Lifestyles

November 24, 2013

Hand Made in the Rio Grande Valley

2009-12-31 23.00.00-100

As soon as they walk into the store, visitors to Rios of Mercedes Boots are captivated by the smell of leather hides, the harmonious sound of sewing machines, and the kaleidoscope of colors on cowboy boots carefully displayed on wooden shoe racks. Most noticeable is the staff’s cordial disposition.  “We are like a family here, we all know and support each other,” said Caroline Gunn, Director of Corporate Sponsorships for the company. Caroline’s job is to foster the relationships between Rios of Mercedes customers and their retailers. She travels all over the country assisting retailers during public events, offering support and guidance as they showcase  the company’s signature lines; Anderson Bean, Olathe and Rios Cowboy Boots. These cowboys boots, hand-made entirely by talented craftsmen from the Rio Grande Valley, have transcended borders, for they are not only popular in many parts of the country, but even as far as Germany and Japan.

When Zeferino Rios came to the Rio Grande Valley from General Teran, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1925, he was probably following adventuresome land-men and the thousands of field workers that were clearing the land, herding wild horses and cattle, and planting new crops, fabricating the agricultural legacy of the Rio Grande Valley.  The Rios family’s first venture in the cowboy boot making industry began in Mexico in 1853. After working with his uncle a few years, Rios moved to Mercedes, Texas, where he started a boot repair business that grew into a custom boot making company.

Decades later, in the early 1960s, the company was bought out and relocated from downtown Mercedes to its present location along expressway 83 where the production of Rios boots continued and expanded.   The Anderson Bean line was introduced in 1988, and in 2001, the company purchased the Olathe Boots line; an original boot company from Olathe, Kansas, hence the name of the line. “Olathe boots are stout, and great for cowboys that are out in the fields running cattle”, commented Caroline. Today, a larger structure flanks the original smaller building which is now exclusive to the making of Rios boots. “We have about 30 craftsmen making Rios boots, and about 65 of them making the Anderson Bean and Olathe lines in the next building, “said Caroline. Today Rios of Mercedes continues with the custom boot making tradition under the leadership of Trainor Evans, J.P. Moody and Ryan Vaughan.

“Making boots is an art,” said Caroline as she talked about the company’s apprentice program where they not only train new employees in the art of boot making, but they allow time to identify the skills that will enable them to excel in a particular area of production.  This program lasts about one year. Caroline was proud to say some of the employees have been there for over 35 years, and most have passed the skill to the next generation, who also come to work for Rios of Mercedes.

Clients can still choose to have their boots customized; they have the opportunity of choosing the hide, the style, the toe and even a particular stitching design. But the company’s strength relies on its wholesaling. Their Anderson Bean boots are sold all over the county through 600 retailers. In addition, the company has factories in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, where another 5 lines of children’s, women’s and men’s boots are manufactured. One of the activities Caroline enjoys the most is the selection of hides.

 

There is so much involved in the making of a good pair of cowboy boots starting with the selection of premium hides, which come mostly from the United States; a few others come from Italy and Mexico. “We support our American products, so most of the elements involved are made in the USA,” said Caroline. She loves to show the many different varieties of hides; ostrich, elephant, rhino, crocodile and even Piruchi; a South American fish which is the latest trend in cowboy boot style. There are many designs that can also be created by hand, such as the one she called the Lochness Monster which is an Italian cowhide laser-etched to give a very attractive look favored by many cowboy boot lovers.  Printing the soles, cutting the hides, bonding the soles with lemon tree pegs for a good fit that will not be modified by moisture, stitching elaborate designs, and the pride the company takes in not rushing the production of its product, is what has positioned Rios of Mercedes at the top. Not to mention the skilled hands of craftsmen from the Rio Grande Valley. When it comes to designing these popular boots, Caroline said it is a team effort where even their retailers participate. “We all come up with new ideas and trends that we see out there; our retailers let us know what is popular with the customers and what they prefer,” Caroline stated.

This young Texas A&M graduate loves her job, and the boots she stylishly sports all over the country showcasing the valley’s craftsmanship, and the pride legated by Zeferino Rios 160 years ago. 

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .




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