Nicks Boots stands out among numerous brands for its captivating and vibrant history. The story begins in 1964 in Spokane, WA, where a Russian shoemaker and former POW ventured to establish his own boot-making enterprise. Motivated by a strong desire to honor the shoemaking skills he acquired in Russia and further refined in the USA, his mission was to offer boots of unparalleled craftsmanship, crafted entirely by hand and starting from scratch.

Despite facing numerous obstacles (such as his initial impoverished state preventing him from affording vodka, leading him to ingeniously create his own using burnt toast as a charcoal filter), Nikolai Blahuczyn, known as "the original Nick," managed to build a flourishing business by the time he retired in 1986.

For those interested in delving deeper into the history of Nicks Boots, an extensive and detailed article is available on their website.

Today we are sitting down with the present owner and manager of this illustrious heritage brand, Shuyler Mowe, to gain insight into his vision for preserving the art of bootmaking for generations to come.

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Styleforum: How did you hear about Styleforum, and in what capacity did you start here as a member?

: I have always tried to stay up on places online where footwear enthusiasts hang out and came across Styleforum some time ago. I lurked but didn’t start participating actively until we started the affiliate thread.

SF: When did you realize that you were interested in fashion?

: My mom was always very stylish and got me into dressing nicely probably around my senior year of high school. I would say I lapsed on this through college, but picked it back up once I started making some of my own money after graduating.
Fashion comes in many forms, obviously, but I would say it went into overdrive as I became more involved with Nicks and definitely veered more towards the outdoorsy, MIUSA, high quality approach we try to emulate here. I will, however, say I do appreciate a great button-down and probably spend too much on those shirts given the amount of opportunities I have to wear a nice dress shirt.

SF: When and how did you start your career in the clothing industry?

: I became involved in 2013 when my dad bought Nicks. At that point, however, I was working for an outdoor textiles products company (like umbrellas, covers, cushions) and was actually fairly familiar with the basics of textiles and pretty down the rabbit hole of the synthetics that were used in the outdoor industry. I managed product development at that company and one of our differentiators was on the look and color palette that we used in our products; we put a lot more effort into that than many of our competitors. I had a team of designers and got comfortable with that process and became decent at spotting what could be successful from a design standpoint in cut and sew, and, more importantly, learned to trust those that did it exclusively for a living.

I transitioned to Nicks full-time in 2020 and had a lot of great people here to learn from and absorb their passion for footwear. It has been kind of wild to think about how far we’ve come from the early days to now in terms of options that we now have available.

SF: What is the best part of the job?

: Building a team of people and seeing them succeed and develop. I am humbled by how far we’ve come in the last few years and seeing the growth and passion in our team here at Nicks is what gets me going every day. It is, of course, awesome to see our products in the wild and see the happiness our boots bring to people and the work they do in them. But it takes a great team to make that happen.

SF: What is your least favorite part?

: We are small enough that I do a lot of the administrative tasks like accounting and that can be tedious at times.

SF: How do you stay up to date with the clothing industry and current trends?

: I think you have to just be out there and take part in the discussion and listen to what others have to say, from your customers and vendors to your own favorite brands. We are a little different from some of the other brands on SF in that we are still mainly a work-focused business so that just means keeping on top of safety and regulatory requirements in our products as well as always looking for ways to improve their capabilities. But I do think we’ve become pretty good at working with our existing vendors to develop interesting new leathers and pretty solid at uncovering new places to find materials that move the products forward, both from a style/aesthetics standpoint and also in terms of functionality.

SF: What’s the single item from any collection you are most proud of?

: It would be anything in our 1964 leather series. We spent a year developing that leather with Seidel and it’s an excellent combination of ruggedness and visual appeal. It has pull-up that is uncommon in a work leather so ages really nicely whether you’re wearing the boots into the ground or using them more casually. It is a really great all-around leather and we are super proud of it.

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SF: What product did you make that you thought would be a hit, but bombed?

: We launched some women’s boots that have not been as successful as I would have liked. They are objectively really well-made and I think they look good but we have yet to hit the right note or get the word out effectively on that. There are not a lot of well-made high-end women’s footwear options out there so I have been surprised we didn’t find more homes for those.

SF: If movie characters were real, who would shop at your store?

: Kurt Russell’s character from Backdraft and Eric Marsh from Only the Brave (we actually outfitted that movie with boots).

SF: A lot of people probably don’t know that you make boots that are made for wildland firefighters. Do you have separate lines and options for different uses, and can you explain how that works?

: We actually make all of our boots the same way, so no need for separate lines. I do think that’s part of the appeal of a Nicks Boot, everything from the Hot Shot fireboots to the Falcon service boot is made with the same techniques. It does mean we aren’t for everybody, but for those who like a heavy-duty approach, everything we buy is a great fit for them.

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SF: What is your most comfortable leather? And the toughest leather?

: Anything in our 1964 series is going to be a little softer because it’s stuffed with more oils. I wouldn’t say it’s any less tough, however. We have some Natural Dublin from Horween that is very supple. All of the work leathers are oil-tanned for water-resistance so I can’t really pick one over the other. They are all 8 oz in weight, which is unusual for footwear in a broad sense. I would say you could go with a roughout to avoid showing scratches and other abrasions as easily, though that will be an aesthetic choice, not one around functionality.

SF: If I wanted the heaviest boots you could possibly make, can you tell me what choices I should make in my order?

: You would get a BuilderPro or Hot Shot with the extra-thick midsole option. You would then get a toe cap on there with a steel toe and a lineman patch. I would not actually recommend getting this configuration unless you really need it. It would be pretty stiff.

SF: What are three pieces of advice you would give to your younger self?

: 1. Be good to yourself. 2. Good people are what will make you happy, not a job. 3. Put as much money as you can in your 401K.

SF: What did you wear to your first ever job interview?

: I wore a not-great Izod suit I got from Macy’s, 2 for $300.

SF: Describe yourself using only 5 words.

: Driven, generous, aloof, demanding, fair

SF: Tell us about your hobbies outside of fashion.

: I love to hike, golf, cycle and cook and host elaborate dinner parties where I wonder why I got myself into this halfway-through but it ends up being a ton of fun.

SF: What is making you happy today?

: My wife and I have struggled to have a child for years but are making progress on that front. We are grateful for the advancements in medical science that give us an opportunity to keep trying. The growth of the business has also been extremely rewarding, mainly to be able to share the success of it with the employees with better working conditions, pay and future options and outcomes for them professionally and personally.

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