Jarrett Van Curen begins most of his days at 3 a.m., working in the small shop connected to the garage next to his Pittsburg home.
He spends the next three hours sitting at a vintage Landis leather stitcher — put into service decades before he was even born — or at one of the other machines circling his shop, perfecting his craft, before putting his tools away and getting ready to spend the rest of the day teaching Ag Mechanics to students at Big Sandy High School.
When Van Curen was their age and a student at Pittsburg High School, he thought it would be a good idea to join a friend working at a local western wear store.
“I was looking for a job and I didn’t want to sweat,” laughs Van Curen.
Besides air conditioning, the store also had a boot repair shop. When there were no customers shopping for clothing, the young Van Curen was tasked with helping with the repairs.
“I started out cleaning and breaking them down to get them ready for new soles,” Van Curen said. “I gradually worked my way up to sole stitching and other repairs.”
After high school, Van Curen continued working with leather while attending college at North Texas Community College and later at Texas A&M Commerce - making belts, wallets and other tooled leather items in his spare time - paying for most of his college education with the proceeds of his hobby.
At the young age of 29, Van Curen says he’s an oddity in the bootmaking field.
“For the past 20 to 30 years there’s been one group of well-known bootmakers but, sadly, a lot of those guys are starting to retire or die. Unfortunately, most of the new people that want to get into it are older guys and after they’ve spent the time to become good at it, they’re one of those guys that are ready to retire,” explains Van Curen. “And, the young guys that get into it, they make boots for two or three years and then get out of it because they’re not making any money - they end up burning out before they gain enough experience in the craft to make it in the business.”
Van Curen’s simple workshop is in stark contrast to the high-end materials like kangaroo, ostrich and silky buffalo demanded by his customers. His bespoke boots start at $1,700 with exotic materials like alligator or saltwater crocodile pushing the total to near $10,000.
After a detailed fitting of the customer that includes making lasts, or customer-specific forms used to stretch and shape the leather to exactly fit their individual feet, Van Curen said it takes at least 40 hours to construct a pair of boots. The time can easily double depending on the custom stitching or inlay work.
“I’ve got a pair that I’m working on now that will have cactus inlays in the tops,” Van Curen said. “I’ll probably have close to 80 hours in that one pair of boots.”
“Of course, I strive for perfection but there are things about every pair — that most people would never notice — that I see and I try to improve upon with each pair,” Van Curen said.
It’s that attention to detail and the regard he gives each customer that brings his clients from both coasts and places in-between to be fitted for his footwear.
"I've got people that fly in. I've had customers from New York. I've had customers from California. I've got local customers, people that drive 30 minutes to see me," Van Curen said.
Many people want to wear boots but have troublesome fits that have kept them from wearing them comfortably. Van Curen recounted how a customer wearing a size 14EE complained that he could only wear boots for a short period before his feet would begin hurting. After a detailed measuring of his feet, Van Curen solved the problem by making the man a pair of custom-fit boots in the man’s correct size; a shorter but much wider 10 1/2EEEE. A week later, the man ordered a second pair.
“Everything I make is one of a kind, one pair of boots at a time, made for that specific customer, fitted to their feet,” Van Curen said.
Van Curen said every bootmaker has tongue and stitch patterns, as unique as a fingerprint, that they are known for. He’s spent several years tweaking and perfecting his signature stitch. Named with the help of fellow bootmaker Paul Krause, the Van Curen Ribcage stitch was recently described in a Texas Monthly article as “clean aesthetic and elegant stitching.”
After six years as a bootmaker, Van Curen's craftsmanship continues to impress customers. Currently, a pair of Van Curen’s boots have a waiting time of six to nine months.