Fall is officially here, and that means it’s time to pull out sweaters, jackets, and most importantly, boots. This week The WALK sat down with Mark Barbera, the founder of Mark Albert Boots. Born and raised in the small town of Somerset, Pennsylvania, Barbera, now a sophomore studying Marketing at La Salle University, launched his hometown-based Chelsea boot company this summer.
The company is off to a strong start. This August, Barbera launched a Kickstarter. In in just 32 days, it raised over $20,000, well above its $14,500 goal. Through Kickstarter, the company sold 112 pairs of boots. Barbera said Kickstarter was not only a great way to raise capital, but also to test out the market for his Chelsea boots.
He was drawn to the Chelsea style boot for their sense of maturity, versatility, and timelessness. The British style was introduced in the 1800s by Queen Victoria’s boot maker, and is still in a fashion staple today. Inspired by Common Project, Cobra Rock, and St. Laurent, whose classic boots also have unique looks, Barbera’s Chelsea boots also make their distinctive mark due to their coloring and style. Barbera’s boots do not come in the typical black, rather they are available in beige or walnut brown. Also, the boots have a western flare. In fact, Barbera’s manufacturer typically makes western boots.
The idea for Mark Albert Boots all started when Barbera was on a search for a pair of Chelsea boots, but struggled to find a pair that would be an intermediate between likes of Zara and St. Laurent. Barbera decided to start his own company to provide high quality shoes in this intermediate range – keeping his boots at $200, what he describes as “an investment, but a smart investment.”
While it might seem shocking to see someone so young interested and knowledgeable in the shoe industry, the idea of working with and creating shoes is far from new to Barbera: It is in his blood.
Early on in his high school career, Barbera put his artistic talents to work by customizing sneakers. The sneakers proved to be a success, becoming a steady side job and even attracting customers outside of the country. Later in high school Barbera notes that he became strongly interested in leather restoration. This new hobby took him back to his roots. Barbera notes, “My great grandfather was a cobbler. He’s a wild story. Born in Italy, fought in WWI for the Italians, was a prisoner of war, came over to the United States for a few years to provide for my Noni, but then ended up opening up a shoe shop in my hometown Somerset, Pennsylvania in 1936. He had his own shop till he was 86.”
And, as if only by fate, Barbera’s great-grandfather also advised a Somerset based boot company on shoe craftsmanship. Today that company, the Abilene Boot Company, is the manufacturer of Mark Albert Boots.
After work months of hard work, going back and forth between designs with the manufacturer, Barbera has created a product in which he truly takes pride. His face instantly brightens as he notes that his boots have a genuine leather sole, stacked leather heal, leather and suede upper, and Goodyear welt construction which allows the boot to be easily re-soled – a rare feature in shoes today.
While these high-quality details are important to Barbera, the fact that his boots are American-made is what really matters to him.
“The difference between foreign manufacturing and what I think of as American-made is the craftsmanship, because American-made is something that, especially in fashion, is so small batch – everything is going to be touched by American hands. That is something that I really appreciate. I wouldn’t want my boots to be thrown through an assembly lined and stitched with by machines because you lose the personal touch and also the quality control” he said.
Barbera is not only proud of his American made boots because of their skilled craftsmanship but also because they are a way for him to give back to his community. He explains that when you buy a Mark Albert boot you are supporting the lives of the 54 Abilene Boot Company workers.
A true busy-bee – he has a 4.0 GPA and runs a boot company – Barbera is already thinking of ways to expand his line. Right now his plans include creating a Chelsea boot that is better suited for outdoor activities, like hiking. But no matter what he does, the high-quality and personal touch to his company will continue to be his top priorities.
Check out Mark Albert Boots here!
Images courtesy of Mark Albert Boots.