What does a European bohemian have in common with a suburban Texas family? A lot, it turns out. But the most important thing bridging the 5,245 miles between Tiago Maximo and Mike and Krystle Lodzinski is the shared love of a really good pair of boots.
That's what first connected Maximo, a European shoemaker, with Mike Lodzinski, a Houston attorney who, on a work trip to Spain last January, found himself with half a day to kill in downtown Barcelona. He stumbled into Maximo's shop, where he met the owner and learned his backstory: Maximo started his business with just 300 Euro in 2014, sourcing traditional, handmade boots from Portuguese factories to sell out of his kitchen and at local markets.
Four years later, when Lodzinski showed up, Urban Shepherd Boots had its Barcelona storefront and a global customer base, and the American was captivated. He felt Maximo's undeniable passion for the craft, and, being an avid cowboy boot-wearer himself, could appreciate the quality of the unique shoes. He bought a pair of Urban Shepherds and, almost immediately, called his wife, Krystle, back home in Houston. The couple had recently sold their small construction equipment business and were looking for a new challenge, something that excited them, and, Krystle hoped, something with which she could tap into her retail background.
"It turned out Tiago was looking for a change—he wanted to focus more on developing his product," Krystle says. "That's when we became partners."
This week, beginning with a revamped website, the Lodzinskis helped launch Urban Shepherd in the U.S. with Houston as home base. "Mike and I being small business owners ourselves, we kind of have a soft spot for people who take that same leap of faith," Krystle says. "We just thought that Urban Shepherd would be a perfect fit for us, for the market, and for what we were passionate about."
The Lodzinskis hope Houstonians and Texans at-large have a similar response to Urban Shepherd. For one, the boots themselves—durable, fashionable shoes inspired by Portuguese working-class boots from the 1950s—are not entirely dissimilar to the beloved cowboy boot. They're versatile, comfortable, and timeless, Krystle says, and they're meant to improve with age.
"We like to think of it as an heirloom boot that will last a lifetime," she says. "The longer you own them, the more character they have. That's something you take throughout your life."
There's also an appeal to Southern values: "Texans are very family-oriented, and this is a family business," Krystle says. "We're a husband-and-wife team, and Tiago and his wife are a husband-and-wife team. We work with a small, family-owned factory that's been making boots for four generations."
The Lodzinskis visited that factory in October and spent time with the owner and his family, who hosted the couple for dinner each night and brought them to nearby tanneries where Urban Shepherd sources its leather. Those, too, were often owned and operated by generations of families.
"It was such a meaningful process," Krystle says of the manufacturing. "Not like a big cold factory that's just pumping out footwear."
The boots, which retail for $325, incorporate premium materials and traditional elements of Portuguese boots like signature stitching and cotton laces. There are currently six styles with plans for more down the line. Eventually, Urban Shepherd may explore women's boots, too, but the company currently offers just men's.
Urban Shepherd will have a presence at the SXSW Marketplace this spring, and while the company is focused on online sales to start, the Lodzinskis hope to tap into Houston's rich pop-up culture to introduce more people to their boots. "A picture doesn't do it justice—you can actually feel it and smell it and put it on your feet," Krystle says. "We want the customer to realize that they're getting an authentic boot that's connected to history and has meaning behind it."
And so far, so good. After hosting local focus groups and sending samples to friends, "we've had a tremendous positive response," Krystle says, "from the stylish guy in the city to the country guy that wants a sturdy boot that he can wear on his ranch. We're finding that we've got a big customer base just here in Houston. We're excited to see what happens once we hit the 'on' button."