John Allen Woodward
By Danna Burns-Shaw
John Allen Woodward | USA
When you are introduced to remarkable artisanship, you are compelled to know who is responsible…and how did this incredible artist become so outstanding? The first time you see, hold, touch and feel the quality of John Allen Woodward’s work, you gain a new level of respect and appreciation for his amazing attention to detail and exceptional ability to create a great finished product.
John Allen Woodward is one of the finest leather, silver and gold artisans in the world. When you are the finest, you use the highest quality leathers and pair those leathers with extraordinary levels of craftsmanship and design. All of John’s work features his signature; that signature is the finishing touch of each individual masterpiece. From his Rocky Mountain studio, John creates works for clients representing some of the most influential and discerning leaders in entertainment, business and fashion.
About John Allen
John Allen Woodward got his start in Nashville, Tennessee while pursuing a songwriting and singing career. After meeting bootmaker to the stars, Bo Riddle, in a local club, he started an apprenticeship working on boots for the most well-known entertainers in the country music world. John saw a great business opportunity in the products he was helping create because there was such great demand for them.
John followed his passion west, starting Woodward Boots in San Diego, California in 1992. John’s business at that time was solely (no pun intended) western boots. John had lots of folks asking him to build different things such as belts, wallets and accessories. For the first five to seven years of owning his shop, John only made western boots; it wasn’t until later that he extended his business because of the continued requests from his clients. Now his product line includes not only western boots, but shoes, belts, wallets and accessories. John is also a remarkable silver and goldsmith and has had no formal training, but his zest for learning leads him to research and develop his talent using books, online resources and YouTube.
In 1997, John had his first experience with the power of the internet. John had purchased a taxidermy horse, put a saddle on it and placed it in his shop above the Hard Rock Café in La Jolla, California. The horse created a quandary; it was doing its job by attracting folks, however John soon realized it was a major distraction and actually affecting his business negatively. John’s son, Jason, mentioned that they had just started this thing called eBay, a place to sell unique things. Practically overnight they sold the horse for $5000 on eBay, making John an instant fan of the internet. One hundred percent of John’s success in marketing his business is attributed to the internet, where his son Jason (from Seattle) continues helping his father by exposing and marketing the business through their website and social media.
John has two sons and three grandchildren; he looks forward to integrating both Jason and Josh further into his business in the upcoming years. John knows his strengths and plays to them; he hires out his accounting, banking and marketing, keeping him on the bench as much as possible. However, John does work a couple of hours a day on his business. He learned early on the importance of cash flow and that business is business, and there must be a way to create income, not just create products.
John is an early riser; he begins his day at 5:00 am and usually wraps it up around 4:00pm. At least eight hours of his day is spent on his bench; the other time is spent on research, designing and developing his processes and systems. John has stated, “…talent is overrated, work ethic is underrated… a business needs to be able to make money on day one.” Balancing out the day between creating and developing products, and developing better business practices are the reasons John Allen Woodward has succeeded.
John guarantees every piece of his work for as long as you own it. His clients are often blown away when he tells them that he will remake anything they are not happy with, stating to them, “If you are a reasonable person we will repair or replace the problem; if you are an unreasonable person we will still fix or remake the product for you. If you are reasonable, we will continue doing business together. If you are unreasonable, I’ll still replace the product. However, I’m not going to build you anything else.” Understanding the importance of customer service and satisfying the high-end clients that John builds for, he knows that there must be added value, exceptional quality and service in order to sell boots that average $5000 in price.
After having retail stores in La Jolla and the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, John and his wife Angie moved his studio to the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado. The property they chose has a 900-square-foot studio with an additional 800-square-foot loft. Colorado was chosen because of the increasing difficulty of doing business in the highly regulated state of California, with a continuing threat every few years to ban the use of American alligator – the most used leather in John’s shop.
Over the years, John has figured out the right equipment to use to get the best results. Not just to make things faster, but better. Investing in a clicker and dies insured consistency in cutting out patterns; for example, the 15 rectangular pieces of leather that are required to build his wallets. John states, “A clicker cuts a perfect pattern at 6:00 am or 6:00 pm.” John’s shop also includes four sewing machines, a skiver, band knife splitter, hundreds of bench tools, lasts and a library of fine leathers. One thing John does not use is a sole stitching machine; he says it is well worth the two hours of hand stitching his boots to get the desired finish that the machine does not achieve.
John talked about the big fashion houses (you know them without me naming them), and how they “dumb down” the design to be able to have unskilled laborers build their products. He states they are built for the lowest costs and highest profits, with very little skill involved; mostly feeding machines leather to complete the job. John’s business model is opposite of the “big boys,” he creates designs to challenge his abilities, to add value to the heirloom products he produces. John is a one-man operation; he has hired lots of folks over the years, but prefers to run his shop on his own. When asked what he wants for his future or his exit strategy, he calmly states…”to die on my bench.” The fact that John loves what he does is evident in each mastered piece of wearable art that he passionately produces with his expert hands.
With a bold vision and nearly unlimited budget for Netflix’s The Get Down, Oscar nominated writer/director Baz Luhrmann set out to find the crucial wardrobe pieces needed to tell his story. One of those pieces was found high in the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado and made by the hands of master shoemaker John Allen Woodward. Given the ability to spare no expense, famed costume designer Jeriana San Juan (SNL, Gossip Girl) was tasked with finding a bright red pair of hornback alligator boots on short notice, and she knew just where to turn. Always willing to go the extra mile for any client, John matched the colors, made the custom boots and, most importantly, delivered them in less than a week—just in time for filming. “John Allen Woodward is an outstanding artisan. He makes beautiful and unique boots with unmatched craftsmanship,” Jeriana said, after star Shameik Moore tried on the boots before filming. The Get Down is available now on Netflix.
John Allen Woodward – also recently commissioned for Fox’s hit show Empire – embraces the challenges of collaborating with Hollywood and other artists. “I love the magic of making. Whether it’s shoes or boots or music; it’s real magic. You have a vision that only you can see. You sit at a bench with the raw materials and will it into being. At the end of the day, the image becomes real…real magic.”
John’s handmade shoes, boots, belts, buckles, wallets and other accessories can be found at www.johnallenwoodward.com.
John Allen Woodward
398 Broken Fence Road
Boulder, CO 80302