Rocky: Returning to Our Roots


While everyone  is busy with the newest and the latest, there’s a shoe manufacturer flying under the radar in Ohio that is making believers out of their old school is the new school approach. Rocky specializes in boots for all walks of life, and they’re sticking to their guns by bringing back classics such as the Rocky Original Hiker and the Red-Laced Hiker. Rocky Graphic Designer, Josh Blanton, gave me insight into their history, pride in their new handcrafted limited edition collection being made in America, and what makes Rocky the best boot that money can buy.

How did Rocky get its start?

The story of Rocky is one of small-town pride and the passion for producing quality products. Brothers William (Bill) and F.M. (Mike) Brooks took a leap of faith during the Great Depression and moved their families from Columbus to Nelsonville to start a shoe factory in Southeastern Ohio. In search of opportunity, the brothers set up shop in a rent-free factory with lent equipment and the William Brooks Shoe Co. was born.

After a change in ownership and many difficult years for shoe manufacturers in the U.S. the company fell in the hands of F.M.’s son, John Brooks. It was supposed to be just like any other mom and pop shop on Main Street, but John’s son and former Rocky CEO, Mike Brooks, had much bigger ideas…

By the late 1970s, Mike decided it was time for the company to have its own brand name. Looking for a rugged, outdoorsy name, he chose Rocky – and with that name the Rocky brand was born!

Still headquartered in Nelsonville, Ohio, the Rocky® brand continues to be a world leader who designs, develops, manufactures and markets premium quality, rugged Outdoor, Work, Western, Duty and Military footwear as well as Outdoor and Work apparel and accessories. Innovation, quality, and durability are hallmarks of the Rocky® brand name. The Rocky goal to provide quality outdoor and occupational footwear has not changed since the doors opened over 80 years ago.

What does having that “Made in America” stamp of approval mean to Rocky?

For us, being able to handcraft this collection entirely in the United States of America is about pride in our products and a tribute to our proud history. But there’s more to it than that for us, as these boots helped make the company what it is today.

The boots are handcrafted in Wynne, Arkansas using world-renowned Vibram® outsoles from Brookfield, Massachusetts, and the laces are from nearby Portsmouth, Ohio. Rocky actually used the original last that the boots were built on over 30 years ago, which was rediscovered by Jones & Vining™ exclusively for this collection. To add to the American-made components, the boots arrive in a custom-made ZACE USA x Rocky denim shoe bag, all of which were handsewn here in Ohio. ZACE USA proudly handcrafts USA-made denim products.

Why bring back Rocky’s Original Hiker and Red-Laced Hiker?

For us, this was an opportunity to return to our roots. These timeless, award-winning styles laid the foundation for where Rocky is today. In the 1970s, the Oblique Toe was groundbreaking in the footwear market, and to this day it has been copied by countless companies but never replicated. The timeless design of these styles echoes the proud tradition and heritage of Rocky.

What’s the story behind the oblique toe shape?

The story of the design, in my opinion, is a testament to its success. Former CEO Mike Brooks designed the oblique toe after an old shoemaker had told him that you should be able to move your toes inside a boot like you were playing a piano. Trying to develop something that was innovative for the market that was largely round toe, Mike began looking at the foot and saw an opportunity to create a toe shape that naturally worked with the foot – thus the oblique toe was developed. The revolutionary design was recognized with the American Designer’s Award and the rest is history.

How have your fans responded to Rocky’s campaign to return to their roots?

Locally we have experienced a remarkable sense of community pride that we are returning to our roots and bringing back styles that hark back to the classics. It’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t have a fond memory involving these styles – whether it was their childhood or a family member that always wore them – which to me is the most rewarding aspect of this project. We’ve had the remarkable opportunity of having people share their personal stories and images with us of their Original Rocky Hikers and it’s evident that the connection transcends merely footwear – it was a lasting memory.

What is it about the Rocky brand that separates you from the rest?

In my opinion, we separate ourselves in that even though we have grown exponentially since our founding, we are still at the core a family business. We pride ourselves on being able to continue to make a positive difference in lives of our associates as well as our community. We proudly give back to our local community through our Rocky Community Improvement Fund (RCIF).  Since it was created in 2009, RCIF has contributed over $280,000 to various charities and non-profits in Appalachia.

Rocky separates itself in regards to products by consistently evaluating and addressing the needs of our customers by providing innovative solutions. The beauty of Rocky is that we truly have product offerings for all walks of life – whether it is for the adventurer, blue-collar worker, farmer, hunter, service member, or public service member – Rocky has a boot for you. The common thread among all of them is their expectation of quality in their footwear and the confidence it gives them to succeed.

Rocky encourages its customers and fans to share their adventures in their Rocky footwear by using the hashtag, #rockyheritage.  For whatever adventure you encounter: never forget who you are, where you came from, and what made you great. It’s evident that no matter how much has changed in the past 83 years, Rocky hasn’t forgotten their roots.