The first thing that comes across from Joshua Bingaman is his overwhelming passion and sincerity. The man just cares, and he’s set on attempting to turn the boot world on its ear, finding new ways to use notes unique to the field.
Bingaman cut his footwear retail teeth in San Francisco, running Subterranean Shoe Room out of a basement, with his brother. On trips to Europe, he discovered the fine art of boot making straight from the source and there the seeds for Helm were formed.
“When I spent time in Italy, I got into the cobbler aspect of on-the-spot dress shoes. They measure your foot. They use these hides from Holland. It’s all really beautiful and artistic process to me,” Bingaman said. “So, I thought, ‘How can I blend a sneaker with a dress shoe and a work boot and a hiking boot?’ And [other] aspects of these classic shoes, to me, that have never withered.”
After launching Progress, a successful coffee spot in Austin, Texas, he decided to try his hand at the other ideas he kept through the years. Staying in the Austin nabe, he opened Helm Boots off East Sixth Street, Austin’s most famous thoroughfare. The classically designed store maintains Bingaman’s hardworking, commonsensical approach to design. Aside from boots, Helm sells other branded accessories, including Zkano socks, Body Cushion insoles, and shoe care items by Otter Wax and Huberd’s. Still, people come far and wide for the footwear.
One of the most interesting silhouette from Helm is the Pete Derby Shoe, which comes in black and mulch (or dark brown.) At its base, the model is a Blake rapid construction of a classic chukka, featuring a Chromexcel upper with contrasting American bison vamp and calfskin lining. The accentuating signature white mid-sole provides the “pop” that distinguishes Bingaman’s brand from others.
The defining feature of the all American made boot, and with Helm as a whole, lies in its unique shape. The overall streamlined shoe enables broader wear, making for a highly versatile fit that can be worn year round. And like any true American brand, there are subtle sneaker notes, which Bingaman said gave some of his manufacturers pause.
“Picture me sitting down, and explaining to them, ‘I want to take this rubber insole, midsole, and put it between leather dress soles. Then, put a binding sole on top of that, and then put a taller shaft with a narrow toe on this boot.’ They’re looking at me like, ‘This kid’s f—— insane.’”
Nevertheless, it is working. The brand sports diversity so broad that styles can be worn with nearly everything. And with orders coming from places as far as Norway and Japan, success remains relative. Profits matter, but for Bingaman, who aims to grow solid roots in footwear, it is more than that. “People first – meaning the people that work here and work for Helm, the people that buy Helm,” he said. “Then product being sincerely focused and it’s the best it can be. [With that] it will live a long life. Those things, together, bring the profit.”
Bingaman added, “Are we content? Are we happy? Do we have what we need? Are we taken care of?’ That is very different than: ‘Are we living luxuriously? Are we spending a whole bunch of money? Are we buying Mercedes? Are we buying private jets?’ That’s not what I want. That’s not where my heart is. That’s not what Helm’s about.”
“We’re about people. We’re about being happy. We’re about fun. We’re about real relationships. That’s success to me, man,” he said.