Due North by Kyle Rancourt, Vol. 4

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 parts overseas.

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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. As we cannot find “siped” rubber deck soles anywhere but China and Brazil, 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 a deck sole that make 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, but 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 some of the best in the world, and carry a best in class price tag, but again, we feel it’s important to offer the highest quality product possible 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 finest shoes we can, and sometimes, this means leaving our shores to find components 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.

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.

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  • Cory

    Another informative post, Kyle. Thanks.

  • Bill King

    Thanks for the info Kyle. Very interesting. Buy American a good lead to follow.

  • anderson

    SB and Horween for cow – what is the calfskin tannery?