Up until a few hours ago, L.L.Bean boots were the last article of clothing anyone would associate with politics. After all, walking in the snow isn’t exactly a left or right thing—you just do it.
But when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his thanks to Linda Bean, the granddaughter of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean, for giving $60,000 to Trump’s PAC, Making America Great Again LLC, well, the snow hit the blower.
Leaving aside the fact that Bean’s contribution was well in excess of the individual contribution limit of $5,000 (and, further, leaving aside that Ms. Bean’s personal actions are different from those of the corporation that bears her family name) both Bean’s gift and Trump’s tweet have thrown this otherwise low-key outfitter into the political breach. (Thus far, L.L.Bean’s corporate Twitter account has been silent on the issue.) While some have called for a boycott against L.L.Bean, others have vowed to buy more from the brand.
One thing is certain, however: If you’re in the camp of those who plan to buy a pair of L.L.Bean’s classic winter boots, you’re going to be on a waiting list that preceded today’s hubbub.
You see, you can’t just buy a pair of Bean Boots, formally called the “Maine Hunting Shoe” and a must-have article of footwear for outdoorsy types since 1912. Not only do a lot of people want them, boycott notwithstanding, but Bean’s practice of making the boots by hand in Maine means there’s just no rushing things.
Numbers tell the story. L.L.Bean made 600,000 pairs of boots at its Brunswick, Maine, factory last year. By 2018, it’ll turn out 800,000. Mild winters have had no effect on demand. Bean put on triple shifts last year to contend with a backlog of 100,000 orders.
Why? Well, there’s all that stuff about quality of course. As Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of retail firm RSR Research, put it: “They’re well made, they’re dependable, and Bean will refund your money if they’re not right.” Bean uses quality materials, and makes its boots by hand. “It takes longer to produce and likely costs them more,” observed Retale evp Nels Stromborg, but “as a result, shoppers have a sense of security that they are buying a quality product that lasts for years.” And finally, the price ($119 for a basic pair) is tough to beat.
But the real reason that Bean boots remain so fashionable is that they have consistently and proudly ignored the whims of fashion. The style is an expression of utility, nothing more. For Bean boots, “fashion is not relevant,” said Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner of the Retail Advisors Network. “Fashion would almost take away from the credibility that this brand enjoys.”
Today’s Bean boots are basically the same ones that outdoorsman Leon Leonwood Bean designed in 1911, after he returned from a hunting trip with cold and soggy feet. A footwear Frankenstein, Bean stitched the cut-off rubber boot lowers to a pliable leather upper that could be laced tight. He didn’t care if they were ugly—they worked. And today, said L.L.Bean spokesperson Carolyn Beem, the same expectation keeps the orders coming. “These boots are the original—the real deal,” she said. “That this is the same boot we’ve been making for 105 years speaks to their timeless appeal and functional innovation.”