For nearly 75 years, Minnetonka has been bringing joy to people’s feet. We’re proud to have been part of happy customer memories and iconic fashion moments along the way. Explore some of the key milestones in our history.
Minnetonka was founded in 1946 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we are still based today. The company was named after nearby Lake Minnetonka; we later learned that “Minnetonka” means “great water” in the language of the Dakota Sioux tribe. In fact, many nearby cities and lakes (and even our state) have “minne”-centric names because we are surrounded by so much water.
Minnetonka started out as a small business creating souvenirs and other goods for roadside gift shops in the region. As more and more families took to the open road to explore America, our handcrafted footwear influenced by traditional Native American moccasins quickly became our most popular offering.
Shortly after Minnetonka started, it attracted the attention of Philip W Miller, who had come to America as a boy from Poland. Philip had been running a corner grocery store in Minneapolis, and he sold the store, using its proceeds to become a partner in Minnetonka. Philip continued to work at Minnetonka until his passing in 1986.
Philip’s son, and future CEO, Marshall Miller joined Minnetonka in 1953. Soon thereafter Philip and Marshall bought out the other partners. Marshall’s business acumen and operations savvy would help Minnetonka expand and flourish in the years ahead.
Nine years in, we introduced our Thunderbird moccasin, featuring a hand-beaded design modeled after its namesake symbol. While we originally embraced this striking design for its beauty, we later learned of the Thunderbird’s meaning in Native American mythology. For many Native tribes, the Thunderbird is a revered supernatural being, playing a key role as protector, rainmaker, and enforcer of justice. Its three tail feathers represent past, present, and future (Source: An Overview of Pacific Northwest Native Indian Art, Clint Leung, 2006). At Minnetonka, the Thunderbird moc has been a lasting favorite for generations, with truly timeless style.
In the 1960s Minnetonka gained a new following among hippies who were drawn to our earthy colors and textures. Hippies redefined American identity through individuality, and through style choices that made a statement — like wearing Minnetonkas. We released our Classic Fringe Boot during the Summer of Love in 1967 and our Front Lace Knee High Boot in 1968, both of which became beloved favorites that we still carry today.
We debuted another timeless classic in 1968: the Two-Button Boot, in softsole and hardsole editions. With the shape of a boot and the soul of a moccasin, the Two-Button features a touch of fringe and silver-tone concho buttons influenced by those used in traditional Native American designs (Source: Alltribes Indian Art). Fun fact: in 2019, over 50 years after its original launch, the Two-Button Boot was featured prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood on the feet of actor Brad Pitt. Check that out here!
Marshall’s son, and our current CEO, David Miller joined the family business in 1979. Having grown up in the business, David hit the ground running. He helped broaden Minnetonka’s product distribution and oversaw our expansion to become an international brand across six continents. Four decades later, David continues to steer the company today.
In 1980, The Preppy Handbook was published and Urban Cowboy hit movie theaters — catapulting two very different fashion styles into the mainstream. Minnetonka moccasins became wildly popular among prepsters and Westernwear enthusiasts alike, who both loved adding classic Americana to their looks.
There’s no doubt that America is a car culture. In 1986 we introduced our first driving moccasins, designed with supple leathers for lightweight flexibility and rubber nubs for high-performance grip. On or off the road, our drivers proved to be must-have accessories for men and women about town.
By 1987, we had a growing business in plush-lined slippers and house shoes. That year, we made it even comfier to wear Minnetonka at home, with the introduction of our first sheepskin slippers. Ultra-soft sheepskin lining inside our super-comfy moccasins and booties delivers maximum coziness. Our Sheepskin Hardsole slippers for women and men are still customer favorites, year after cozy year.
