Boot Making SANTA FE Style
By Danna Burns-Shaw
In 1972, Wendy Henry opened her first store, Avant Garde Leotard, in Coral Gables, Florida. In the early eighties, she moved to New York City and opened Wendy Lane, a womenswear store located at 78th and Broadway. Despite having strong roots in the East, Wendy’s heart longed to live out West. In 1989, while visiting her favorite place on Earth – Santa Fe, New Mexico – she found an opportunity and with great excitement took the plunge! She closed her store in NYC and moved to her dream destination of Santa Fe.
Always in search of new and exciting opportunities, Wendy opened a shop, Back at the Ranch, in 1990. While it started out as a vintage cowboy boot store with western kitsch, soon her fashion and design instincts kicked in and she decided to make her own line of boots. Wendy’s mother had been her biggest inspiration, “Mother was casual and had an understated elegance. Her style was timeless. Ralph Lauren, my other icon, has been said to be the definition of American fashion…ties in perfectly to our boots and a slice of Americana.”
“Before I launched my store in 1990, I realized that aesthetically the cowboy boot industry was stuck in the 1950s,” says owner Wendy Henry. “It [the industry] desperately needed fashion-forward ideas about colors and designs to complement its renowned craftsmanship; so I set about making some of the best handmade cowboy boots ever produced.”
Drawing on her experiences in New York’s fashion industry, she decided early on to add a feminine touch to the male-dominated domain. By combining durable quality with style, Wendy creates cowboy boots that are a true expression of their owner’s individuality. “Cowboy boots are, without question, America’s most recognized fashion contribution to the world – for men and women alike.”
Wendy’s search for a factory took her to the country’s boot capital, El Paso, Texas. After many trips researching her options, she found two master boot makers: a second- and third-generation father and son team that also helped to get her shop up and running.
In the early days, she found breaking into the boot making business difficult as a woman. As an outsider entering a very male-dominated, Texas-based mindset, she had to learn not only the processes and systems it would take to operate the business, but how to adapt and earn the respect of the suppliers and craftsmen.
Back at the Ranch specializes in women’s boots; Wendy and her team developed a great looking and wonderful fitting women’s last. In fact, 80% of their business is in women’s boots, setting her apart from most boot makers that build the majority of their boots on men’s lasts and patterns.
Wendy hand picks all of her leathers and has acquired an incredible library full of exotic leathers sourced from all over the world. She stocks only the highest grades in alligator, crocodile, ostrich, python, stingray, elephant, hippo, lizard and even bullfrog.
Wendy has introduced innovations like the Vibram soles, which make her boots more practical for all-purpose wear, and ankle-hugging short boots with zippers, allowing fashion-conscious clients to pair them with skinny jeans. She carries a line of slip-on backless mules for clients in warmer climates. And then there’s one of Wendy’s best-selling, innovative designs, she repurposes Louis Vuitton garment bags using the leathers on her mules, short zipper boots and tall tri-ad styles. “We can’t keep them in; we sell them faster than we can get the leathers for them.”
Back at the Ranch’s storefront is located in a historical adobe, Santa Fe-styled shop on Marcy St., a few blocks off the square. Walking in, you are overcome with the aroma of high-quality leather and the visual feast of over 700 pairs of museum-quality cowboy boots. Bright bold colors, fancy unique inlays, rows of hand stitch, different heights, shapes and styles create a sense of awe and appeal.
The store creates one-of-a-kind boots that have proven to be a hit with music stars, A-list actors, politicians and style-conscious people from around the globe. Back at the Ranch also offers customers the chance to personalize their distinctive, luxury products with their own designs, prompting The New York Times to call it “one of the best custom boot companies in the country.”
“All of our creations are handmade in Texas— the world’s capital of the custom-made cowboy boot,” says Wendy. “And, crafted by our second- and third-generation bootmakers, each pair fully expresses the wearer’s personality. In reality, cowboy boots are classic, not a trendy accessory. Cowboy boots are the rock stars of every season. People all over the world love cowboy boots. The entertainment and fashion industries have embraced and popularized this distinctive American look; a cowboy boot is an American classic. Our boots are a luxury that can be tailored for each individual – the ultimate self-expression. Luxury brands are a necessary niche for the person who appreciates and comprehends handmade and one-of-a-kind items. The bespoke cowboy boot: a privilege, a luxury and an enduring investment.”
Wendy has certainly added a level of style and sophistication to the custom boot business. Her high energy, great attitude, passion and enthusiasm towards remarkable design and craftsmanship have given her recognition in publications such as The New York Times, Forbes and InStyle Magazines.
Wendy Henry has created a business that truly represents the spirit of the west. The same spirit that pulled at her soul and lead her to Santa Fe, New Mexico; an artist’s community filled with the creative magic so many aspire to, but that few are fortunate enough to obtain. While in beautiful Santa Fe, make sure you stop by Wendy’s shop:
Back at the Ranch
209 E. Marcy St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501