Made in Maine: Handsewn Mocs

Made in Maine Handsewn Shoes.jpg

As a brand, ICANCHU's goal is to incorporate the duality inherent to living in the Northeast. Our designs are created for the guys who live in the city but hop on a train or jump in the car to spend a day or two on a self-directed micro-adventure. Because the Northeast offers the best of both worlds (for example, you can get from New York City to Breakneck Ridge 90 minutes or from Boston to Franconia Notch in 2 hours) we want to create designs that allow guys to maximize each.

With this in mind, Louis and I have spent the last 8 months looking for ways to (literally) infuse this Northeast mindset into the designs. The rationale is that if we can find a way to produce some designs here we can impart a piece of that spirit into the shoes.

After months of cold calls, unanswered emails and Google-mapping-en-route-to-showing-up-and-knocking-on-doors, we finally came across a factory "start-up" willing to sit down with us. All it took was a quick email intro and a 5-minute call and we had a visit scheduled for one week later.

We were going to Dexter, Maine.

In the 1960s Maine footwear factories were responsible for the employment of 20,000 people. Among the biggest players was the Dexter Shoe Co.

At it's height, Dexter employed more than 800 people (which, in a town of 4,000, is a big deal). The company would eventually go on to be acquired by Warren Buffet for $433 million in the early 1990s before being shut down in 2001. As Buffet outlined, Dexter could not combat the competition of much cheaper prices of imported shoes.

(Side note: Buffet would call the Dexter acquisition the worst deal he has ever made.)

Fast-forward 16 years. The residents of Dexter still possessed the "know how" of handcrafting quality footwear but had nowhere to apply their skills.

Enter the idea for starting MaineSole.

For most, the term "start-up" conjures up an image of Millennials sitting around in an open-office, headphones on, pounding away on their Macbooks. With a 79-year-old co-founder Dick Hall, former VP for manufacturing at Dexter, MaineSole has a little bit of a different vibe when you walk in.

Comprised of former Dexter employees, MaineSole has set up its factory in an old wool mill in the center of town. Upon entering, we were greeted by CEO Kevin Cain, a shoe industry veteran who spent his career traveling the world, setting up factory production lines and brokering wholesale deals. 

As the office's centerpiece stood a table full of beautiful hand sewn moccasins and loafers. The designs emanate an East Coast vibe, steeped in the traditional techniques and stylings that the Northeast is known for. Given that most of the employees are in their 60s, it was not surprising to see their skill proudly showcased in these samples.

We were then treated to a tour of the factory from Dave (he has been in charge of making patterns for over 40 years!), having the opportunity to see these traditional hand-sewn techniques in action. Being able to hear the history - both of the town of Dexter as well as the production process - from an OG like Dave was a conversation that will stick with us for a long, long time.

The amount of machinery needed to make shoes never ceases to amaze me. These mechanical beasts are so complex in their workings and so specific in their functions that it seems like you need a lifetime to learn how to use them (and then another lifetime to learn how to repair them - which because so many of the machines are so old, you better know how to do).

As I've written about before,  shoe factory equipment is expensive. Which is why factories tend to specialize in the designs they offer. With this in mind, what MaineSole does, they do very well. The craftsmanship and the attention to detail infuse a life force that is felt when holding a pair of their shoes.

While we do not currently have a design that we can simply plug in to the MaineSole production line, we are continuing our conversations to see how we can work together to create a made in Maine design that comfortably fits within the ICANCHU family.  As we come up with design ideas we will be sure to keep you updated.

In the meantime, thank you for your continued support.