In the heart of Houston, Texas I discovered a bit of history and a modern-day master in the age-old art of boot-making.
Houston, Texas – If you know me that well…I’m a shoe geek, and in particular, a devotee’ of the American cowboy boot – worn ’em for years.
Some people buys cars. I buy boots – Tony Lamas, Justin, and Luccheses, starting during my days in baseball, when I bought my first pair at a Shepler’s Western store in Oklahoma City, about 1978.
People question, but they’re more comfortable than you might expect, they’re more supportive than Nikes and Adidas, and they look good because modern craftsmanship has made what people used to call cowboy boots ‘fashionable’ – a work of art. They’re not cowboy, anymore. They’re just ‘boots’!
In Houston, Texas this past weekend to spend some family time for the holidays, I discovered that local people think of Houston, in Harris County, Texas, as the boot capital of urban Texas. Literally, there’s a boot store in every shopping center, or a boot maker, on nearly every corner.
And I was tipped by a friend weeks ago, who grew up there, when he said: “If you get the chance you’ve got to look up James Morado. His family has been making custom boots in Houston for seventy five years. They’re not just boot makers. He might be the best of the best. But you’ve got to call. You have to have an appointment.”
That got me hooked. If there’s that many boot makers, and James Morado might be the best of the best, I had to check it out. Nothing smells better than new boots, unless it’s a good story.
Thirty minutes from downtown, Saturday morning Morado met me at the door of his small studio, a building that looks like a converted garage, on the back streets of Houston.
Ostrich, alligator, snake, goat, and bull-skin…every color, and every style of boot imaginable is what you see when you walk through the door. The second generation of Morados to perfect the craft, he learned from his father, who migrated from Mexico after the Great Depression.
“My dad came to Houston with my uncle, worked in this same building, and began making boots,” says James, who took over the business more than three decades ago. “I learned from him.
“I used to sit cross-legged on the desk of his sewing machine when I was five years old, watching him sew decorative patterns on the tops of boots.”
That same ‘old’ Singer sewing machine is still there, and is still being used by the younger Morado.
“There’s about five hours of work in this pair of tops,” he said proudly, showing my daughter Laynie and me a custom order in progress. “Everything is custom. It’s more work, and it’s more expensive than the production boots you buy from Ariat and Tony Lama. But a pair of my boots lasts just about forever. They’re a life-time investment.”
Any style, any finish, any color you want – James Morado makes em’ one at a time, and his work, without question, is an art form. They’re not Tecovas, and they’re not cheap, because like any investment, they’re not quick. The typical waiting period for a pair of Morado boots is six to nine months. Former NBA star Grant Hill once ordered twelve pair
Everything is a custom fit, and assured to fit…perfectly.
“I have people who come to me because they can’t get boots that fit off the shelf,” he says. “They say…’If you can fit me you’ve got a customer.'”
And what you get besides fit is Morado’s uniqueness – what you can’t see beneath someone’s pant leg. He diagrams each foot, and measures every angle of contact between foot and leather. Nothing is left to chance. If you want to see a gallery of his work, go to Facebook and type https://www.facebook.com/custombootsbymorado. Click and prepare to be impressed. When I saw it I was…and hooked to call for an appointment.
When I met him Saturday he presented a veritable rainbow of ostrich, and an experience far from the typical Lucchese (Loo-kay-zee) showcase store. Moreover, he had other materials that caught the eye of my daughter Laynie, who before we left had ordered her own pair of boots for a lifetime. Morado just grinned. He’s made a habit of making people happy.
“I think I can get these done for you by February,” he said of my order, considering my request for something a ‘little different’ for opening day of the baseball season. “It’s been crazy around here, but I think I can do it.”
After an hour we left with a new respect for old-school ways and expertise in the art of imagination, design and craftsmanship. We smiled all the way home.
Not as easy, and like a tailor-made suit, it’s more. One-of-a-kind and once-in-a-lifetime is just…you know, different…special.
It’s James Morado!