Dance in the Rain with Stylish Chooka Boots

Chooka rain boots have become quite trendy in recent years. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Vanessa Hudgens, Audrina Patridge and Katie Cassidy have sported the stylish footwear, distinguished by its dazzling colors and highly functional rubber soles. As the company’s official site proclaims, “Chookas are more than an accessory to an outfit. Chookas are the outfit.”

Photo: Washington Shoe Company

It may surprise some that the creator of these popular rain boots, Washington Shoe Company, got its start 120 years ago. The market was quite different back then — WSC’s originally sold work boots designed for outdoorsmen, loggers and miners in the Alaskan Gold Rush. CEO Rob Moehring believes that market knowledge and willingness to fulfill current demands have sustained the brand since 1891.

Washington Shoe Company has been in Moehring’s family since his grandfather bought the brand in the early 1900s. At a time when the neighborhood shoe store was a hallmark of every town, WSC truly had something for everyone.

“We carried baby shoes, work boots and women’s dress shoes, and everything in between,” Moehring said.

The industry changed in the 1950s, as shopping malls popped up all over the country and national distributors replaced the mom and pop shoe stores. “The Northgate Mall and the whole mall movement brought on national chains of footwear retailers,” Moehring said. “That made a significant change in the landscape of distribution.”

Moehring’s father and uncle owned the company until 1990, when they effectively went out business. Sensing that Washington Shoe Company still had a future in the region, Moehring relaunched the company the following year. Fighting against what he calls the ‘third generation curse,’ he moved the headquarters to a small location on Occidental Avenue, near what is now Safeco Field. The company’s office is currently located downtown.

The Chooka model originated about eight years ago, when technology became available to print designs on rubber. Moehring cites the Ugg and its subsequent worldwide popularity as a major inspiration. “[Uggs] were designed to keep surfers’ feet from getting cold,” Moehring explained. “It was a functional purpose, but the trend caught on.”

A self-described lover of product development design, he realized the same fashionable functionality that had made Uggs so popular could be applied to the rainy Pacific Northwest. “[There’s a saying that] if you can see Mt. Rainier, it’s going to rain tomorrow, and if you can’t see the mountain, then it’s raining now,” Moehring said of our perpetually wet climate. “I thought that we could do something really interesting with rubber boots.”

The Chooka design was born thanks to Moehring’s vision, coupled with WSC’s skilled creative design team. “I am enmeshed in the flow of what is happening in fashion,” he explained. “Is it animal print, classic nautical or polka dot? I take those ideas and interpret them, and I have an art department to put these feelings on boots.”

As available technology evolves, so will the Chooka designs, Moehring says. “Right now, we are looking at new materials,” he said. “We’re applying fabrics while maintaining the waterproof elements. [We are always looking for] more innovative ways to make boots more comfortable, while still being functional as well as fashionable lifestyle products.”

“The most effective women’s footwear is the combination of fashion and function,” he added. “Women in fashion want to look good, and they need to look good. The key today is to provide something that is sexy and fun, but also comfortable.”

Moehring, who celebrates 20 years as company owner this year, says his family business is still growing. Not only do his two sons work for him, but his wife is also involved in the company’s accounting. Even his young granddaughter has gotten involved — by modeling children’s footwear.

“Everybody in this family is about having fun, enjoying what we do and working hard,” he said. “Our employees are energetic and passionate about their work.”