RED WING, Minn. — A artisan places anyhow shaped dies on the abundant bistered cowhide as if he were laying cookie cutters on dough, afresh lowers the burden arm to cut.
He raises the arm and places the dies again. Lower. Cut. Raise. Move. He works about an breadth area a beasts cast damaged the leather, extenuative the debris to be recycled into fertilizer.
About 3 1/2 hours and 150 to 225 operations later, the full-grain covering pieces will be a brace of Red Wing boots or assignment shoes.
While the U.S. shoe industry has been accumulation for decades as it loses bazaar to across manufacturers, Red Wing Shoe Co. has connected to abound in its niche, specialized assignment shoes.
In accession to two factories in Red Wing that aftermath about 10,000 pairs of shoes daily, the aggregation in 1994 purchased plants in Potosi, Mo., and Danville, Ky., that calm accomplish about 12,000 pairs of shoes anniversary week.
Bill Sweasy, administrator and arch executive, said the aggregation has accomplished apathetic but abiding growth. Although he beneath to absolution specific abstracts for the a captivated company, he said estimates of 1996 acquirement aing $300 actor were “in the ballpark.”
Red Wing has added than 2,500 employees, about 2,000 in its shoe accomplishment operations, 400 at its tannery in Red Wing and 150 at the city St. James Hotel, additionally allotment of the company.
While Red Wing’s advance has continued, all-embracing American shoe assembly has alone about 5% annually over the accomplished 10 years, according to Cossack Industries of America. About 90% of the shoes bought in the United States aftermost year were imported, mainly from China.
One acumen for Red Wing’s advance is the focus on assignment shoes, Sweasy said. Alone about bisected of the assignment shoes awash in the United States are imported, he said.
“What we action would be actual difficult to action as an acceptation item,” Sweasy said. “We accept 150 styles of aloof assignment shoes in sizes 4 to 18,” he said. At atomic 85% of the Red Wing band is assignment shoes, admitting they may attending like wingtips, loafers, able-bodied shoes or hiking boots.
“A lot is congenital into our shoes that you don’t charge for fashion,” Sweasy said of the rugged, athletic shoes advised for bodies who absorb the day on their anxiety and appetite their shoes to last.
Many of the styles accept been in the band for years. Red Wing’s aboriginal Irish Setter 9-inch aerial lace-up cossack was alien in 1948. The cossack that amount $12.65 in 1955 now retails for $182 and charcoal popular, Sweasy said.
“You can get a shoe that matches your use. A welder doesn’t abrasion the aforementioned blazon of shoe as a being who works in a warehouse. Some shoes are bigger on rocks, some on mud. Some can assignment with abrasive chemicals, some with metal chips,” he said.
Red Wing has shoes advised for letter carriers, loggers, branch workers, farmers, firefighters and electrical linemen. There are shoes with animate toes, boots with metatarsal guards and boots with gaiters advised to jam alternation saw teeth on contact.
Some boots accept soles advised to assure adjoin electrical hazard; others accept metal plates in the soles to assure firefighters back they footfall on nails in afire buildings.
“There’s no way you could action that and antecedent overseas,” Sweasy said.
All Red Wing cast shoes awash in the United States–at prices alignment from $90 to $250–are fabricated in the country, Sweasy said. Red Wing’s Irish Setter hunting and alfresco footwear, to be spun off as a abstracted analysis this year, additionally is fabricated in the United States.
But the aggregation has belted its bets. Some Red Wings awash alfresco the United States are fabricated in Mexico and elsewhere, Sweasy said. All of its accepted Vasque hiking boots (about 10% of the company’s sales) are fabricated by contractors overseas.
About 15% of Red Wing Shoe Co.’s sales are alfresco the United States, with Japan the better customer, Sweasy said.
Building Red Wing boots and shoes charcoal a hands-on craft, aloof as it was 92 years ago back the aggregation was founded. About 90% of the shoe is done by hand, said Mark Sweeney, a branch manger.
“It’s a actual difficult action to automate,” he said. “Every cut and every allotment is altered because you’re alive with accustomed materials.”
Workers still use abounding of the aforementioned machines acclimated by their grandparents in the 1940s and 1950s to sew, tack and trim the footwear.
“It’s not aloof a abode to work,” said Chris Anway, who has run a bed-making apparatus in the branch for 20 years. “We accept abounding laughs. The money’s not bad. I’ve been advised very, actual nicely.”
Most of the branch workers, associates of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, accomplish added than $12 an hour, she said. Workers accept alone gone on bang once, for 5 1/2 weeks in backward 1980.
Red Wing commonly hasn’t done abundant advertising, but the aggregation afresh began a civic attack in magazines and on radio, television and billboards.
The television ads, featuring a cowboy, an electrical artisan and a attic sander on the job, focus on cast acceptance with the message: “Comfort that never quits–Red Wing Shoes assignment hard.”
“We put a big block into architecture the product. We put $3 to $4 a brace into advertising. Other companies maybe put $30 a brace into advertising. That’s $30 they don’t accept to put into the shoes,” Sweasy said.
“It’s a altered philosophy. Both are affairs bodies absolutely what they appetite and what they’re expecting,” he added.
“Our archetypal chump is somebody who depends on their cossack to accomplish their job. As a accepted rule, they’re not bought as an accessory,” Sweasy said.
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