Serving the People Who Serve

Original Footwear Co.
Written by Pauline Muller

As the biggest supplier of tactical boots to the United States Department of Defense (DOD), other militaries, and first responders around the globe, Original Footwear Co. is the choice when it comes to building the purpose-specific shoes needed by armed forces and lifesavers to help protect their physical health and comfort on the job. Tactical boots have never been this advanced.

Started in California by Kevin and Jennifer Cole in 1999, Original Footwear Co. built its early reputation on its range of Original S.W.A.T.® tactical boots. Around 12 months later, the company acquired the ALTAMA® footwear brand. It also recently acquired shoe manufacturer CAPPS®, based in Virginia, which makes it the only Berry Compliant Oxford supplier to the military.

The company’s footwear is so popular that big orders arrive well in advance while the team builds non-stop to ensure that there is enough supply. The Cole family has done exceptionally well here, and while the company has been partially sold to another shareholder, two of the Coles’ three sons and their daughter-in-law are the next generation to continue the family legacy. Kevin and Jennifer also remain involved in the daily running of the company.

With attention to detail that is evident in everything it does, the company offers international shipping designed to suit all potential and existing customers. “We tried to find the best sweet spot for everybody because we know how expensive it is. We have dealers all over the world in free-trade-friendly zones,” explains Heather Roach, Director of Marketing.

The company has separate business-to-consumer and business-to-business websites to ensure all clients, retail and wholesale alike, enjoy a smooth purchasing experience. In addition, the company is researching the benefits of re-establishing a European warehouse to make long-distance shipping and supply faster for its customers abroad, which will increase its geographic footprint further. At present, its biggest customers are on home soil in the U.S. and in Australia.

Recognized for its integrity, innovation, and the durability of its shoes, Original Footwear Co. carries the ALTAMA®, Original S.W.A.T.®, and CAPPS® ranges. Altama has been in existence as a footwear brand since 1969, when they developed the hardwearing jungle boot that was the first of its kind to be used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The Altama range remains the favorite for DOD-issued military boots.

“I would say Altama is our prestige line, even though the cross points with other lines are similar,” says Roach, pointing out that the boots’ use in rough military environments makes them “translate well into work and everyday use.” Of course, as the company provides to the DOD, the shoes sold to U.S. military branches are Berry Amendment Compliant, as every component is American-produced and sourced.

Based in Morristown, Tennessee with factories in Big Rapids, Michigan and elsewhere, Original Footwear Co.’s legendary Original S.W.A.T. first responder boots are also a favorite with the Spanish police force—quite the compliment from a country known for the quality of its handmade shoes.

And there is now a new favorite, and it is far above anything available in its class today. The comfortable Alpha Freedom Hands Free® boot means that hardworking people do not have to touch their shoes when getting off their shift.

These shoes are not zipped, laced, or tied. Instead—similar to Kizik sports shoes, from which the company purchased the technology—the first and the last time these shoes need to be touched is on the day of the fitting, and that is simply to ensure that the wearer has the ability to customize their fit. Following that, all the wearer does is press down on the next-generation polymer heel casing with the other foot and slide the foot in and out of the shoe in one easy movement.

Putting them on and taking them off is as easy as putting on slippers because the heel casing collapses as you put your foot into the shoe and springs back up when it is on. “You step in and out of the Alpha Freedom Hands Free in seconds,” Roach says.

These boots still come with the same quality specifications and specialty materials combined with leather to deliver a purpose-specific shoe that is smarter and more comfortable to wear when compared to the first responder and military personnel shoes of the past. The snug fit also adds much in the way of safety, as loose lace-up boots can cause injury to people who are required to snap into action at a moment’s notice—like firefighters waiting for emergency calls. “It’s really hard to run in an untied boot. Firefighters also have medical calls that they can wear the Alpha Freedom Hands Free for,” Roach adds.

The Alpha Freedom Hands Free is a superbly designed, everyday workhorse that looks as good hiking as it does behind a desk. After the collapsible heel casing, the next intelligent feature is a comfortable horn section in the back of the ankle support that removes the need for grabbing a shoehorn to get the boot on. It comes in black, in a three, six, or eight-inch-tall boot with the option of a steel toe cap and as the Coyote model, a golden-brown boot in six-inch and eight-inch options.

