The Story of John Khadzhi

JK Boots About Us

I wasn’t even born yet when my dad started JK Boots.

But there are some truths about how we hand-craft each pair of boots that runs through our workshop today that have been in place since 1994, when JK began.

Sure, I can sit here and tell you that we strive to make the best boots in the world, or that we select the best materials. But doesn’t every brand say the same thing? (We actually do those things, but that’s beside the point).

I thought it was important to tell the story of JK instead.

Because if you could hear the story, you’d understand exactly what goes into every boot that has the JK emblem branded into the side.

You’d understand our true desire to give you something you can be proud to stand on.

So if you have a minute, here’s our story.

bookmaking, leather, crafting, building

Humble Beginnings


JK Boots was started by John Khadzhi in 1994. In case you missed it, our name, JK, is his initials.

John’s my father, and his story inspires me and my brother Will to keep growing this company every single day.

He was born in a small village in southern Ukraine. There was an old leatherworker who worked in a small shop. This man was 80 years old and a total master at his craft. He’d been learning leatherwork since he was 10. And he was in his workshop every day for the past 70 years.

Well, there was something about that pure mastery that attracted John, and when he was 14, he started to apprentice with this master leatherworker.

For several years, John learned the subtle nuances in picking hides, how leather could be stretched, molded, cut, shaped...

Sometimes the old master paid him a small apprentice wage. Sometimes the old master didn’t pay him at all.

But witnessing mastery in action was what mattered to John. And when he was 16, John took what he’d saved and bought a few raw hides himself. He tanned them, removed the hair, and found a buyer for the leather.

Sure, it was nice to make a little money from selling the tanned hides. But just going through the process of taking something unusable and turning it into something beautiful and valuable...that struck John like a lightning bolt. That was the beginning of his passion for craftsmanship.

Years later, after serving in the military, John (in his 20’s now) began to apprentice with a bootmaker in Moldova.

According to John, this bootmaker was very slow in making each pair of boots, but completely meticulous.

The man never missed a stitch. Never rushed through putting a sole on so he could call it a day. Never gave a pair of boots to a customer unless he was 100% happy with them. His business was built on his reputation.

That lesson hit hard with John, and that’s something baked deep into the DNA of JK Boots still to this day.

Most boot brands have a single quality control station. Some of the best have two. We have three different QC stations, where we triple check each pair of boots to make sure every stitch is spot on, that we used the best cut of leather, and that our boots will be comfortable on day 1.

No matter how big you get, some things don’t change. We take pride in our good reputation---something we’ve worked hard to earn and something we work even harder on now.

Even though John was learning a ton as an apprentice bootmaker, something was bothering him.

You see, at this time, in this particular part of the world, the US was looked at with some skepticism. Even with that, John had this gut feeling that if he was truly going to live freely---to speak freely, to think freely, to build something that was truly his own...the only place he could do that was in America.

cobbler, shoe repair, boot repair

JK Boots Begins


John and his wife moved to eastern Washington State after going through a 10-year immigration process.

They immediately got a small shop and while John was repairing shoes, his wife was doing tailoring and clothing repairs.

One day, a customer came in who’d had an injury that caused permanent irregular swelling in his feet. This man still worked every day, but because his feet were an unusual shape due to injury, he hadn’t worn a good pair of boots in years.

He asked if John could make him a pair of boots.

So John went back to his shop and stayed up all night building this pair of boots.

John thought of the old masters that had taught him what he knew---the leather master who could almost listen to a side of leather to find the parts that would have the most character, or would be most durable, or have the most flexibility.

He thought of his mentor in cobbling, who’d use twice the number of brass tacks to secure an insole, because even though it wasn’t expected, it was how he felt boots ought to be built---something built for life.

When the man saw his custom-made boots from John, he was delighted. Not only did they fit and feel comfortable, but they had the kind of durability and build he’d been wanting from a pair of boots. He immediately asked John to make him another pair (and fun fact: he ended up wearing JK’s for the rest of his life, ordering 6 pairs in total).

With his first happy customer, John knew it was time to start making boots exclusively. While the little shop was started in 1994, 1996 is really when JK Boots started, and John began to make his American dream a reality.

 

family business, jk boots, handmade boots

 

A Family Business


John saved and built his workshop up little by little while he raised his young family. When his kids were a bit older and starting to go to high school, he invested in JK and moved into a factory.

