How we build a boot for long-term comfort
- The quality of the materials and attention to detail in the design make all the difference to the comfort of a work boot
- Every part of the foot, and every part of the boot, is considered carefully to ensure a good fit
- Rigorous testing in the design phase, to get the design right, is followed by constant quality control testing during production.
You’re standing in your work boots all day, every day, so when it comes time to buy a new pair, you want to be reassured that they’re going to fit properly and be as comfortable as possible.
We understand that. It’s why we take so much care over the design of our work boots, and it’s why we’re so proud of our endorsement by the Australian Physiotherapy Association. It’s a mark of the true skill that goes into the design of all our boots.
So, how do we do it?
Meet Michael, our Head of Product Development
When you want to design the best boots, you get the best boot designer. Michael Harding has been with Steel Blue since 2003. He’s spent more than 40 years designing footwear in Australia. And like anyone who has been honing his skills for that long, there’s not much Michael doesn’t know about his craft. He’s a bit of a legend, really.
We asked him how he and the team go about designing a comfortable work boot.
“The most important thing as far as a starting point goes is the ‘last’, which is what we call the mould or plastic form that we build the shoe around,” Michael said. “It’s shaped like a foot but without the toes. That’s the foundation for building all your footwear on.”
Quality materials matter
Once you’ve got the foundation right, the next most important factor is the quality of the materials you use throughout the work boots. These ensure the boots will last.
“That’s using water-resistant leathers, making sure the linings and soling materials are all good quality, and even minor things like the shoelaces,” Michael said. “We don’t have issues with customers saying, ‘Your shoelaces break’, because we choose laces that achieve test results well above the standards.”
Designing out discomfort
When work boots don’t fit well or aren’t comfortable, it creates problems for both the wearer (like blisters or heel pain) and the boot (like uneven and unnecessary wear and tear).
“It’s a matter of alleviating all those things as much as we can,” Michael said. “So, for example, we created our Trisole® Comfort Technology. It’s made up of an outsole, which is the bit of the sole that touches the ground, then a polyurethane midsole, which gives you some cushioning, the Poron heel insert is shock absorbing — a bit like running shoes — and then the footbed, which is another good layer for absorbing shock when you’re walking.”
The Trisole® Comfort Technology is great for people who work on hard surfaces, like roads or concrete floors, as it protects the whole foot and absorbs the pressures that would otherwise pass into the foot and up through the body if the boot was made of flimsy or low-quality materials.
How we make your boots so comfortable
We asked Michael to walk us through how he and the team design such comfortable work boots, using our flagship Argyle boots as an example. Here’s what he said.
The vamp is the front part of the boot that holds the foot in place, it needs to be flexible and hard-wearing, therefore the structure of the leather fibres used in the vamp area are really important.
The facing on the backpart is where the eyelets and laces are threaded. This holds the boot on the foot, it is designed with a curve that accommodates variations in the foot arch and for comfortable lacing.
The tongue is wide and high enough to prevent dirt and debris entering the boot. It’s padded for ultimate comfort.
On the quarter of the Argyle we’ve added a stitched padding area to give the ankle and foot protection from side impact.
We’ve added padding to the collar to make sure it doesn’t rub or chafe your leg.
The back strap provides additional reinforcement so the height of the work boot doesn’t collapse in during wear.
The back counter has to cup the heel of the wearer, providing support. It has to keep its shape and it needs reinforcement to ensure its strength.
Not all work boots have a zip, but some of our Argyle styles do. It means the wearer can keep the laces tied and use the zip to slip in and out of their boots. It just makes life much easier for the wearer. The zip underlay offers extra comfort.
Different boot styles have different heights. The Argyle is a general-purpose boot so we’ve designed it high enough to give protection and support to the low ankle, and just above the ankle. The boot height is measured from the heel, with the footbed in place and is measured to the highest point of the upper.
How we ensure the quality of our work boots
While designing for comfort and fit, using quality materials, and leveraging Michael’s and the team’s vast experience in footwear design is an excellent start, it’s not all we do. We also test out boots rigorously.
“We produce our boots to three different international standards (Australia, Europe and US), so we have to test to very high standards,” Michael said. “We test all the materials we’re planning to put into a design; we test the boots during the design phase and before commercialisation, including ‘wear trials’, which allows us to identify and alleviate any issues. Then, once a boot is in production, we do random sample tests on an ongoing basis.”
Michael said because Steel Blue is licensed to make safety boots, our work boots and systems are also regularly audited to make sure we’re upholding our promises on quality.
“We pride ourselves very much on making comfortable boots,” Michael said.