This 30-year-old Nashville designer outfits Post Malone, Thomas Rhett and Jeffree Star
It's been a wild ride for the college dropout turned cowboy boot designer.
Most people would kill to be in Dustin Bowen’s shoes. The thirty-year-old Nashvillian’s designs have been lauded in Vogue and sported by some of the biggest stars. Post Malone, Thomas Rhett and Jeffree Star are just a few of the proud owners of Bowen’s boots.
But it’s been a wild ride for the college dropout turned cowboy boot designer.
Getting his foot in the door
Bowen got his foot in the door while studying at MTSU. He picked up a part-time job in the “Sale Room” at French’s Boots in Murfreesboro, where he learned how to refurbish damaged and defective boots.
“We tore ‘em up and dyed 'em every color under the sun — anything to make 'em sell,” says Bowen. “That’s where I learned to get creative.”
He says he “took full advantage” of his employee discount at French’s, buying boots to resell out of the back of his band’s van on the weekends.
“I became known as the boot guy,” laughs Bowen, “People didn’t care that I was a drummer.”
Bowen left MTSU his junior year to pursue his passion. He transferred to the Ivy League of western wear: Lucchese. He started off as a sales associate for the renowned boot maker, but he quickly climbed his way up the company ladder, earning the title of Custom Designer. Bowen developed a reputation for his contemporary, “cowboy meets rock n’ roll” flair, which he attributes to his father.
“My dad isn’t a cowboy,” he explains. “He is a mechanic, a real grease monkey. Growing up, whenever he dressed up for church or a nice dinner, he would throw on a pair of cowboy boots.”
Herds of customers called Lucchese requesting the young designer. But not everyone was enamored with Bowen’s style and soon he began to ruffle some feathers. His edgy, avant-garde aesthetic didn’t match the classic atelier’s cowboy image.
Stepping out on his own
After six years, 300+ boot designs, Bowen decided to step out on his own. But first, he needed to find someone to bring his designs to life. He reached out to an esteemed New York shoemaker.
“She and I followed each other on Instagram, but I didn’t actually know her,” he says. “But I messaged her and then we hopped on a call, and I said, what do you think about making boots for me? She said, I just want to make dope shit.”
The designer duo began pumping out 10-15 pairs of custom boots a month, but soon the demand grew too great for her to keep up with, so Bowen was forced to find another cobbler.
“I found a gem in El Paso, who has more than 30 years of experience,” says Bowen. “He shares the same passion as me.”
From shaft to toe every element of Bowen’s boots are personalized. Customers select the style, heel and shaft heights, toe shape, leather, stitching, ornaments (heel and toe), zippers and finish, during the initial design call.
Trophy hunters can have animal hides transformed into walking pieces of art. Bowen has fashioned footwear from Cape Buffalo, American Alligator and Ostrich skins.
The Bowen Signature is his most sought-after style. Unlike the traditional pull-on, western cowboy boot — which was designed with a high-shaft to protect riders’ lower legs from snakes and brush — the Bowen Signature cut is more modern. The zip-up boots feature a low shaft and are form fitting above the ankle.
“Even a subway rider,” can rock the reinvented frontier favorite. “You can wear them with anything…suits, jeans, khakis,” says Bowen.
After the customer gives him the green light, he sends the sketches and measurements off to his tight-knit team of in El Paso, who does “everything by hand,” and collectively has more than 150 years of experience.
“Dyeing, cutting, stitching…we don’t take any shortcuts,” he says proudly.
The boots make their way back to Bowen for the final touches. Inside his 800-square-foot Germantown apartment, he meticulously inspects — checking the space between individual stitches and the cuts of leather — each of the boots before finishing them.
For a distressed look, Bowen stonewashes the boots. However, he says most people prefer, “that smooth, polished shine” which is accomplished through a process called hand-burnishing.
Once the boots are finished, Bowen carefully packs them into a box and pens a hand-written thank-you note. If for any reason — though he says it's highly unlikely — the boots don’t fit perfectly, Bowen can make adjustments.
“Nobody is ever going to have a pair of boots they are unhappy with,” he says.
From order to unboxing, “it's about a four-month process” to get your hands on a pair of Bowen’s boots which run anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000. The price, he says, is largely dependent on the detail and the leather. But, Bowen is more than just boots. He designs leather wallets, loafers, bags and belts.
In the last year, the humble artist’s distinct designs have made their way onto some of the biggest stages and stars.
JJ Julius Son, an Icelandic singer-songwriter — whose Bowen’s feature fossilized shark tooth zipper pull encased in 10-karat gold — touted the Tennessee-native in a Vogue article last August.
Celebrity stylist Sydney Lopez, saw that article and reached out to Bowen to make boots for the middle Jonas brother, Joe. The early-2000’s teenage heartthrob sported the jet black, cowhide kicks on stage during the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving halftime show.
Bowen’s favorite pair of boots? A pair of turquoise and bronze caiman crocodile complete with a copper rattlesnake “rattler” zipper pull.
Those blue boots caught the eye of makeup mogul and YouTube sensation Jeffree Star, who entrusted the creator to craft two pairs of boots that would make a Mattel Barbie jealous — the first, a pair of bubblegum pink, knee-high, ostrich leather boots with neon pink piping and the other, a pair of hot pink, crocodile ankle boots with pure-white stitching and a pearlescent toe.
Post Malone is the most recent celebrity to model the maker’s work. The White Iverson singer donned his custom camo, tezu lizard leather boots in the music video of his lead single Chemical released last month. Weeks later, he fought through technical difficulties alongside Bad Bunny at a Coachella show in those same boots.
But “that’s not even the best…” smiles Bowen, referring to the rapper posting up at the ribbon cutting of a Raising Cane in another pair of his custom cowboy boots. The chicken chain collaborated with the famous rapper — who requested the company open a location near his home in Midvale, Utah — on the design of the “pink and tattooed’ restaurant.
Despite being the go-to guy for pop-culture icons, Bowen humbly says he’ll “... make a pair of boots for anybody.”
“It’s a really special feeling when I know someone has saved up for a while for a pair of my boots. Out of all the things they could buy they wanted a pair of Bowens.”