I can’t put it off any longer. As much as I’ve been admiring the scrap from our last OESH La Vida v2.0 sole forms (notice the beautiful outlines of some of the various size soles), it’s taking up premium space in the corridor next to the CNC waterjet saw. So after cutting off all the bigger pieces, we’ll run it over to the local foundry where it will be recycled.
Basically, I’ve realized that what I’ve really been admiring is the story that the scrap represents.
Every other shoe company in the U.S. has their tooling and molds made in China (even if they make some of the actual product here in the U.S.). Initially we had our molds made there too, because that was all we knew. But fairly quickly, I became frustrated with my inability to fully convey my ideas in footwear design. Making molds in China, we were beholden to a number of traditions in athletic footwear design and manufacturing that have been going on for the last 30-40 years. The problem was that my years of research on the effects of footwear on joint biomechanics during walking and running dictated that we needed to break many of those traditions in manufacturing.
So, we invested in and programmed our own computer controlled machinery — essentially trading in my multi-million dollar laboratory analysis equipment for the most sophisticated robotically controlled machinery to actually MAKE better shoes. This route certainly wasn’t anything that our business school professor friends advised. Most U.S. companies don’t buy their own manufacturing equipment — instead they rely upon equipment already owned by overseas companies. But I knew this was the only way we could make the superior shoes that I envisioned. Of course I also knew that with all my research and engineering experience, we would be able to build a superior and truly sustainable manufacturing process.
For the last 18 months now, we’ve been making all of our tooling and molds with our own robotically controlled cutting and milling machines. From computer-aided-design to computer-aided-manufacturing, we do everything except cut and sew the upper fabric material here in the factory. We have hardly any waste as the metal we cut has already been recycled and is eventually recycled again either in our own foundry or in one nearby. Instead of waiting weeks or months to receive a new prototype sole, we can design and make prototypes in a matter of days.
Not only does our efficiency in manufacturing allow us to make the shoes I’ve always envisioned, it allows us to do a number of things that are beyond the norm in shoe manufacturing. One example is that we make and test far more prototypes than any other shoe company would ever dream of making. We also make many more molds for production. The standard in the shoe industry is to use just one shoe sole mold for two different sizes of shoes as well as for different styles. Of course that means a less than perfect fit for each size shoe as well as a less than optimal sole for each style. Having our own machinery and equipment has allowed us to abandon those standards and make sole molds for each and every size of shoe and for each and every style, ensuring that the fit and design are always exactly as I intend it to be.
Enough admiring…it’s time to get this scrap out of here!