Hunter boots had a great reputation in the British market with the boots being popular under mostly upper class country folks. People who bought Hunter boots were willing to pay the relatively high price for a pair of rubber rain boots as these boots were of extraordinary quality with many reporting to use them for well over 20 years. The public perception of the brand was great, and Queen Elizabeth II awarded the company a Royal Warrant in 1986. Below Princess Di wearing a pair of green Hunter boots in her pre-engagement pictures.
This all started to change in 2006 when the Hunter company ran into cash flow problems and was placed into administration (a legal status protecting the company against its debtors to buy some time in the hope it can figure out its financial problems before having to go bankrupt). Its accountants indicated the company was suffering from high manufacturing costs, including fuel costs, and a loss from the expansion into the USA.
A buy-out by a private consortium followed and the production of the rubber rain boots was moved to low-wage countries. Since 2008 most Hunter rain boots are produced in Asia, predominantly in China. On the website of Hunter this is never really exposed, but your new pair of Hunter boots will likely have a sticker with “Made in China” on the sole of the boot. By itself this is not really a problem, and Hunter itself states in one spot on their website that the production process hasn’t changed significantly in over half a century, while on another place they say the boots are made using many of the original techniques.
The keyword here is “many”, by which they try to suggest nothing has really changed. But this is not true, as one key part of the production process did change and this change has led to a lower quality of boot since 2008. When the boots were produced in Scotland the process started with a seamless cotton or nylon “sock” that was dipped in liquid rubber. This formed the basis for the boot to which the other parts were glued on and later vulcanized to make it durable. Even when the glue would let lose or cracks would appear in the glued on parts, the inner rubberized sock that forms the basis of the boot would stay intact and no leaking would take place. Boots produced in China lack this part of the production process and the boots will start leaking as soon as cracks in the outer rubber layers appear. Picture below of a cracked boot, from “wellies and plimsolls” on flickr.
Since the production equipment formerly used in Scotland has been sold to another rubber boot company and moved to Serbia, and the staff producing the boots in Scotland has been laid off, it is more accurate to say that the production has not moved to China but a new production process has been started up there.
More and more complaints can be found online of people having bought a pair of Hunter boots and running into trouble only months after their purchase when the boots started leaking or peeling as shown above (picture from khx89 on twitter). Hunter has from time to time admitted some series of boots have had production mistakes in them, but in general they hold on to their company line that the increase in complaints is mostly due to their increase in sales. The more boots you sell, the more complaints you can receive.
The worst part is that Hunter did not seem to react seriously to the complaints coming in. Their customer service department was hard to reach, which they claimed was due to technical issues on their website. Many customers indicated Hunter has tried to avoid responsibility for leaking and peeling boots and offered customers a 20% discount on their next purchase.
In my view the Hunter rubber rain boots are iconic rain boots, but their handling of quality issues worries me. When you realize the boots are made by low-wage earners in Asian countries you start to wonder why the prices of relatively simple rubber boots are so high. While I do have a pair of black gloss Hunter boots, I doubt I will be shopping for a second pair anytime soon. Maybe it is time to look further to other brands and see what they have to offer.
Below a picture from flickr of some of the older Hunter boots with much better quality. Notice the “made in Scotland” on the label which was later removed as the boots were not made in Scotland anymore.
If there is any other brand of rubber boots you would recommend or want to know more about, leave a comment and I will do my best to give them a good look.