One of the things I love most about Salmon Sisters is the company’s authentic connection to the fish, waters and community surrounding fishing in Alaska. The company began with two sisters, Emma Teal and Claire Laukitis, who spent their younger years on a remote coastal homestead on the state’s Aleutian Islands. When their feet grew big enough to fit into XTRATUF boots—around 10 years old—the classic brown fishing boots became their main footwear. Emma and Claire spent summers working on their family’s commercial fishing boat in the Bering Sea, and developed a deep love for the ocean. It was only natural that they would return to Alaska after college and find a way to contribute to a community of fisherman, outdoor enthusiasts, and those who share a connection to the ocean and its creatures.
I first started following the Salmon Sisters when they collaborated with the Salmon Project on a “salmon love” sweatshirt. It was impossible not to admire their creative work and love for Alaska. They did not just work hard; they reflected the deep relationship many Alaskans have with an incredible resource—salmon—in their art and business philosophy. Their passion is contagious, and other conservation projects and collaborations with local makers followed. For every product the company sells, Salmon Sisters donates one can of wild Alaska salmon to the Food Bank of Alaska. It’s a business model that inspires and empowers others to join in the celebration—Fish. Create. Share. Give.
About the Boots
This season, I got to walk in Teal and Claire’s shoes. Sort of. The sisters worked with XTRATUF on two nautical designs for the liner of their favorite boot.
“The octopus design was inspired by the amazing giant Pacific octopus we catch while halibut fishing in the Bering Sea,” says Teal, who responded by email during this busy fishing season. “They’re some of our favorite creatures. The fish and anchors design is fun and nautical—the anchor symbol a reminder to hold fast, and the fish an essential ingredient to any Salmon Sisters design.”
The new pair I received was specifically built on a women’s last and looked splashy and bright compared to my beloved 10-year-old version of the boot. I was excited to pull them on and write a review, but I was also excited to be a part of a visionary business model and a special time in history for women who love to fish, adventure and thrive.
So often, women buy shoes for the kind of life we want to live. Some may go as far as to say shoes are a connection between our bodies and the landscape, whether that’s an office, dance floor, farm field or fishing boat. I put the new boots on over a pair of heavy socks and jeans. Yes, I was tempted to fold them over to show off the design on the liner, but function won over form. I was meeting friends to fish for salmon from shore on the incoming tide. When we arrived, I was excited to see one of my friends, visiting Alaska from her home in South Dakota, was wearing XTRATUFs as well. She turned down her boots to reveal a floral print, so I turned down mine to reveal the octopus design.
From Sea to Summit
Our fishing only lasted a few hours before we decided to hike into the nearby mountains. I hadn’t brought hiking shoes, but knew from experience that the neoprene boots worked just as well as hikers for me. Most of our hike would go beyond an established trail and into rocky terrain. XTRATUFs are known for slip resistance, which is important on the deck of a fishing vessel. It also works well on slippery rocks. Several stream crossings also gave those of us with waterproof boots an advantage.
When we reached our summit, we spotted a lone mountain goat in the rocks high above us. We just had to climb the 1,500 feet to the goat to snap a few photos. The abrasion-resistant boots were better up to the challenge than my physique. I rested a few times as we charged up the moraines and shale slides to get within 200 feet of the goat. The unlikely pairing of fishing boots on a mountain is not a fashion statement as much as a testament: They can do the job.
“XTRATUFs have become something of Alaskan fashion since they’re so practical for people who are outdoors often, or who have jobs like fishermen do,” said Teal in her email. “In the summertime, we wear them nonstop. All the time! They’re our fishing boots, our town boots, our going-out boots, our rain boots, work boots, hiking boots, snow boots, even school boots when we were in high school.” Having also grown up in Alaska, I had seen XTRATUFs at weddings, semi-formal dinners, the post office and the grocery store.
The first time I realized the brown boots were synonymous with Alaska fashion was when Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, visited Homer, Alaska, for a writer’s conference years ago. She came out on stage wearing a hoodie, leggings, and a new pair of XTRATUFs. It took seeing the getup on a visitor to realize there was an Alaska look, and she nailed it.
Since the Salmon Sister designs are new to the XTRATUF line, I asked Teal if there was anything different about the Salmon Sisters Legacy boot from the classic version. “The boots are in women’s sizes, so if you’re a regular XTRATUF wearer, you won’t be able to buy your normal men’s size. Feedback from our customers is that the boots run a half to a full size small. The boots are fun to roll down, depending on your mood. We like to fold them over when it’s not too rainy and show their full colors!”
My new pair worked as well as my old pair on our hike … and again on a halibut charter the following weekend. And the women’s version did fit better in the heel. I look forward to seeing whether they will beat my 10-year-old pair for wear. But, beyond what makes practical sense, what I love about them is that they feel like home. Beyond that, they are part of a collaboration that invites us to live and share a story that now includes a sisterhood, and something that has always been of vital importance to the health of our oceans and even our spirits—salmon.
Find more XTRATUF reviews at The WON here.
Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters. View all posts by Christine Cunningham