Due North

  • 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.

  • Due North, Vol. 3 by Kyle Rancourt

    Photos Courtesy of NorthernGrade

    Original content published on Well Spent


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    One could say that the American menswear pop-up market is the #menswear anti-hero. No models, no runways, very few photographers and no nonsense. Just people who make things talking about their goods, demonstrating how they're made, and selling them directly to the people who share their passion.

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    If you don't live in a major U.S. city there is a good chance you've never been to an event of this sort, so I'll give you a quick rundown. A collection of brands and stores are chosen or volunteer to meet in a place. The brands are usually smaller, independent ones, and the stores usually stock mostly, if not all, US-made goods. The place is usually one with character and an absence of bright fluorescent lights. The vendors pay a small fee for their spot, and the privilege to sell their products at the venue, and they set-up "booths" to sell their handmade / American-made / vintage products directly to you, the consumer.

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    This may sound familiar, often people relate a pop-up market to a trade show or even a flea market. But, the pop-up is actually a relatively new idea, and a unique one that's very important to small brands and companies. Trade shows, especially menswear trade shows, are expensive, pretentious affairs packed with brands from wall to wall in a giant warehouse or convention center. Since the general public is not allowed to attend, we, as vendors, are relegated to communicating with sometimes jaded buyers from "big retail". Buyers rarely have the passion and knowledge that consumers have, leaving us as vendors feeling generally uninspired.

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    The pop-up market is free and open to everyone, the collection of brands/stores is generally small so that no one gets lost in the shuffle, and as a vendor we have the opportunity to speak directly to the people who are using our products. It is a rare opportunity to speak face-to-face with the people who support us and have a passion for the things we make. To top it off, vendors bring along stock so that attendees can walk out with shopping bags full of their favorite goods. Unlike a flea market, where anyone who pays for a table can sell their goods, the pop-up market is usually curated to select the best and brightest brands of the city/region hosting the market.

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    As a small brand with a small wholesale footprint, pop-up markets in San Francisco, Boston, and Minneapolis have given Rancourt & Co. priceless exposure in areas where we are underrepresented or not represented at all. Our business plan does not include brick and mortar stores, so for many of our supporters e-commerce is the only option for purchasing our products. While we do the best we can on the web, nothing can replace those face-to-face interactions and experiencing the product in-person before making the decision to buy.

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    As an attendee at a pop-up market, you'll have access to great food and drink, sometimes for free. Live music and/or DJ's are a regular occurrence. Many brands offer special discounts or exclusive products at each pop-up market, and you can count on discovering a brand you've never heard of making beautiful things.

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    My favorite aspect of pop-up markets, aside from meeting passionate customers, is the friendship and camaraderie developed between like-minded vendors. Most of the vendors at these events are fiercely devoted to making high quality goods in the United States. Each market also works as a networking platform for small brands and companies to help and support each other in various ways. I've personally developed a handful of new business and personal relationships through pop-up markets.

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    American pop-up markets are a sign of the times. As our culture begins to shift away from consuming mass-produced foreign goods, pop-up markets will grow in popularity. They are becoming a symbol of America's desire to connect with the people and things that we buy.

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