Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Down Home & American Made

By: By LARRY SELF/Outdoor Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun

Look on any shelf, anywhere —— at any product. It’s not only difficult, but it’s nearly impossible to find anything these days that’s not entirely or partially made abroad, outside the borders of our own country.

This evolution, if you can call it that, has even affected even one of the most sacred of American traditions: hunting.

A lot of things come my way every week from phone calls abut new outdoor products to e-mails and press releases. Every now and then, one will peak my attention enough to get me to take a more serious look other than a courtesy glance.

When I heard about a new hunting boot being made in the northeast reaches of the state, something told me to take a hard look. I’m still not sure why, but I’m glad I did.

Between them, Mike Hensley and Hugh Wallace have more than 80 years of experience in the footwear business. Uniquely, they have very different backgrounds that make for a very good partnership and manufacturing philosophy.

This philosophy has evolved itself into the Allegiance Footwear Company located in Mountain City. Wallace’s background is in manufacturing while Hensley’s experience has been enveloped in product development. In Hensley’s words, that makes them a unique team.

“We’re small, but we can do it all,” said Hensley proudly. He added their mission goals are to develop and sell a product that people will purchase based on quality and workmanship. Once folks get their boots, Hensley said that same quality will sell the second and third pair.

What brought Hensley and Wallace together eventually was the Timberland Company’s boot plant that at one time was the largest employer in Mountain City.

Over 400 people worked there at one time on three full time shifts. They might not say it, but it seems to me that Hensley and Wallace were the backbones of the plant.

Hensley, who has been in the footwear business for 34 years, said at the time, Timberland was making the best boot in the world, and it was coming out of little Mountain City, Tennessee.

That all changed in 1995 with the closure of the plant. Hensley and Wallace had grown to love the small town of Mountain City and had no desire to move on to a plant elsewhere, let alone out of the United States.

Both had traveled the world in the footwear business, but they found a down home feeling in Mountain City and decided that’s where they would stay.

In 1996, they founded the Allegiance Footwear Company in October of that year. They started their business by doing volume repair. What that means, ironically, is they repair boots made outside of the country, primarily from China.

They take the rejects and defects from other companies and simply correct the mistakes whether it has to do with poor sole construction or leaky seams that allow mold in the lining. Sounds like we need a label that reads, “Corrected in the USA.”

Four years ago, Allegiance Footwear moved to a larger facility and began thinking about making boots. Hensley and Wallace won a contract with the military and produced some serious boots for our soldiers.

The industrious pair still do volume repairs, but if they could make boots good enough for the fighting man, why couldn’t they do the same for the hunter. They’ve done just that this year with the introduction of their Ultimate Boot.

The Ultimate has evolved from their original 6-inch and 8-inch style work boots they were making for the military. What that all means now is that you can choose from not only the Ultimate Boot which comes in a 10-inch version with 800 grams of Thinsulate but from three different styles of boots.

At the present time, the boots come in pony brown and black and are all waterproof and insulated. I’ve also laid eyes on a camouflage prototype that isn’t far from being on the shelf.

“Our boots are different because they’re entirely made in the USA,” proudly proclaimed Wallace. “Entirely, every piece.” He said Allegiance Footwear doesn’t want to become a big company, they like their down home appeal. “We want to keep it small, and that’ll keep the quality in the product,” added Wallace.

It boils down to their simple philosophy that if you make a good quality product, it’ll sell itself. That’s been the case so far for sure as their customers are satisfied with their boots.

Wallace said he came off the farm and his father told him he needed to get a job. He started out cleaning floors in the footwear business. That was 46 years ago and a lot of time and travel all around the world later.

He said their Ultimate Boot has a cup sole that your foot just fits into and the boots are quality laced and gusseted.

Heck, they even changed the way that Gore-Tex suggested they stitch the lining because customers preferred their method. Like he said, they’ve been doing it a long time.

“Made in the USA still means quality and excellence,” added Hensley. If you look at the label on their boot, you’ll see the proud statement of “Made in the USA” and in Mountain City, Tennessee. To Hensley, being down home and American made means everything. “We know what hunters want--what they need,” added Hensley.

No matter how big or how small they stay, Hensley and Wallace aren’t looking to leave the small town mountain life. They didn’t leave when Timberland closed, and they’re not going anywhere now.

You can check out their Ultimate Boot and others at or more specifically at their on-line store at

Hensley will even invite you to tour their store and plant if you drive to Mountain City. The store hours are 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For more information, call 423-727-3081.