The divide between blue collar and white collar used to be pretty wide from a footwear perspective. If you were working in manufacturing, construction or as a field technician, you were likely sporting boots or sneakers. Those in so-called knowledge worker jobs probably got around with a wingtip or a loafer. Ed Hennings believes the time is right to bridge the gap between those two walks of life.
An an author, coach and entrepreneur based in Lancaster, NY, Hennings recently launched an eponymous online shop with an array of shoes and boots that reimagine what “work shoes” mean for men in a variety of professional roles. These includes barbers and truck drivers, both of which Hennings has done himself.
The collection is largely made out of leather and often feature steel toes, but that’s where the traditional conception of work shoes ends. A pair of ankle boots in a deep mahogany brown wouldn’t look out of place at a nightclub, while the low-top shoes in the “Melanin Series” evoke throwback, even vintage style from the original Roaring Twenties.
Hennings said his inspiration for his namesake footwear line is based on first-hand experience. Working as a trucker, for example, he recognized the need to look as presentable as possible when delivering and installing furniture in a client’s home. In the barbershop, meanwhile, it became clear the regular shoe options just weren’t going to cut it.
“I would be standing behind the barber chair all day and wearing boots felt too heavy, but if I wore athletic shoes, I’d get hair all over them in like, two haircuts,” Hennings told Menswhere. “I could fill garbage bags with shoes I ruined almost immediately.”
Hennings comes to fashion from an unusual route. Convicted of reckless homicide in 1996, he served 20 years in prison, and has since founded multiple businesses while also working as a motivational speaker. That meant the prospect of a challenging economic climate was unlikely to deter him from entering the direct-to-consumer (DTC) footwear space.
“I’ve had a period in my life where I had time to read a lot of books. And I’ve learned that during the Depression and times like that, people were able to make a lot of progress if they weren’t nervous or afraid to make a leap. I’ve kind of adopted the same mentality.”
That outlook helps explain why Ed Hennings Co. describes itself as a brand for the “Doers” of the world. It’s interesting that as startup culture has seen CEOs and other executives deliberately dress down, Hennings is offering those working in manual jobs or service industries new ideas in how to elevate their professional and personal style.
“I come from a background where I almost lost it all. I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Whether writing books or speaking or now, doing this show brand, it’s all about providing inspiration.”