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How to MAKE in America

As you could probably guess (or know first hand for those of you reading this) Building a shoe brand is very difficult and a constant up hill battle and sometimes can feel like your in a movie. It sounds funny but I am not joking, if you break down your experience after the fact, there will more than likely be some sort of Narrative Structure. There is obviously a plot and then there is the drama, the suspense, your lead characters, conflicts, resolutions and more. When you think about it a shoe factory could very easily be transformed into a Hollywood movie set or at the very least a great canvas for a realty TV show.

As I just mentioned, building a shoe brand is very difficult, and damn near impossible if your doing it in America. We are a long way from the early to mid 1900’s when shoe factories like LJ Simone and other NYC based shoe factories were thriving in the US market. A matter a fact that time in history is virtually erased as you can barely find any information on the web about it.

I launched my made in New York City brand of luxury kicks in the summer of 2017, but technically I started it in the fall 2015. I think there are some key things that are very important to know when trying to accomplish such a feet, but there are also something’s that are very important that you don’t really know until you need to know it as well.
 
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Allow me to elaborate….

Relationships

first off I don’t think there is much you can learn in school to prepare for launching a brand “yes I said it” and Yes I went to college, but I learned a great deal from my internships with brands like New Balance, K-swiss, Adidas, and Hewlett-Packard. I can still remember very specific lessons from those experiences that I do apply into my work today.

I think the number one thing you need more than anything when building a brand is relationships. In my mind quality relationships are key and more valuable than money itself in many cases. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was doing my  internships and really worked hard to make a name for myself. I knew pretty early on from those internships that working full time for a shoe company was not my interest. So I busted my butt on projects and soaked up as much as I could from one brand and moved on to the next one.

I like to think that I am a friendly person so I got along with people very easily. I was broke as hell but that quality gave me a lot of value. Over the years I stayed in touch with many of the people whom I met through these internships and focused on developing and building them. My intentions were always genuine but anyone who knew me also knew I was hungry to learn. I feel that relationship building is a true skill and like all skills the more you do it and practice the better you get at it. I always tried to be ready for that random moment to give my 60 second pitch when  standing next to a big wig in an elevator or on a plane sitting next to businessman (or businesswoman) and overhear them discussing a large deal on the phone prior to take off. you never know who you are sitting next to and how they can help you.
 
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Development

There are so many moving parts when trying to develop footwear in the United States. Wither you like it or not, it’s just not possible to complete all the steps in the US. Due to a lack of industry resources here it’s not easy to do the simple things like adding a heat transferred logo to your upper or building a Last without paying a fortune for it. Fortunately for me I am able to use my relationships abroad to get key components created which would otherwise be impossible or extremely expensive to create here in the states.

Even with the relationships in place it is still very difficult to MAKE in America because in many cases you need to coordinate the development of other components in different countries, and oh by the way you need to make sure your doing it in the correct order as well. For example, my sneaker soles are custom made in Asia, then the soles need to go to my last maker in Europe, then the last and soles need to come to me in NYC were my pattern maker grades all my patterns according to the last received from Europe. If you make a misstep and do one thing out of order or do step C before step B that can be disastrous… and the cynical part about it is you won’t know it until the very end, and at that very moment is how the shoe biz can chew you up.

Once my patterns are done then they need to be shipped backed to Asia were I have a very special component being produced that can only be made there because we do not have this kind of equipment in the states or it does exist but it’s extremely expensive. Next, After all that is done and multiple fires have been put out with the factory (there are always fires to put out with factories in the form of problems of course) everything is shipped back to our shop in NYC. This is the moment when you get on your knees and start praying to the heavens that everything in the DHL box in front of you fits and you have no issues which is still 50/50 even after taking all the proper measures and precautions.

…Yes, everything did fit.
 
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Expenses 

Shipping gets very expensive and there is nothing like an $800 usd DHL bill for shipping shoe Last from Portugal to the states, or 80 pairs of rubber sneaker soles from China to Brooklyn. This is the one thing that scares the shit out of me the most because shoe components are dense and take up space and if your not careful a couple crazy shipping bills can put you out of business just like that. Everything adds up fast when starting a shoe brand, and the funny thing is even after everything I mentioned to this point I haven’t even made a shoe yet.

At the end of the day wither you like it or not in order to MAKE in America as far as footwear goes it’s not possible without MAKING outside of America in some capacity and the way you do it is with good relationships and reliable suppliers. One day I would like to think I will be apart of the change that makes MAKING shoes in America cool again, and it’s going to take those who really understand how to connect the dots when it comes to the footwear development and production processes.
 
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I don’t think you have to have 15 years in the shoe biz like me or even have to do so many internships. Obviously some experience would help, but I don’t think it’s required. You just have to want it bad enough, be willing to learn, take risk and not wait on people to do things for you and with that kind of mindset you just may surprise yourself with what you can do.

Omar Bailey

Omar Bailey Footwear Founder / Designer