For the Love of Texas

Talking to Chisos Boots Chief Texan Will Roman

Article by Sarah Ivens

Photography by Courtesy of Chisos Boots

Originally published in Austin Lifestyle

Will Roman takes his role as a Texan very seriously. He eschews the formality of being called the CEO of his company, Chisos Boots, preferring the title ‘The Chief Texan.’ His pride is inspiring – and persuasive.  “My intense love for this great state is as big as Texas itself. From the gulf to the panhandle, Sam Houston put it best: “Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has blessed my vision.”

The weight of being from this great state is something he feels in his life, and wants all his customers to feel when they pull on a pair of his boots. “There’s a responsibility that comes with wearing cowboy boots,” he explains. “In Austin, people look at you a little bit more when you’re wearing them, but when you step out of the state, they make you an ambassador. When you pull on a pair of boots, there’s just an overwhelming Texas pride you can’t quite explain. It’s a uniform.” A born and bred Austinite (he took his first breath at Seton Hospital at 38th Street), he’s traveled – and even spent a year living in San Francisco (during which he pined for Texas the whole time) – but he always came home. “There’s not many of us genuine Austinites around and speed with which Austin is changing is actually turning me into an old man,” the 34-year-old businessman confesses, “I drive through the city and count all the buildings that weren’t here ten years ago. But, why wouldn’t everyone want to move here? We have a great community of makers and artists and musicians and entrepreneurs. My only caveat to the new folk would be to make sure they cherish the city how we do; to appreciate the culture, to value our quirks like the Cathedral of Junk. I want the people who move here to be able to look back in 30 years and know they made Austin an even better place, because it is the best place. When I was younger I thought I had to travel the world, and find a more perfect place for me. Now I live four miles from where I was born and I realized not only have I found that place – but I always had it.”


After careers in start-ups and tech Will found his feet when he looked closer to home – and his footwear – for inspiration. “Like most native Texans, I’ve worn boots all my life. But when I got a disc injury in my twenties, after a weightlifting and motorbike accident, and wearing them became increasingly uncomfortable. Being a stubborn Texan, even though it was hard to walk I carried on anyway, wearing oversized ones that looked like clown shoes. Eventually though, I had enough. I thought ‘how hard can it be to make comfortable boots?’ It turns out, it’s pretty darn hard – but I had an idea.”

Will made making comfy boots his mission – reading every book he could find on shoe-making, obsessing over details, and going to Mexico to learn the craft of leatherwork. He even started cutting up his own boots to work out how they worked and how they could work better. “That soon became expensive, so I started going to Goodwill and buying up their boots. I soon realized bootmakers were cutting corners to keep costs down or make bigger profits. Boots could be better.”


In just 11 months, Will got the idea going and his first pair of boots on someone’s feet. Chisos Boots were born. Named after the enchanting mountains in Far West Texas, Chisos is a company that aspires to embody the principles of the Texas spirit: friendship to others, pride of craftsmanship, and stewardship of the land. “Texas is such a fascinating place; our identity comes from the land. My boots are inspired by the high desert mountain range that speaks to the soul of so many Texans – the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. There’s just something about the Chisos; long have they been a source of spiritual renewal for natives and travelers alike.” These messages feed Will’s soul from top to toe – literally. “Chisos boots took form upon this enchanting backdrop and that namesake influences how we operate today. A portion of all revenue supports Texas land conservation, and we donate proceeds from every sale to organizations like the Hill Country Conservancy.”


Nestled in the gorgeous state of Guanajuato, the same family-run workshop that mentored Will is the one he still works with today, producing boots for his loyal customers – many who come in and buy from his store on South Congress, a house with rocking chairs and a fire pit outside that functions more as a comforting place to hang out and take your time trying on things than a traditional shop. “The future owners come in cynical, because they’ve heard I make comfy boots. They say, ‘That sounds like BS,’ and then they pull them on. The response is normally, ‘well, damn,’ – and they hand over their credit card. And that’s a thrill. I feel a sense of responsibility. This is not a built-to-sell business. I want Chisos Boots and our messages to be the core of how I live my life.” That’s why he calls his customers ‘owners’ – “they’ll always have a direct line to me; I will always try to make any problem right. They’ve made an investment, buying a pair of my boots, its not a one-time sale opportunity for me. They own my boots.”

They are an investment because they are not the cheapest boots out there – prices start at $495 - but their materials and process make it easy to see why. It you’re looking for an ethical boot, step in line. Leathers come from hand-selected dairy cow hides, sourced from farms screened for their animal welfare practices. “By using this leather, we do not contribute to the demand for juvenile animal harvesting, and every piece is ethically sourced. We use our own leathers, hand channel welt our heavyweight midsoles, and refuse to use internal plastics.”


Will’s latest design is exciting -and comes with an exciting price tag. Going for $4,000, the limited edition Chisos Reserve boot is the world’s first small-batch cowboy boot made from wild Texas alligator. Production is limited to 40 pairs, with each set individually numbered as they are reserved.  “It’s the only Texas alligator boot you can buy,” he says proudly. “Alligators were almost hunted to extinction in Texas a short while ago, until programs were put in place to incentivize landowners to make alligator habitats… which worked a little too well, and now they’re becoming a pest. They’re now hunted for their meat, and we take the hides to make boots.”


When he’s not out living ranch life, hiking mountains or searching for alligators, his hometown is a happy place to be. “There’s a true camaraderie in Austin, especially amongst the local business owners and their customers. All the business owners I know are approachable and warm, they’ll come out and serve the people who visit their store, or bar or restaurant. There is nothing aloof about Austin. I took this all for granted until I left the city and realized the rest of the world wasn’t necessarily built this way. People here always have time to help other people – they make time to help other people. People here will always take your call. I call it the Texas Standard. And that’s what makes me so excited to wake up every morning and do what I do. Its about more than boots. I’m having fun and I’m happy, yes, but I’m also a proper Texan – and the best Texans drive towards the eye of the storm to help people when they have to.”

And Will has done that by making our feet happier!

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