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Cobra Rock Boot Company

Tethered Soles

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What more could you ask than to be part of someone’s story, to contribute meaning to someone’s life through an object that they use?

__Logan Caldbeck

A small town in the middle of nowhere West Texas, Marfa is a sort of legendary place, known for its artistic history and prevailing mystery. It became the place it is today after minimalist artist Donald Judd staked it out as the backdrop for what would become the Chinati Foundation, building his massive scale works on the grounds of a retired Army base. With a population of only around 2,000 people, it’s a quiet place. The unhurried streets are lined with crackling paint and dusty commercial spaces, many of which lie dormant. Others have been repurposed as galleries, workshops, and studios, evidence that despite its sleepy exterior, Marfa’s creative pulse is alive and well. It’s become a haven for artists and creatives, and a community of built on ideas as limitless as the west Texas skies it sits beneath.

In what is affectionately referred to as the “fashion district,” there sits a simple, single story workshop, its façade marked in blue with the words Cobra Rock. Owned by Logan Caldbeck and Colt Miller, the couple originally moved to Marfa when Logan accepted an internship with the Chinati Foundation. Having studied art in Montreal, she eventually went on to work for the foundation full-time. Colt, a touring musician at the time, made boots on the side, a hobby he’d discovered in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. The pace of life in Marfa suited the couple, and so when Logan’s stint at Chinati was up, they stayed. “One of our first trips we took together was to Marfa, so I guess this has sort of been in the cards for us since the beginning,” Logan remembers.

And in a way, so had making boots. “When we first met, Colt was working out of the back of his garage and making custom cowboy boots. It was pretty mindblowing the first time I saw the process in his garage in Lubbock. It was just something I had never thought about, that you can actually create this wearable object from just a leather hide.”

“Making boots was kind of a hobby/money wasting project,” Colt explains with a grin. “I was looking for something that I could do on my own and continue to be a traveling musician. I did that internship for about seven months and just fell in love with it, so I took out a loan to buy my own equipment.” The equipment – essentially the contents of two entire mom and pop boot making shops in Texas – included his first set of lasts, or boot forms that create a particular shape. These 1940’s wooden lasts formed a classic cowboy boot with a square toe. “Back then I could make maybe a pair of boots a month. When Logan was studying art in Montreal, I would go home and make a pair of boots for someone, like a local rancher, deliver them, and then go spend a month with her there. I did that for about three years until Logan finished school.”

Despite Colt’s love for the craft, it took moving to Marfa to bring the possibilities it afforded into focus for them both. “We had always had a pipe dream that someday we would work together and do boots together,” Logan says. “It wasn’t until we moved to Marfa and really fell in love with the town that we thought, maybe this is something we could actually do. When I left the Chinati Foundation it was to open this store, but we had no idea if it was going to work.”

Designing that first boot was a defining moment for Logan and Colt. It signified their stake in the ground, beginning with what they knew and building into their signature design. “We decided we didn’t want to do custom cowboy boots; we wanted to do something of our own, so we combined it with a desert boot top,” Logan explains. With Colt’s solid foundation in construction, they were able to mix classic elements with a more minimalist western-inspired desert boot. I had no idea how to make

anything besides a cowboy boot, but the construction method we used was the same: the welting process, the same Goodyear stitch, leather insole, leather sole, leather toe box, the stacked leather heel. I remember when we were first designing the shoe we would be hiking out in the desert and excitedly think, ‘People in Marfa would wear this’!”

They called it the South Highland boot, an homage to their beginnings and first studio on South Highland Avenue in Marfa. It’s the boot Cobra Rock is still known for five years later. The South Highland immediately attracted a mile long wait-list and the question of success seemed suddenly answered. But the popularity of their design came with new challenges, like the obvious need for more space and the more complicated question of how to produce enough for the demand. “We’re always trying to solve problems. That’s just part of running a small business,” Logan concedes. “Opening our doors and this design of the South Highland was exactly what we wanted to do, and everything else since then has been totally organic. It started with us needing a workshop space, and then expanded into a store in the same area. When we first started we were giving people a nine month wait list, but when we actually did the math with just the two of us doing them, it would take more like three years! We used to do every step ourselves, but we knew we couldn’t keep up with just us. Over the past few years we’ve gotten help from some other Texan bootmakers, which has helped us so much.”

As designer craftsmen, it can seem at times like the only thing you aren’t short on is challenges. But as it was in the beginning, Colt and Logan are in the business because they love the adventure of figuring it all out together. “We started out with basically nothing; we just opened our doors and tried to make it work. We’ve made almost every business mistake you could make, and that’s how we’re learning. One of the main problems is still never having enough time, enough to keep up and still be able to design new things. We’ll make something and we want people to love it, of course, but then the problem becomes keeping up with production. We just have so many parameters that we’ve imposed for a certain level of quality and aesthetics that we move rather slow.”

