Upon my arrival, I was immediately introduced to Jim who is the leader of a large cut and embroidery team, and has been with the company for over 22 years. The labour force is all drawn from the immediate communities and there is a very low turn over rate. The average employee has been with the company for a long time, in the industry for longer, and takes an incredible amount of pride in their work and in New Balance. The facility is very well integrated within the local community, which is great to see.
Jim took me into a room with samples of the styles currently being made on the floor and asked me to choose my favourite. I naturally gravitated towards the 576’s at which point he produced a collection of pigskin leather swatches in an array of colours. He then explained that the best way for me to understand the shoe making process was to make a pair of my own from scratch! I immediately began to grin like a little girl and set about the task of choosing the colourway of my own personalized shoes. Naturally I thought of my favourite article of clothing – my Purple Idiom 2.5 Jacket so I settled upon a purple, two shades of grey, and a yellow. We then filled out the work ticket and selected which colours and materials to use on each of the various components.
There were a few hiccups in some of the proto machines so it took a little bit longer than usual, but it was a pretty amazing process. We started by choosing the pigskin sheets and cutting out all of the various components that we would need. Billy, who was operating the cutter told me how he had been doing the same job since he left school (he was in his fifties) and yet was still in love with the work. He let me cut out the majority of the components for my shoes and I quickly realized that I am way to ADD for that type of work. These all went into a box and over to embroidery. The tongue and heel cutouts were embroidered and then everything was sent over to be stitched. One person stitched the entire pair together using a few different sewing machines. If this were an inline shoe and not a one off custom pair, a larger team would be working closely together to do all of the stitching on an upper. After this, we went back to the warehouse and pulled the outsoles, insoles, and laces. They then pressed the uppers onto the outsoles using various degrees of heat and pressure. Then the laces and insoles and… voila!
Of course there was a lot more involved, but that is a basic overview. I must say I enjoyed my visit to Flimby a bit more than the visit to Lawrence. It was really amazing to see the volume of shoes that this committed group of people make on a daily basis. And again, I cannot stress how proud and dedicated this group was, and that made me super psyched to be working with NB over here.