Monthly Archives: August 2013

  • Due North Vol.5, by Kyle Rancourt

    Originally published on Well Spent

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    What is handmade? The simple answer, as defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary is: "made by hand or a hand process." However, many brands these days would like you to believe that their products are "handmade" because it has been determined by some marketing executive that the term handmade sells products. Based on their loose definition of the term, if a hand touches the product at any time during the process it qualifies as handmade or handcrafted. By this definition we can only count out products made by a completely machine-made automated process. I believe that this is an exploitation of the term and one that does not do justice to the history of handmade and handcrafted goods.

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    As I see it, the qualifications for being handmade or handcrafted run along a fairly narrow spectrum. On one end, you have a trade like basket weaving where the goods are made completely by hand, very few tools and no machines are used. In the small leather goods business, there are truly handmade products - small hand tools are used but very few or no machines at all are used. Shoes are kind of a hybrid, because while many processes are done by hand, especially the hand lasting/stitching process of genuine handsewn shoes, many machines are used as well. At Rancourt & Co. our philosophy is using whatever means necessary to make the best pair of shoes possible. At times this means using machines and at times this means using our hands.

    As a culture, we have grown tired of disposable goods, made cheaply and rapidly, with no unique characteristics. In the past five years I've seen immense growth in the handmade heritage business. More and more people are starting companies, opening workshops, or stocking their stores with products that are made using old world techniques and high quality materials. Unfortunately, as the demand for these items has increased, so have the attempts by disingenuous brands to exploit it.

    Dustin Spencer from Bobby Liu on Vimeo.

    Born shoes sell cheap, machine made shoes under the guise of "handcrafted".  Timberland is making some of their shoes using the cheapest methods and materials possible and calling them "handcrafted" and using phrases like "handcrafted aesthetic" to describe them.  Persol Eyewear claims their products are "hand-crafted" despite being owned by Luxxotica Group which is not only the world's largest eyewear manufacturer but arguably the largest global monopoly.

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    To me, handmade means using your hands or small hand tools to make goods in small batches. When using traditional old world techniques leads to a finished good that is unique and skillfully crafted it can be called handmade or handcrafted. Handmade is about preserving tradition - otherwise we would end up making things with no character. If using cheap materials, machines, and automated processes could truly replicate handcrafted goods there would be nothing that defines our shoes as Maine made or Alden's as American made. There would be nothing special about Frank Clegg's bags (https://frankcleggleatherworks.com/) because any factory in China could make an exact replica. Nobody would buy Thomas Moser's (http://www.thosmoser.com/) beautiful and uniquely American furniture because they look and feel exactly like the pieces made by machines. Faribault Woolen Mills (http://www.faribaultmill.com/) wouldn't have revived a 140 year old mill if preserving tradition and old world techniques didn't matter.

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    "Handmade" and "Handcrafted" are distinctions that are earned and shame on those brands that are exploiting and devaluing their significance.

  • Reconditioning with Rancourt & Co.

    A recent example of our $75 resole and refinish package. Horween leather tan bulldog with brick red camp-moc soles. We gave these chukka's new life.

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  • Pure Luxury - Frank Clegg Leatherworks

    I had the good fortune to meet Frank Clegg and company at the American Field event in Boston last October. Frank and my father immediately hit it off connecting on their shared passion for quality and heritage in the leather goods business. I was struck by the refined beauty and inherent luxury in Frank's bags. I've kept in touch with Frank over the past year and we will surely work together on a project in the near future. I've also come to understand that Frank Clegg's bags are simply the best in the world - they are pure luxury, handmade in Fall River, MA USA.

  • Due North, Vol. 4

    By Kyle Rancourt

    Originally published on Well Spent

    Nobody believes in the quality and integrity of “Made in USA” more than me. I come from a family that has never turned its back on American manufacturing – we’ve never even considered it. Since my grandfather established himself as a shoemaker in the 1960’s, we have made our shoes in Maine, and we always will. That said, as a brand, we have had to travel outside the US network of manufacturers to find some of the components that we need. At Rancourt & Co., our number one priority is to offer the best possible product. We do not sacrifice quality for cost, and at times, that means sourcing components overseas.

    90 percent of our components come from US manufacturers: leather from Horween in Chicago, Illinois and S.B. Foot in Red Wing, Minnesota. Rubber outsoles from Vibram USA in Massachusetts and Meramec in Missouri. Leather soles and midsoles from Keystone leather distributors in Pennsylvania. Even waxed threads from Maine Thread right here in Lewiston, Maine. However, there are certain specialty products that we’ve grown to love that are not made in the states. The most common is calfskin leather.

    Calfskin is leather from a young cow that is notable for its clean and tight grain. As a cow ages, it develops fat wrinkles (similar to stretch marks on humans) and scars from insect bites and other accidents. The grain, or outside of the animal hide, also opens up as the pores in the skin enlarge. By tanning the leather of a young cow you tend to avoid these undesirable characteristics. The qualities of calfskin leather make it a natural fit for dress shoes. At one time, there were tanneries in the United States that produced calfskin leather, but with the decimation of the footwear and leather goods industries, the tanneries have gone as well.

    The last remaining stronghold of the calfskin leather business is in Western Europe. Our mimosa calf is a unique leather that comes from Northern Italy, while some of the other calf leather we use comes from Eastern France near the German border. Calf is expensive, especially with freight costs from Europe, but we love the look, feel and quality of the leather, so we will continue to import it until a US tannery starts producing calf that’s on par with the Europeans’.

    Sourcing rubber soles in the US has been a challenge as well. With globalization and the outsourcing of the footwear business to Asia and South America, the factories producing rubber soles in the USA have shuttered, and factories in China and Brazil have taken their place. To this day, we cannot find “siped” rubber deck soles anywhere but Brazil and China, so we’ve chosen the lesser of two evils, and buy our soles from Amazonas in Brazil. “Siping” is the tiny zig-zag slices in the bottom of the deck sole that makes it slip resistant.

    Vibram, an Italian company, struck a licensing deal with an old boot sole maker in Massachusetts called Quabaug, so now we have access to USA-made Vibram soles in our backyard, but their options are limited. Meramec, another boot sole maker in Missouri, offers an impressive assortment of styles and colors of polyurethane soles, and while the quality is good, it is not always the right fit for our product. This brings me to one of the greatest assets to Rancourt & Co., our relationship with French sole makers Reltex Lactae Hevea.

    Reltex makes a truly unique product, handmade natural latex soles. From start to finish, their process takes 10 to 12 days. A shockingly long time compared to the minutes or hours that it takes to make rubber or polyurethane soles (read more about that here). Lactae Hevea soles are the best in the world, and carry a best in class price tag, but again, we feel that it’s important to offer the best possible product to our customers.

    Ultimately, our commitment to USA manufacturing, and the US footwear industry, has never been stronger. Yet, we feel that in order to survive and flourish as a brand we have to make a commitment to producing the best shoes at an attainable price. Sometimes, this means leaving our shores to find goods of exceptional quality. Simply stated, some of the best things for our shoes are not made here. But when combined with the skills and knowledge of our craftspeople, we are still making something that we, as Americans, can be proud of.

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