MADE IN MAINE: RANCOURT & CO.

Tucked away amongst massive, long abandoned brick warehouses along the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, Maine, sits a small, rather unassuming building humming with activity, and doing big things. Rancourt & Company is a third generation, family owned and operated business who’s commitment to the art of shoe making is genuine and timely – with only a handful of shoe manufacturers remaining in the U.S., word has quickly gotten out to an American menswear industry consumed with all things “Made in the U.S.A.” I recently made the trip north to see the factory, and meet with Kyle Rancourt, the youngest member of the family business. He discussed the companies history, their signature shoe and what it means to be “Made in Maine.”

 

Rancourt & Company is a family owned American business, tell me briefly about the company and the unique skill set of its workers? My family is in its third continuous generation of shoe making in Maine – with Rancourt & Co. my father and I really had a goal of expanding beyond the contract manufacturing we’d done in the past and creating our own brand that reflected our heritage and the skill set of our craftspeople. The skill set in our factory is really unique because we have the ability to construct really timeless and traditional hand sewn shoes, as well as more refined calfskin and shell cordovan shoes. Our machine lasted Blake stitch construction also allows us to create plain toe boots and shoes, brogues, and other traditional “welted” styles. There are not too many factories in the world that can boast of their ability to craft hand sewns and machine lasted shoes side by side.

Is there a signature shoe that defines Rancourt & Co?
If I had to pick one style that defines our brand it would be our shell cordovan beefroll penny loafers. We took the timeless style of a beefroll penny loafer, crafted it out of extraordinarily beautiful and durable Horween Shell Cordovan, and added contrasting stitching and natural leather outsoles. It expresses our desire to create timeless styles, with a more refined and modern look. Not to mention, when we began hand-sewing shell cordovan, nobody was doing it. It is still difficult to find in the marketplace.

There is a huge focus in menswear right now on American manufactured goods, how has this trend affected you?
Well, first of all I don’t think it’s a trend, I believe wholeheartedly that it is here to stay. Americans have begun to realize that the origin of the things they buy is very important; not only to the product’s integrity but also to the US economy as a whole. That being said, the benefit to our business is immeasurable – we turn down contract manufacturing and wholesale accounts on a regular basis. It hurts to turn away business but we simply do not have the capacity to keep up with the demand in the marketplace.

What are some of the more interesting recent collaborations that you have done that you are most proud of?
Oh the infamous “Collaboration”, it really has become a trend in its own right. There are so many retailers developing their own brands right now that there is no shortage of collaborations in the marketplace. I really like the work we are doing with Hickoree’s / Hill-Side in Brooklyn right now. I like to refer to this as a true collaboration where we take some ideas of theirs and some ideas of ours and we create products that are entirely new and unique, rather than just slapping their name on one of our classics. Aaron Levine (formerly of Jack Spade, and now with Club Monaco) has also been a great partner – he has encouraged and enabled us to develop products that are brand new, while also embracing the classics.

You just launched a new website, how important is it to the overall strategy of the company?
If I had to identify the single most important strategy of our brand, it is e-commerce. With Ecomm we have the ability to reach a worldwide marketplace while keeping overhead low. By the end of 2012 we will add MTO functionality to our website so that our customers can build their own shoes and see what they look like before they buy them. We are also continuing to refine a process of fitting shoes without the customer being physically present.

What does it mean to be manufactured not only in the U.S. but in Maine in particular?
Having the ability to stamp “Made in Maine, USA” in our shoes is a privilege and an honor. Maine is renowned worldwide for craftsmanship – from shoes, to furniture, to boats. We hope to not only live up to the reputation of Maine craftsmanship but also to elevate it.

Racks of shoes nearing completion:

Workers leaving the Bates Mill in the early 1960’s.

Lewiston’s history is a story of significant decline and modest renewal. In the 1850’s this small farming town was transformed into a textile manufacturing center modeled after Lowell, Massachusetts, with the mighty Bates Mill employing most of the town through the mid-late 20th century.

The open floor:

Rancourt works with Horween out of Chicago, one of the best suppliers of high grade leather, including the most expensive, shell cordovan:

A worker lining up leather on a cutting machine:

A rack of cutting patterns:

Rancourt & Co. utilizes a 100% hand sewn stitching process and employs a staff of 50 highly skilled workers:

It is a tough and rigorous process using the same techniques that have been perfected over the past 100 years.

Colorful shoes destined for one of Rancourt’s private label partners are placed in an oven to dry:

Rancourt produces between 45,000-50,000 shoes annually.

One of the finest shoes you can buy:

 

For more information on Rancourt & Co., and to view their collection of beautiful shoes, visit their website, rancourtandcompany.com

 

 

 

Category: Fashion, Reports, Retail, Shoes.

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