According to CEO Doug Clark, a new approach to technical outdoor footwear design means that opening a U.S. factory is not just a possibility but a competitive advantage. “The beauty is the most important innovations came from people cobbling shoes, not people drawing shoes,” said Clark, who was formerly head of innovation at Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland and has worked for Reebok and Nike. “It’s difficult to innovate a shoe with a pencil.”
The factory, he added, can help drive “innovation and the ability to do something unique.”
Newmarket, N.H.-based New England Footwear, founded in 2008 when Clark acquired GoLite from Timberland, is working to supplement its current China manufacturing base with its own factory. It aims to break ground next year in rural New Hampshire.
Clark estimated that building the factory will cost $5 million, but it could employ as many as 400 workers and be capable of making 2 million pairs of shoes per year. He hopes to have secured the funding by early next year and have the facility up and running for the fall ’15 season.
New England Footwear intends to use a highly automated process to produce shoes that can compete with goods manufactured overseas, Clark added.
“The process uses 70 percent less labor than the conventional way,” he explained. “We can pay about 10 times more in wages per hour and have almost exactly the same labor costs per pair. We need to change the paradigm and make it so you don’t need labor, so you can make shoes where your customer base is.”
Materials, too, could be sourced domestically.
“We’ll use textiles and synthetics to start with, and the biggest chemical companies — DuPont, Dow and GE — are all in the U.S.,” Clark said. “About 80 percent of the materials are already available, and we can find solutions to the other 15 to 20 percent.”
To help raise awareness, as well as show potential investors that consumers are ready to vote with their dollars, New England Footwear started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com last month, seeking to raise $150,000. The rest of the capital, Clark noted, will be raised by investors.
“I’m 57 years old and I’ve never seen more of an interest in ‘made in America,’” he said. “I just wish we had done this 10 years ago.”