Texas native Jerry Terry grew up in a family that ranched and raised cattle, so he was always surrounded by cowboys and people that wore boots, typically in the garden variety browns and tan.
Being artistically inclined, a seed of an idea formed in Terry’s mind as a young person: wouldn’t it be cool to wear boots with a unique, aesthetic flair?
But instead of going to art school, Terry spent some time in the military, where he discovered his gift and interest in nursing. But his artist heart would not remain silent. Eventually, Terry took time off a few years ago from his Director of Surgical Services position in Vail, CO, and moved back to his home state to apprentice with a bootmaker. Now, in a permanent role as a Director of an Ambulatory Surgery Center in Austin, he makes custom boots on the side, taking on about four projects a year.
“Making boots was something that has been eating on me for a long time,” Terry said. “It just never went away. In my 40s, I just said to myself that it’s time. I was fortunate enough to be able to unplug from my career and learn the craft.”
While handmade boots are a dying art form, Terry already knew a bootmaker he had met years ago in St. Jo, TX who took on students. In 2014, when he found out a spot was available in September of that year, Terry jumped at the chance. His apprenticeship began with learning the basics of making boots. A lot of boots.
“The idea is that when someone puts on their boots, they fit perfectly with whatever anomalies they have, whether it’s a bunion or a high arch,” Terry said. “There isn’t a break-in period because you’ve made a piece that fits. Getting that right is the real challenge.”
Terry’s very first customer was his father. He figured if they didn’t fit, he wouldn’t have to risk an unsatisfied customer out the gate. Fortunately, his father loved his boots and still regularly wears them to this day. Once he began accumulating paying customers, it has been a stream of positive feedback. His clients have included Tom Clancy author Don Bentley.
“There is an elevated appreciation nowadays for anything that is artisan or hand-made, be it beer or boots,” Terry said. “People are excited to have their very own, one-of-a-kind pair. They are functional, wearable art.”
By the time Terry begins work on a pair, he’s already measured his customer’s feet, has the design or artwork they want, and the kind of leather they want to use. He will draw sketches of what they describe, combining that with what he believes will look good. With customers that have a specific design in mind, the consultation might take longer. Between 70 and 80 hours of labor goes into making one pair of boots.
“Most of the time I have to collaborate with people because not everyone can visualize exactly what they want,” Terry said. “They might know they want their initials or this logo, but nothing beyond that. So, I have to guide them down that path if they want more. And then some people don’t want any fancy stitchwork at all, they just want the Texas A&M logo on the front of the boot and that’s it.”
Currently, he has six customers in line for boots but doesn’t take deposits until he is ready to make them. When he’s ready to start, he’ll check back in to make sure they’re still interested. The base price for a pair of boots is $1500.
“I try not to get bogged down with a long list of people because I can only do so much with a full-time job. That would just frustrate customers,” Terry said. “Word of mouth has gotten me plenty of customers to keep up with a pace I can sustain.”
Terry says he plans to keep making boots as long as his eyes and fingers will cooperate. One day he plans to flip his schedule and spend 75% of his time making boots and devote the rest to travel nursing. Right now, he works out of his garage, but he intends to build a free-standing shop on his property. He says this is part of his retirement plan.
“I like vacationing as much as anybody else, but I get a lot of fulfillment out of creating and building things,” Terry said. “That’s what retirement looks like for me.”