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Prominent Odessans: Nathan Schwartz


How Nathan Schwartz builds his successful “Forest Plot”. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather “sharpened his boots,” so it is not surprising that Nathan followed in their footsteps. Timberland has been a profitable and well-known company for almost 70 years.


The American company Timberland, a manufacturer of footwear and clothing, was established in 1952. Its founder Nathan Schwartz was born in Odessa in 1902. When he was 12 years old, his parents decided to move to live in the United States. Due to the deplorable financial situation of the Jewish family, at the age of 16, Nathan was forced to go as an apprentice in one of the small New York shoe shops. For 34 years he saved money by working as a shoemaker in a repair shop.

In 1952, Nathan Schwartz bought half of the shares of the little-known The Abington Shoe Company, located near Boston. The business went well, and three years later Schwartz bought out the remainder of the shares, becoming the sole owner of the company, and his sons joined the management. He, in turn, wanted the business not only to bring in money, but also to make the brand famous, at least in the USA. It is clear that one desire was not enough, and in 1965, The Abington Shoe Company developed an innovative molding technique for invisible connection of the sole and leather upper, thereby 6-inch Nubuck leather boot could withstand harsh weather. This high quality boots made Schwartz’s business very succesful. The boots were yellow and named Lumberjack.

As Schwartz’s grandson Jeffrey later admitted, the colour was chosen at random. Carried away by the process of testing technological properties, everyone simply forgot about the need to think over the palette – so the “timbers” were created in “junk colours”. Although the company also has an official version: Abington Shoe Company has been producing boots for lumberjacks for many years, who want to wear bright shoes so that they can avoid falling logs on their feet during work. And The Timberland Company, as the successor to Abington, simply retained its corporate colour.

We created the first guaranteed waterproof boots

Nathan and Sidney Swartz. Image via Tuck School of Business

Triple nylon seams made Schwarz’s shoes resistant to almost any overload. The company has implemented a multi-stage production control and they were right. According to legend, in the early 1970s, boots were even left overnight in a factory toilet to see how waterproof they were.

In 1973, the Timberland brand officially appeared, which means “forest area”. Thus, the logo, which depicted the American oak, became quite logical. In 1978, due to the growing popularity of the brand, Nathan Schwartz renamed the company to The Timberland Company.

In the 80s, Timberland Co. was doing “open-air testing” and one of the most famous was testing “timbers” during dog sledding races in Alaska.

“If you love Timberland, treat them as badly as possible”

The company claims to be the first that started putting the brand name on the outside of the shoe which wasn’t the trend back then. By that time, shoes were already known not only in the USA, but also in Europe, especially in Italy.

This happened thanks to the Italian Giuseppe Veronesi, who in 1979 bought a batch of 3 thousand pairs, and the next year he returned enthusiastically for a new one. This is how Veronesi’s Ritz Firma became the first European distributor for the Timberland Company.

Timbs in Italy. Image via Donna Moderna.

By the late ’80s, the boots’ popularity was surging internationally. The New York Times reported that teens were robbing people for their Timberlands in fashion capital Milan and that American flight attendants were buying dozens of Timberlands to resell for double the price in Italy.

In 1986, Nathan Schwartz’s son Sidney Schwartz became president of The Timberland Company. Over the 12 years of his reign, the company has taken a strong position in the world market: in the late 80s, the first Timberland brand store outside the United States opens in London, and Timber is gradually conquering Europe. Timberland Co. launches an advertising campaign on television and launches its own collection of travel and sportswear.

The brand rollout resulted in a tripling of sales in the 90s. According to The Wall Street Journal, in 1993 net sales exceeded $300 million and grew by more than 40% over the year. At the same time, classic Timberland boots capture the dominant urban culture in the United States at that time – hip-hop. Yellow Boots are worn by Biggie, Das EFX, Mobb Deep, DMX. Schwartz’s boots are becoming a cult object for young people.

Jeff Schwartz and Timberland boots

In the early 1990s, the brand introduced the first collection of clothing for men and then for women. The collections were created for people with an active lifestyle. In 1992, The Timberland Company launched the slogan:

Shoe racism: put on your shoes, make an impact

The Schwartzs donated large sums of money to support funds for victims of racism around the world. Within a few years the company became a symbol of protest against racial discrimination, the initiative was quickly taken up by the public and the stars.

In 1998, the post of President of Timberland is occupied by the grandson of Nathan Schwartz – renowned philanthropist Jeffrey Schwartz. In addition to inplementing of new technologies into production, a large-scale expansion of the brand’s line, he glorified the company as a loyal supporter of environmentally friendly production and the theory of social responsibility of business.

In September of 2011, Jeff Schwartz sold the brand for $2.3 billion to fashion conglomerate VF Corporation. According to media reports, after the sale of Timberland, Jeffrey Schwartz devoted himself to the affairs of the Jewish community in his native Boston.