The design is groundbreaking in the level of safety and comfort it provides wearers, especially following COVID-19 and the public hygiene challenges people suddenly faced. For the first time, ordinary people could imagine how close to all sorts of contaminants and infections our civil protectors are in their line of duty every day of the year.

“Several years ago, we developed the side zipper in tactical boots to speed up response times, but this is going to blow that out of the water,” Roach says.

The company has another new offering in the wings as well. The ProTec six and eight-inch-tall range is what the company calls a price-point boot—a medium-price range, protective yet comfortable shoe that is every bit as tough and well-engineered as the company’s other tactical boots. Yet this has a sportier look, combining leather and polyester with built-in impact absorption to answer the need for running and other physical activities responders face on the job. As it happens, this boot is not quite on the market but already has a fan club.

There are more things to come later this year, too. The next big introduction will be the upgrade of the S.W.A.T. range’s Alpha Fury. The Alpha Fury 2.0 will offer new technology with enhanced rebound action in the innovative Ignite midsole and a considerable reduction of weight on an already extremely light boot series.

“We named the midsole Ignite because that’s exactly what it does; it ignites your performance,” says Roach. “Everyone always comments on how light the Alpha Fury was. So this is like holding nothing in your hand, which is a big deal.”

While the latest version looks much like the previous one, it weighs 12 percent less and promises to give wearers an even more athletic experience to add to the durable support it already offers. It features an improved type of Sandskin—a sprayed-on, highly abrasion-resistant material that keys into fabric to provide protection that outperforms leather in tests. Besides adding to the look of the shoes, this material also considerably enhances the lifespan.

Of course, the company’s original classic S.W.A.T. boots are still a favorite, especially amongst police officers. There are few moments on the job more enjoyable for Roach than when people come up to her to say hello and show her their trusty, beloved Original Footwear Co. boots that just keep going—sometimes for as long as a decade or more. Investing a bit more in footwear that lasts also reduces the impact on the environment in the long run as opposed to constantly discarding low-quality shoes.

In terms of its own environmental footprint, the company is conscious of keeping the waste it creates to a minimum. From cardboard boxes to other materials, everything is used optimally and recycled wherever possible. There is no unnecessary packaging or any other needless waste happening in the company’s facilities either, and it has also ensured that its fabrication outfits abroad are in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, approved by the General Services Administration (GSA) under the United States Trade Agreements Act and, as such, take sustainability seriously.

“We try to be extremely transparent about where our boots are made, because it is something that matters to us. It’s an integrity note,” Roach says. In this way the company also reflects its commitment to longevity. “We have no intention of being a flash in the pan; we want to be here until the world is gone. We want to serve the people who serve the people.”

Beyond serving first responders and the protectors of national safety, the company also supports related charitable causes. “We are grateful for the people we are serving, so we want to bring them the best,” says Roach.

During the Kentucky floods in July last year, the company donated several pairs of good, B-grade boots to survivors as well as a stash of kids’ galoshes. It has also produced a unique, limited edition run of boots in aid of breast cancer research, of which a portion of the proceeds was donated to the American Cancer Society.

Other organizations that benefit from its support include Merging Vets and Players, started by company ambassador Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and former NFL player, together with his friend Jay Glazer. For those interested, the film MVP tells the story of the trials and tribulations that led to the foundation’s coming into being.

“We love working with them. Their goal is working with combat veterans and professional athletes who have moved out of their careers and are finding difficulty reintegrating into society without the uniform and sense of team,” Roach says of the crucial work the organization does, giving belonging and hope where it is needed.

The company’s support also goes to providing U.S. veterans with homes in the form of a five percent donation from every pair of camouflage shoes sold in November of each year to the U.S. VETS Foundation. It also has a close relationship with Boot Campaign, for which Original Footwear Co. custom designs a pair of boots for exclusive sale by the charity.

“We love Boot Campaign. It’s another veteran outreach initiative that is close to our hearts,” Roach says, highlighting that the company goes out of its way to also support first responders injured in the line of duty with fundraisers, merchandise, and more.

Blessed with a dedicated, goal-oriented team that Roach describes as running like a well-oiled machine, the company is full of praise for its people. “Our team cares about who we are serving, who we are building these shoes for. We want to do the best we can as quickly as we can,” she says.

Not a team to rest on its laurels, Original Footwear Co. has its aims firmly set on continued growth and innovation. It is just as well that this company is as strong as its products and is sure to stay at the forefront of tactical boot technology for years to come.



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