Back in April, the people at New Balance gave me an opportunity to test out the company’s new custom 574 program. I’ve done custom shoes from other makers previously, but never anything that was made in America, and never anything processed so quickly (about a week total). I loved how those 574s turned out, in fact I liked the customized program so much I couldn’t wait for the service to include the 993s, my sneaker of choice. Well, that time has now come, 993 lovers can rejoice and order their very own special pair — made right in Maine.
Watching people hand sew shoes almost always seems to mesmerize me. To say shoes are “handsewn” doesn’t often elicit much of a response from people, but when you actually see the process of making these shoes one stitch at a time, handsewn shoes earn a whole different level of appreciation. If you attended one of the last few Pop Up Fleas you may have met Oak Street Bootmakers founder George Vlagos, who was on hand fitting people for shoes and answering questions about his handsome collection of shoes. Over the past several years the brand has garnered a lot of attention online, but for many the Pop Up Flea was the first time actually seeing the Oak Street shoes in person.
With the making of this video, Oak Street goes where many have gone before (into the factory), to better explain what goes into making its shoes. It is really the first look behind the scenes of a company that has developed a pretty remarkable following. While this sort of approach is certainly nothing new (from either an ACL coverage or brand marketing perspective), it is still something I want to see. All brands that are making products in a traditional way, making shoes in a place that is cost prohibitive (read: onshore), should be telling this story. Frankly, it all wouldn’t really matter at all if Oak Street didn’t make such good looking boots. But they do, so just happily accept it as a win-win.
Three generations of the Rancourt family have been making shoes in Maine since the mid-1960s. Over the years the company has made shoes for a variety of big American shoe companies, passing the hand-sewing skills down from generation to generation. Recently the company has moved into a new facility in Lewiston, Maine where, in addition to making shoes for a host of well respected brands, the Rancourts recently begun to more widely offer the shoes it makes under its own label, Rancourt & Co. To this end Rancourt just launched it’s own online shop where you can purchase the company’s fine handsewn shoes — everything from Horween shell cordovan beefroll penny loafers to traditional moccasin style leather shoes — direct from the makers in Maine.
Yesterday the folks at New Balance launched the company’s new custom 574 program which allows you to take to the internet and create your own specially designed sneakers. Last week we tested out the system at the launch event here in New York and it worked like a snap. In fact it shockingly only took five days for the special 574s (which were sent compliments of New Balance) to show up straight from the New Balance plant in Norridgewock, Maine. In anticipation of the launch of the custom 574 program, New Balance even dispatched a guy named Jake Davis and some other guy named Sean Sullivan to Maine to document the custom make up process at the factory. You can basically design the entire shoe all the way down to the color of the big N and the custom embroidery on the back of each sneaker. The possibilities are endless. [New Balance Custom 574]
Honest handsewn shoes for an honest price, that’s the way it is done at Wassookeag. The tiny company sells a selection of moccasins that are made by hand — one at a time — by proprietor Mark Wintle in the central Maine town of Dexter. “I have only officially been handsewing my own moccasins for about six months now,” he said. “However, I have been under the direct tutelage of my father who has been handsewing shoes for over 40 years and has been making moccasins for about 25 years.”
With the growing popularity of hand sewn American-made shoes, it seems like now is as good as time as ever to get into the shoe making business. “I recently quit my high tech career, moved back to Maine — where I grew up — to start my own business, making moccasins,” says Wintle. “I thoroughly enjoy working for myself and working beside my father every day.”
Part at home dentistry instructional film and part Alone in the Wilderness, Dead River Rough Cut is a documentary about a couple of leathery guys living a backwoods existence away from the bothers of social interaction and the convenience (read: health standards) of modern life. The DVD was part of my ACL Twitter gift guide, but I thought it was worth expanding on a little for those that might have missed it.
The film documents a secluded and cracker barrel life in the Maine woods. Its an astonishing look at a different way of life. Dead River Rough Cut also has the honor of being the number one requested film at the Maine State Penitentiary — you can’t even make this shit up. Worth a look if you are into toothless roughnecks that spend their whole day hunting, slaughtering pigs and riding around on primitive snowmobiles. You can purchase the DVD here.