Words and photos by Kyle Rancourt
When my father first traveled to Japan in 1994, I was 10 years old. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It seemed too far away, too foreign, too unlike anything I knew. “The flight takes 15 hours!?” I questioned incredulously. “They eat their meals with wooden sticks?” It didn’t make any sense to me, why would someone travel all that way? It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. However, my father reassured me that they were good people who loved the shoes that my family made, and, that they were very important to our present and future success.
I joined the family business in 2009. The understanding between my father and I was that I would be the one travelling to meet with customers and open new accounts – including the Japanese market. No longer the skeptical 10 year old I had once been, the idea of going to Japan actually thrilled me. After years of hearing about my father’s experiences there, I was excited to see the people and culture first-hand.
Finally, in October 2010, the opportunity arose. I flew to Tokyo and stayed with our sales agent for 12 days. Aside from the foul weather (fall in Japan can be endless rain and frigid temperatures), the experience was everything I hoped it would be. I fell in love with the culture, the cuisine, the hospitality, and the people. There isn’t a cleaner, more organized, or more welcoming place in the world. Don’t get me wrong, Japan is no utopia, the culture and customs can be stifling for its people, and Japanese women must deal with a palpable glass ceiling in their careers. However, as a visitor, I was humbled and enamored by their generosity and their traditions.
Since 2010 I’ve traveled to Japan every six months or so. I now understand why the Japanese are so important to Rancourt’s success. Firstly, many in the Japanese fashion business idealize America. They take styles from the 1950’s and 1960’s – arguably the height of America’s power and influence worldwide – and recreate them, using similar old-school production methods. Looking at America through a Japanese lens has actually helped me to better appreciate the people, culture, and heritage of my own country.
Secondly, they agonize over the shapes and lines of lasts, and details like stitches per inch and thread color. They push us to be better versions of ourselves. They make this work of shoemaking feel very important, and less mundane and tedious than it can be at times.
Lastly, our Japanese distributor and wholesale accounts are some of the most loyal partnerships that we have formed. Our product seems to be immune to trends and the ups and downs of the Japanese economy or fashion business. We have essentially made the same products for the Japanese market for almost 20 years and the business still continues to grow. I can only attribute this to the loyalty of the Japanese retailers that we work with, and the customers that shop with them.
As long as we continue to craft the highest quality footwear and deliver on our promises, we can count on the Japanese to help sustain us.
Literally born into the Maine shoe business, Kyle Rancourt chose to join the family trade and launch Rancourt & Co. Shoecrafters with his father in 2009. With a passion for quality and tradition driving him, Kyle strives to spread the gospel of American craftsmanship. When not in the factory in Maine, you might find him putting miles on the road on two wheels.