitioning from racing motocross to making shoes, and the difficulties of selling boots with a made in China stamp.

[Check out Grant Stone’s boots here!]

Stridewise: Thanks for chatting, Wyatt! My first question is about the company’s background. How did you get into making boots? Your grandfather worked for Alden, is that right?

Wyatt Gilmore: Yeah, he was there for like 60 years; I want to say, maybe just over 60 years. We even got our name Grant Stone from an old Alden shoe salesman.

My dad worked at Alden as a salesman in the Midwest, that’s how we ended up in Michigan. He met my mom here when he was a salesman for Alden over here in the Midwest. He worked for over 15 years with Alden.

My dad never really talked about it that much. My grandpa did, though. Alden was his life. He loved the people there. He loved his customers. His retailers were his best friends. For him, it was 100 percent: he was the shoe guy. 

Rand Gilmore Inspecting Grant Stone Shoes
Randy Gilmore, who has spent his life in the Goodyear welt industry inspects and packs every pair of shoes that leave the warehouse.

SW: What got you into making boots in China, of all places?

It basically started with my dad. He was in the footwear industry his whole life, working for Alden. So back in the 90s, he had contacts with a Taiwanese family, and they were going through a transition from making lower price point shoes to making higher price point shoes for the American market.

My dad stepped in and went over there and started introducing them to new customers, helping a bit on the shoe side of the development. They eventually got into Goodyear welts for American companies. That was in the early 90s.

But for me personally, it all started after I did motocross. I was homeschooled because I needed to spend more time away from Michigan to race.

Motocross didn’t cut it for a career. I was basically like, “you needed do something else.” At that point I was still young enough, I could have gone to school. But before making that final decision, I went to China to check it out, and I ended up doing this.

[Related: my review of Grant Stone’s Chelsea Boot!]

Wyatt inspecting manufacturing in Xianmen
Wyatt inspecting manufacturing in Xianmen

SW: I imagine you have to answer this question 50 times a day, but how do you respond to customers who like your boots, but dismiss them when they hear that they’re made in China?

Yeah, that’s a really tough one. The conversation often turns into this made in China thing. If it’s an Instagram or Facebook comment, then it gets into politics and it’s kind of like, “well how do you change people’s minds? How do you change a Republican into a Democrat or a Democrat into a Republican?”

So, we try to stay away from the politics and focus on our quality. I get it, but I spent time there. The people there are great, and the culture is amazing. Same thing with the factory, you’ve got people who have been working there for 10-15 years. And yes, it’s a completely different culture. But it’s really great in a lot of ways.

As for our quality and the product, I just sum it up that Grant Stone can make high-quality shoes, with great materials from all over the world, at this little factory that we’ve worked with for years. So it’s a win for our customers and our partners in China. It’s not like we just went there yesterday and said, “We want to make cheap low-quality boots for Americans.” The quality of products in China is as good as anywhere else now.

It’s not like we just went there yesterday and said, “We want to make cheap low-quality boots for Americans.” The quality of products in China is as good as anywhere else now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfCmAsCiRbA

SW: And the materials are actually very American, aren’t they? Is anything actually from China?

You’re right, a lot of what we make is made from American-made materials, but some uppers aren’t from America. We get leather from Italy and France or CF Stead from England.

We’re using the Barbour welts from Massachusetts because there’s a really strong connection between the manufacturer and us. Our leather laces are made in Kentucky. The lining is from Milwaukee.

Now, if you want a kudu, you are probably going to get it from England. Or if you want a pull up leather, it’s probably gonna be Chromexcel from Horween. Or, if I want a veg tan leather, it’ll probably be from Italy. The only Chinese-made thing you’re buying is the shoe’s packaging.

There aren’t small boutique tanneries in China focusing on French calf. It’s just not gonna happen.

The only Chinese-made thing you’re buying is the shoe’s packaging.

SW: The Diesel boot is your most popular boot, right? Why do you think that is?

It’s a good question. We actually started with the wing tip, and the plain toe shoe. It just seems like people tend to like boots in our segment. Boots are easier to wear with more things. It just seems to be more popular than a plain toe shoe, for example.

When someone has a family member, a boyfriend, a husband, an uncle, they’re always like, “I’ll grab a boot and give it to them.” And they will say, “well, I don’t dress up or anything, so I’m not gonna wear these fancy dress shoes.” So, I think the diesel boot just works for a lot of guys.

And then we have the loafers, which are very popular. But even that’s very hit or miss. People like them or they don’t. So, it’s people who live on the coast and cities seem to lean towards the loafers a little bit more. But the boot seems to do much, much better. So the Crimson Diesel boot is our number one seller.

[Related my review of Grant Stone’s Diesel Boot!]

grant stone saddle tan diesel
Via @youngsilhouette on Instagram

SW: You mentioned a loafer, was that the Natural Chromexcel Penny Loafer? Is that a big seller?

Yeah, it turned into something. At first, shoes never perform well when we release them for like the first month or two, and the Penny Loafer was probably the best example of that. It didn’t do that well at the start.

But of course, it takes a bit of time. It takes time for people’s experiences to get out there. The first thing people do is they go to Reddit or  StyleForm or Google to see how they fit. If there’s nothing online for a reference, customers are like, “I don’t want to get this thing if it doesn’t fit!”

But it’s become our second most popular pattern. The most popular is the Diesel boot, and then the Penny Loafer. So yes, you’re right. Over the past year, it’s outperforming our plain toe shoe.

penny dune chromexcel grant stone
The iconic Penny Loafer

SW: What shoes are in the future for Grant Stone? Any new models?

Yeah, we working on a chukka which should be out sometime mid next year.

And then also, a tennis shoe, a sneaker. Hopefully that will be here like early summer. We like it so far. But there’s so many good sneakers out there, whether you’re looking at something like a Common Project or the new brands like Koio — dress sneakers. So there’s a lot of great stuff out there.

We want to make something that we would actually want to wear and use something like the veg tan Badalassi Minerva leather. I like how it patinas and everything else. We want to put cool leather on a sneaker. So, I think that’s the direction we’re gonna be going using some unusual leathers like a Chromexcel or using CF Stead suede, maybe a kudu. I like the Minerva saddle tan.

So why not do something different? A sneaker with a vegetable tan leather? Where can you get something like that? There are not too many options. Most seem to be very clean white or black calfskin. But this would be a little more of our leathers but on a sneaker.

[Related our guide to chrome vs vegetable tanning!]

SW: Super interesting, I’m looking forward to seeing some new things out this summer. Thanks so much for your time, Wyatt!

Thank you.

[this interview has been edited for length and clarity]

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Karl Wasson

Karl is an IT product manager living in South East Asia who gets a kick out of durability and dependability. He believes form and function are not mutually exclusive. When he's not working, he's searching for the best bespoke menswear in South East Asia and beyond.

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