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But slow is relative in a small town, and Marfa seems to set its own pace, fueling artists with its magnetic energy. “Because Marfa is a such a draw for people who are interested in art and design, even creatives themselves, we have this steady access to people who get what we’re doing, and like what we do. A lot of people come here from Austin, which is seven hours, but in Texas terms that’s close,” Logan points out. “What’s so amazing about Marfa is that it has all of the amazing things about a small community, but then it has so much access to high quality art, music, everything. There is always something happening here, or coming to town, and the people who live here are amazing. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Marfa’s reputation draws many new eager faces, but for Cobra Rock it was the perfect home. “Another reason that we could take the risk to try this business here, is that the community is so supportive. People are enthusiastic about your ideas, and it’s really exciting every time someone opens a new store. People here want to help you out. When they have family visit they’ll always bring their friends and family by. There have always been artists here, but more and more craftsmen are coming here, as well. I think Marfa allowed Judd and so many artists who have come here, to creatively respond to the absence of everything: the desert landscape, the space, these huge west Texas skies. It actually fueled them.”

And it doesn’t hurt that there isn’t much in Marfa to distract. With a concentrated level of well-above-average creative talent, it seems as 

though every night there’s an opportunity to go to something inspiring: a poetry reading, a theatre performance, a concert, or an art opening. But it’s usually the only thing happening in town that night. “Although more and more it’s like, man there’s like two things happening and you have to make that big choice,” Logan jokes. But Logan and Colt have enough to keep them busy, so much so that work can easily take over their days and nights. “Sometimes we see friends around town and they ask, ‘Have you been away?’ When in fact we’ve just been in the shop. The whole time.”  

Regardless of your particular craft, it can be easy to work away your days in isolation, immersing yourself in process and allowing it to devour your days. It can be a beautiful thing, and as Kierkegaard put it, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Getting away from the shop is critical, however, a retreat that reminds us of our goal, that renews the spirit from which we draw the strength to work long hours, through defeat, and continue putting better, more beautiful things into the world. For Logan and Colt, getting outside of the studio and shaking the dust from their own boots is invaluable. “We go on a lot of hikes,” Logan says. “The landscape here is beautiful and it’s part of the reason we love living in this part of the country. When we sometimes get away to LA or Austin and see what other creatives are doing, it’s very inspiring. We can’t wait to get home after those trips, to get back at it. Whenever we’re in the car for long drives going places, we always spend the whole drive talking about ideas, just excited about things we want to do together and with this business.”

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Of all the inspiration that comes together to form Cobra Rock, what seems to inspire this team most is relationship: with customers, with other makers, even with one another. “I don’t believe in the idea that artists have God channeling through them, like there’s a muse or something,” Logan tells us. “I believe creativity happens when you’re bouncing ideas off of other people. One of the best things about doing this is meeting other people who have small businesses, who are making things; to connect with those people. In a place like Marfa, people come here to get away from distractions to be able to create. I think it’s crucial to have that balance between engaging with people and having a distraction-free space.”

Colt and Logan hold a unique affection for their customers, too, a sort of reverent gratitude for the appreciation they feel for their hard work. It’s evident in their interaction, when curious faces peek through their shop window, they greet them with such humility and kindness, as though they were guests in their home. “The vast majority of our sales are one-on-one, so the connection with our customers has been a really huge part of this business. It is so much more than just a transaction when people purchase a pair of boots from us. It’s very personal. We often hear the stories behind why someone is buying them; they’re very special things in people’s lives. People will wear them in their weddings, or give them for anniversaries. There’s actually a lot of love that surrounds our work. Hearing those stories is so gratifying, because what more could you ask than to be part of someone’s own story? To contribute to someone else’s life in some small way through an object that they use, that has meaning?”

 

Their own partnership is also a defining mark of their brand. After ten years together, five of which have been spent building Cobra Rock, they recognize that working together is essential, and brings meaning to their work that would not otherwise exist. “I feel very fortunate that we get to go to work together. Every partnership is different, but we’ve found we work well together. We’re on the same page about design and the direction we want to take things, so that part is easy for us. But it’s also really special, to have to problem solve the way we do, with someone that you love. The opposite of that is that we couldn’t do this if we weren’t together. With the amount of work, the hours spent in the studio, we would never see the other one, so for us it had to be a partnership, and we’re glad it is.”

Up until this point, Cobra Rock has been busy enough with tweaking their original boot designs and a few other accessories, but as creatives, Colt and Logan know they’ll always be making something. “We will both always need a creative outlet,” Logan says as they smile to each other. “Right now it happens to be bootmaking. Cobra Rock is such a fun project, and there are so many things we want to do with it. We always have things we’re working on, and they change. But one thing leads to another. It happens slowly, but it does happen. This is just the tip of the iceberg.” Colt agrees. “It could seem monotonous making the same boot for five years in three colors, but there are so many plans and ideas for the next thing. It can be hard to find time to get to do the dreaming and designing when we’re keeping up with production, but if we hadn’t stuck with it, I don’t think we would ever get to experience what those next things could be.”

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