From the beginning, our moccasins often featured a playful touch of fringe over the top: sometimes short, sometimes a little longer, usually cut straight across. In 1996, we perfected the look with the Kilty hardsole, featuring a tapered skirt of fringe peeking out beneath a neat, hand-tied bow. A flexible rubber sole with 95 individual nubs added a comfy, massage-with-every-step effect, and the Kilty is still our bestselling style today. In addition to the hardsole original, the Kilty collection now also includes softsole, boat sole, cushion “Plus” sole, and driving moc pebble sole options.
For many eager vacationers, picking up a pair of Minnetonkas signals the official start of summer each year. It was only natural for us to create a line of sandals translating our easy, comfortable style to breezy, summer-friendly silhouettes. Padded footbeds and artful designs elevated flip-flops and wedges with the Minnetonka touch.
While music festivals from Woodstock on had always provided a backdrop for interesting fashion, the concept of “festival fashion” really crystallized at Glastonbury in the mid-2000s. Supermodels, actresses, and other high-profile influencers created a new vision of bohemian chic: part hippie, part practical, with a dash of classic Minnetonka. In 2005 we launched the 3-Layer Fringe Boot, a fun new addition to our fringe collection with just the right swish for swaying along to the music.
In 2008, Nina Garcia (editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, Project Runway judge, and all-around fashion guru) released a new book called The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own. We were delighted that Minnetonka made the cut, alongside other classic must-haves like red lipstick and aviator sunglasses.
For many years, customers had been cozying up in Minnetonkas at home as well as outdoors. In 2009, we expanded our slipper lineup with the introduction of what would become our top-selling women’s slipper, the chic and comfy Cally. With classic moccasin construction in a wide range of colors and prints, and ultra-plush faux fur lining, the Cally is pretty much the perfect slipper. And paired with the matching Cassie slipper for girls, it’s a classic mommy-and-me style (aka maximum cuteness).
Jori Miller Sherer, David’s daughter, joined the company to focus on product development, marketing, sales, and e-commerce. Within a decade, Jori will become president, co-leading Minnetonka’s next chapter alongside her father and grandfather.
In 2013, we opened our doors to collaborating with other creative brands and designers. Over the years, we’ve released capsule collections co-designed by trendsetters like Rebecca Minkoff, Opening Ceremony, and MOTHER, and partnered with beadwork artisans like Môko Kobayashi and the Maasai Mamas of Kenya. We even helped Hello Kitty celebrate her 40th birthday with special edition mocs! Check out our most recent collaboration with accessory brand Tuleste.
As a tribute to our founder, Philip W Miller, in 2016 we introduced P.W. Driving Mocs and Loafers, a new line of luxurious drivers made to order, one pair at a time. These custom mocs are crafted by hand from supple, world-renowned Horween leather, for exquisite comfort and incredible durability.
Davis Lyons, Marshall’s grandson, joined Minnetonka in 2017 to focus on production, sourcing and supply chain management. With a passion for responsible manufacturing, Davis plays a key role on our team.
We were already known for making some of the most comfortable footwear around, but we wanted to do even better. So we introduced the Kilty Plus with three layers of cushion, the Silverthorne Prism made of contoured ultra-comfy EVA, and the Windy and Wilder slipper styles with feather-light sneaker-like soles. You can never be too comfortable.
We took an important and long overdue step in 2020, in acknowledging and apologizing for our historic appropriation of Native American culture and design. While Minnetonka has evolved far beyond our original product set, moccasins are still a core part of our brand and how many people know us. With that comes a great responsibility to acknowledge the Native influence on our products, expand our support of the Native community, and evolve the way we run our business. To read more about our commitment to supporting the Native community, please click here.
Nearly 75 years after our founding, Minnetonka remains a proudly independent, fourth-generation family-run business. On any given day, you can still find three generations of the Miller family hard at work — including Marshall, who is 89 and still actively involved! We continue to be grateful for and humbled by the loyalty of our customers, old and new. Looking ahead, we are committed to preserving the high standards and handcraftsmanship of our products. Our overarching goal today is to keep the goodness going, so we can create more joy for generations to come.