When the invitation popped up on her Instagram feed Kara Lauder assumed it was a hoax. The head honcho of a company called Celebrity Connect, which arranges invitation-only events in the lead up to the Academy Awards, wondered if Kara would like to come along and present her western-style boots to the stars and influencers who attended.
Pardon? So with all the cowboy boots available in the USA, did they really want the Aussie entrepreneur from the remote mining town of Paraburdoo in WA’s north west to showcase her wares? A quick Google check revealed that such events do in fact exist, and a few emails later it became clear that yes indeed, the company had found her handmade boot range on Instagram, and liked what they saw. The offer was for real.
Which is how in February this year Kara and her husband, Nathan Haagensen, and their then 20-month-old daughter, Ally, found themselves on a plane to Los Angeles, manning a booth at the celebrity gifting suite, and giving away 100 pairs of Kader Boot Co boots to the children of the rich and famous. However, there were a few small hitches to overcome before they got there.
To start with, Kara didn’t actually have any stock. She’d launched her brand on Facebook in August last year using samples, but wasn’t actually going to receive her first shipment until January. It takes four to five months and 180 separate processes to hand craft a boot, so she was sailing close to the wind in terms of time. A few frantic Skypes with her manufacturer in Mexico assured her that the order was achievable, and Kara was on the way to Hollywood.
Of course it would be a fairy tale if it were that simple. Kara had in fact been planning her foray into footwear for the best part of a decade. Having grown up in the bush to the north of Victoria’s Yarra Valley with a forest ranger father, Kara started studying environmental science until she landed a fly-in, fly-out job in the mines in the Pilbara. A large part of her work was doing botanical surveys of potential mine sites, so a considerable chunk of her week involved flying over the spectacular red landscape in a helicopter.
“It’s impossible not to be inspired when you’re working in such a place,” she recalls. “I’d always been a drawer and I’d actually designed a range of western shirts before I got started on the boots. But then I thought there were lots of other shirt makers out there and I better do something more original. I couldn’t find boots that really reflected the landscape and the Australian lifestyle, so I decided to make my own.”
Her first design, and now one of the most popular in the range, is called Karijini after the gorge-gouged landscape of the national park of the same name. The shanks of the boots are covered in ants, a reference to the towering termite mounds that punctuate the spinifex-studded red earth of the region. Kara adds that apart from the original designs, the beauty of a handmade boot is the comfort factor and that her designs have been modified to suits Australians’ larger shoe sizes. Turns out we Aussies are a well-planted mob. The men’s range goes up to size 13 and the women’s extends to size 11.
“Perhaps the greatest surprise has been how patient my potential customers have been,” she says. “When I explain that Kader Boot Co is actually just me and Nathan and there will be a wait between order and delivery, people have been very understanding. Of course, it would be a different story if the boots weren’t living up to expectations. But again, I have been very lucky to find a manufacturer who is as concerned about quality control as I am.”
In a few short months after the Facebook debut, Kara had amassed 10,000 followers and a year down the track has more than doubled that number. Even she is the first to admit that the response has taken her by surprise. “Lots of huge businesses started in garages or sheds,” she observes. “Microsoft and Facebook were both small start-ups. Even R.M. Williams set up his first shop in a shed at his father’s place in Adelaide. But I didn’t realise just how lucky I would be to find a niche.”
In 2015 Kara and Nathan made the decision to “go residential” and base themselves in Paraburdoo rather than commuting. “It just made sense with Ally’s arrival,” she explains. “Nathan still works for Rio Tinto as an electrician, and we wanted her to see her father every day. It’s a great place to bring up kids, even if it is a six-hour drive to Karratha if you want to buy anything more complex than groceries. There are lots of young families up here and it’s a supportive community.”
With baby number two on the way, Kara says she has no plans for slowing down in 2018. “We want to go to more trade events and eventually we’d like to have a semi trailer pop-up store to take around the country,” she says. “We’re aiming to get Kader boots into two western stores in each Australian state next year, and maybe into some stores in the US. Hopefully we’ll make another trip to the US to sell our boots at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. It’s a huge 10-day event and there’s a massive indoor market that accompanies it. So to go there will be a dream come true. We’re also planning to start selling online. We just want to remain open to any opportunity that comes our way and make the most of it.”
So on reflection, was it a good move to self-fund that trip to Los Angeles to give away boots to rich kids? “There was no way we were going to make any money from it but it was worth it before we’d even left the country,” Kara says. “The exposure we gained in local media was worth more than any advertising campaign. The experience justified the investment on so many levels. Our manufacturer flew in for the day so we were able to meet face to face and plan for the future. Kids came in wearing their own shoes and walked out wearing Kader boots and that’s the best possible ad for our company. We visited stores that will potentially stock our boots and we had an amazing time. Sure we took a risk, but it’s more than paid off.”
For more information on Kara’s boots visit facebook.com/kaderbootco.
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 20.6. Click here to subscribe to our magazine
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Paul Pichugin