Home Grown

In­die men’s brand Oak Street Boot­mak­ers is do­ing its part to pro­mote do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - By Bar­bara Sch­nei­der-Levy

How one men’s brand saved shoe­mak­ing jobs in Maine.

Ge­orge Vla­gos has a dream to re­vi­tal­ize shoe­mak­ing in the U.S. — one moc­casin at a time. So when the Maine fac­tory that had been pro­duc­ing hand-sewn shoes for his men’s brand, Oak Street Boot­mak­ers, went up for sale, the 36-year-old en­tre­pre­neur de­cided to make a play for it.

“Pur­chas­ing the fac­tory and keep­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing alive was very much at the fore­front of our de­sires, so we were ag­gres­sive in our bid,” said Vla­gos, who ac­quired the High­land Shoe fac­tory from Justin Brands Inc. in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

The 7,500-square-foot fa­cil­ity had been mak­ing shoes for Oak Street since the brand’s launch in 2010, but it also pro­duced pri­vate-la­bel footwear for other com­pa­nies. Vla­gos said he plans to main­tain that part of the busi­ness, which now ac­counts for roughly 20 per­cent of the fac­tory’s pro­duc­tion.

In ad­di­tion to mak­ing hand-sewn of­fer­ings, Oak Street of­fers a com­pan­ion line of Goodyear-welt shoes that are pro­duced at an­other do­mes­tic fac­tory in New York state. Round­ing out its col­lec­tion is a se­ries of bags and belts.

De­spite his en­thu­si­asm for man­u­fac­tur­ing, Vla­gos ad­mits that keep­ing the fa­cil­ity go­ing has its chal­lenges. “In Maine, you can find peo­ple who’ve worked for L.L.Bean and Bass, but they’re not young,” said Vla­gos, who is con­stantly try­ing to re­cruit work­ers and re­tain them once they’re trained. De­pend­ing on the sea­son, the fac­tory em­ploys 12 to 20 work­ers.

How­ever, he noted its own­er­ship con­trib­uted to an 18 per­cent uptick in sales in the first 10 months of the year. “We can control our own fate,” Vla­gos said about his Chicago-based brand, which is mainly a di­rect-to-con­sumer busi­ness that also whole­sales to stores such as Nord­strom and Trunk Club.

“It’s about be­ing able to have faster turn­around time for our cus­tomers and control the man­u­fac­tur­ing and de­sign,” he added. “We can now con­stantly have shoes on the shelf, [en­abling] us to fill our re­tail partners’ or­ders.”

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