It was still a humble place, but business was steady and growing every year. I gotta say, my dad isn’t a marketing master---he doesn’t have any fancy tricks up his sleeve. But his focus on reputation---what he learned from his days as an apprentice---his name alone was enough to build the business.

When my brother Will was old enough, he started driving to the factory after school and learning the process of bootmaking. In fact, the JK reputation almost became too good at this point, because it was hard to keep up with orders.

But Will stepped up and would stay late, day after day, putting in late nights and then finishing high school during the day.

At this point, I was 13, and I was getting pretty anxious to get into the factory myself. I had to wait a few years, but when I was 15, I also went into the factory and dove into the process of bootmaking.

It’s a little embarrassing, but when I started, I was pretty notorious for “teaching” my dad (who at this point was a master with 20+ years of experience) how to make boots. But he was patient with me, and over time, I learned the subtle nuances of how a boot’s made. After all, leather is an organic thing---it behaves differently depending on the environment.

And then a funny thing happened...

I shot a little video of my dad making a pair of boots the old-fashioned way...

Stitchdown construction, 9oz leather, handmade with a thick leather insole, nailed and screwed heavy lug outsole.

Just exactly what I’d seen him do maybe 1,000 times.

I put it on YouTube, and once the world was able to see exactly what went into a pair of JK Boots...the dedication to craftsmanship, the pride in each stitch, the commitment to making customers happy...JK Boots started getting a lot of attention.

My dad’s faith in his dream, a faith like a mustard seed way back from when he was working as a leather apprentice in Ukraine, grew into a mighty tree that’s honestly probably bigger than he could’ve even imagined.

Dad dedicated his whole life, from when he was 13 until today, to building an incredible product: a pair of work boots that could withstand anything and make the owner proud to wear them.

He watered and cultivated that dream every day, and it’s been mine and Will’s dream to give him a little break.

Like the old masters, he’s not going to stop. He still comes into the workshop every day (even if we try to get him to take a day off...maybe pick up golf? Eh, not a chance). But Will and I now at least handle the business aspects and he gets to do what he loves: hand craft the best boots in the world.

work boots, custom boots, leather boots, handmade boots


Legacy of Craftsmanship Alive Today


JK operates with a simple value in the forefront of our minds.

We believe that the best men are driven by honesty and integrity. Those men deserve boots that are built with the same spirit.

From the very beginning, John built his boots with honesty and integrity. If you just watch one of our boots get cut in half, you can see that the inside of our boots is almost built better than the outside. While a good work boot should have 6oz leather, we use a thicker 9oz leather for more protection and longevity.

While we know you’ll never see the insole and midsole, we use an 8mm thick piece of oak-tanned leather with brass nails, and the same high quality oak-tanned leather for a shank.

Like the old bootmaking master in Moldova, we do not let a pair of boots out of our workshop unless it’s perfect.

My dad’s dream continues...

He’s done his part in bringing the world boots built with honesty and integrity.

And now his dream is also mine and Will’s.

We know that there are millions of guys out there who, like my dad’s first customer, want a pair of boots that feel like they were made just for them.

It’s our mission to get JK Boots to them. Because if they could experience the level of construction and material quality, they’d never wear anything else.

I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your interest in JK Boots means the world to me and my brother, Will.

And seeing reviews and notes from customers still brings a huge smile to my dad’s face, even after getting thousands of positive reviews for the past 20-something years.

If you’re looking for a place to start with JK Boots, we designed the 300 boot as an everyday boot that’s sturdy enough for heavy-duty work, but is light and flexible enough to wear casually.

If you want a work boot that can keep up with the toughest jobs, check out the Superduty. It’s our best-seller and it’s built like a tank. It’s the kind of boot that changes your perspective on what a boot can be. Say goodbye to foam-infused mall boots, because you’ll be wearing your Superduty’s for life.

And then there’s our OT, which has a lot of the “overbuilt” aspects of the Superduty, but the heel is lower and the rubber sole has a bit more shock absorption, so it’s easier to wear casually, too.

Again, thank you for your interest in JK. If you have any questions about our boots, send us an email at general@jkboots.com

True to our origins, we still custom-build boots, so if you need something special done, we can take care of it.


6 comments


  • Hector Ortiz

    Love your boots. I watch a lot of the videos on YouTube regarding the boots. Someday I hope to afford a pair but until then I’ll keep watching.


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