Children in a Shoe Factory?

When I started making shoes, a fellow physician friend of mine said, “Casey, knowing you, you’re going to hate those sweat shops and you’re going to want to do something about it.” Indeed, I did hate every shoe factory I visited (and believe me, I visited a lot of them). I didn’t need to be a physician to realize they are a violation to everyone’s health not just the person wearing the final product.

The rest of the story, as they say, is history. I built my own factory, become an expert in materials, computerized machinery and 3D manufacturing and re-defined what a shoe factory should be.

The major benefit of building the OESH Factory is that it allowed me to design, develop and make shoes with the most sophisticated and superior sole materials that just couldn’t have been done any other way. Along the way, OESH has built a reputation for not only making the healthiest shoes, but for setting an example for what innovative technology applied to manufacturing can do.

This year we’ve had so many requests from educational groups and organizations for tours of the factory that we’ve sadly had to say “no” to the large majority. If we did not, there would be no time left to make all those La Vidas! But when we do give tours, I love it. This is so different from when I used to give tours of the hospital, trying my best to inspire children to become physicians. No matter how hard I tried, there was a lot of yawning.

This time around, I can show them things they really seem to like: shoe parts, a computerized milling machine, 3D printers, hydraulic press “monsters,” an injection molding machine that I explain is basically a huge, fancy hot glue gun with a lot of accessories, and a computerized machine that cuts through six inches of steel with just water and sand (like how the Grand Canyon was created). There is no yawning. There is a lot of touching, which for the most part is okay. (They LOVE the warning sign on one of the machines that depicts fingers being cleanly sliced off.) I tell them I’m a physician by training, and somehow, they seem far more interested in becoming a physician than the groups I used to give hospital tours to.

Science and medicine is not abstract. They are fascinated with my research using 3D motion analysis and force plates showing the effects of shoes on forces in the body. More so than if I were to to go over that same research in a hospital tour. They easily connect the dots on how a shoe must be designed so as to help not hinder the body.

A lot of them have experience with 3D printers. Their schools typically have one or ten of them lying around. They immediately relate to a new way of manufacturing shoes using computers and 3D manufacturing. In fact, they seem proud that they’re learning new technologies that their parents may not know too much about. It’s easy for them to envision making shoes in an entirely different way than what’s ever been done. And they get the whole sustainability thing.

Children in a shoe factory? With regards inspiring them, YES!

8th graders from Buford Middle School, Charlottesville, Virginia

8th graders from Buford Middle School, Charlottesville, Virginia

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