If you’re interested in incredible stories of overcoming the odds and taking a unique path to adventure, then you’ve come to the right place. We paused last time in telling the journey of Samuel Hubbard’s founder, Bruce Katz, with his new determination to sail the world. He had already explored the United States from coast to coast in his van and was ready for a new adventure. If you missed the first part of this story, you can find it here.
Enjoy this second chapter of Bruce’s story in his own words.
"I was in a bookstore in Vancouver and I came across a book on how to build a ferro-cement boat. I was going to build my own boat and sail around the world. I returned to Ithaca, where I had gone to Cornell engineering school, and decided that it would be an ideal place to build my dream boat.
Of course, the fact that Ithaca had brutally cold winters did not stop me, but as I worked outside for several winters in the bitter cold, I dreamed of how it might have been a good idea to build the boat in Florida instead. As the boat took shape, many people came by curious about what was going on.
Slowly over time, some people loved the idea so much that they asked if they could help. Eventually, I got my heart badly broken and decided to return to Boston, leaving the boat half-finished in the shed.
My father was an inspiration to many people. Years after I entered the shoe business, I learned to appreciate his courage. A week after Hubbard Shoe Company ran out of money and the factory had to be closed, my father left for Brazil to find a way to make shoes there.
He had lost everything at that point and had only a few thousand dollars of savings, a rented apartment and a rented car. He had put every penny he had into trying to save the shoe company.
Looking back, what amazes me is his courage in picking himself up after watching the family business close and after a decade of trying to keep it alive in the face of the wave of imported shoes that were coming in from around the world. He turned around in one week and went off to learn how to become a successful shoe importer instead of a shoe manufacturer.
Meanwhile, I had lived from hand to mouth, grown my own food, and lived in a 10 by 16-foot cabin next to the construction shed where we were building the ferro-cement boat. I returned to Boston to see how I might help my father.
I began selling some shoes for him.
I traveled with my Great Pyrenees dog in my double cab Volkswagon pickup and every week would deliver the shoes I had sold the previous week.
I was still dreaming of sailing around the world and I saved my earnings from the selling of these shoes with the hopes of buying a small boat that I could travel in.
That was how I got into selling shoes. One thing led to another and the pickup truck shoe-selling operation became a now-famous brand.
I never did return to finish that boat in Ithaca, but after 14 years of working on building Rockport, I decided to sell the company rather than to go public. A year later, I chartered a boat and sailed in the Caribbean. It was everything I had dreamed of and more. I loved it.
At that point, I began to remember why I had started selling shoes in the first place and decided that now was my moment to build a boat and go adventuring. I spent a year visiting architects and boatyards and prowling the docks for ideas. Eventually, I found a shipyard in Holland and decided that I would build my boat there.
During the time of the build, which took five years, I was sailing a different boat near Pisa Italy and somehow Romeo and Juliet came into my mind. The name “Juliet” just seemed like the right sort of name. And so it stayed.
We sailed Juliet with a crew of 6 around the world for 15 years. I was busy doing all kinds of businesses and would come and go throughout the year, meeting the boat all over the world. We had countless adventures as we traveled the oceans of the world.
Designing and building Juliet was one of the highlights of my life. I had the privilege to work with one of the finest designers in the world who lived in Holland. We worked together for five years designing her. I traveled once a month from San Francisco to work on the project.
I learned from Pieter Beeldsnijder a great deal about what makes a pleasing line and as we worked on the plans, I learned how to draw in great detail. When I returned to the shoe business in 2013, I came with a whole new eye that I didn’t have in my days at Rockport. I had a new sensibility from drawing boats that I brought to the new shoes.
Over the years, I came to appreciate wearing a pair of shoes that never let me down. I often traveled with only one pair of shoes, so I needed shoes that would allow me to walk and run and climb in all conditions. If I was climbing mountains, then, of course, I needed my trusty hiking boots, but for the rest, I wore my UnSneakers.
I chose to make the first Samuel Hubbard shoes in Portugal because they have a long tradition of handcrafting fine, traditional leather shoes. I knew that they would know how to make the kinds of shoes I love.
I always like shoes to be as light as is practically possible—I design shoes around function first.
In the last few years that I worked at Rockport, we innovated a new breed of lightweight shoes that were ideal for walking. We had one of our mainstay models that I loved and when I decided to sell the company and move out to California, I took 24 pairs of that one shoe in one color. I wore those shoes for 25 years leading up to the founding of Samuel Hubbard.
Then I spent a year and a half working to create an even better version of that shoe.
When we finally made the shoes in 2014 and introduced them, they immediately began making friends for the company. People loved the UnSneakers. We dressed them up in our Go To Work collection. And we made active outdoor shoes with those features built-in.
Good shoes take a great deal of time to develop and we took our time in the beginning to make sure we got it right. We carry on with this tradition today and many of our new introductions follow two years of development work and experimentation."
We hope that you enjoyed reading Bruce’s story as much as we did. Adventure is at the center of everything we do and Bruce has always been at the heart of that. His passion for making shoes that embody adventure drives the design and creation of Hubbards. It takes more than craftsmanship and materials to make incredible shoes—it takes passion and heart.
We’ll be telling more stories like this in the future, stories from the journeys of our team and customers who embody this same passion and curiosity. If you would like to be featured on the blog in the future, please contact us. We care deeply about our community’s journey.