Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Resurrecting a Well Worn Bean Boot

I arrived at 8 Industrial Park Way, Brunswick Maine at exactly 10:31 AM. I was already late. I frantically grabbed my two cameras, their accompanying lenses and a flash and bolted for the door, dropping my sunglasses as I gingerly pried the door open with my pinky finger and then propped it open with my foot. Three weeks ago, Max from all plaidout emailed me asking if I would be interested touring LL Bean with him and taking some photos for some stories he’s writing on American brands. I eagerly agreed, and I was told to show up at 10:30 on the morning of Friday the 13th at the Brunswick factory to meet up with a guy named Max and some PR people from LL Bean to see how Bean boots are made. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect from one of the handful of remaining shoe factories in the US.

I have always associated LL Bean with Bean boots. As a six-year-old I remember trying on my Grandfather's size 14, 8-inch boots that he used for shepherding and tromping around the living room. When I arrived at Colby in the fall of 2006, I was surprised to see kids from boarding school wearing their parents' old Bean boots the moment the sky turned gray. These Barbour clad New Englanders covet the distressed leather uppers of decades ago. Unlike a pair of Nike or Adidas, Bean boots improve with age like a pair of raw denims and I wanted to see LL Bean's legendary tradition of replacing any product at anytime in action.

This well used, fifteen-year-old Bean boot originated from Pennsylvania and needed fresh rubber and shiny new eyelets on the uppers.

First, a bandsaw cuts the rubber lowers off and automatically shoots them into a bin at the end of the work station.

These boots all received a lot of love.

The uppers are then removed from the machine and the old stitching and remaining rubber bottoms are cut out by hand.

The eyelets are then replaced one rivet at a time.

Factory workers inspecting the reworked uppper.

The boot is now ready to be matched with a rubber bottom and sewn together.

A factory worker triple stitching the leather uppers on to the rubber lowers.

Mac McKeever, the man behind LL Bean's Outdoor Discovery Schools, inspecting a shelf of finished, resurrected Boots, ready to be shipped back to their eager owners.

Check out Max's article for more photos and a more encompassing description of LL Bean, the factory, and the iconic Bean boot.

Come back tomorrow see our trip to the company headquarters where we met with folks in production and design.

Here are some more links,
LL Bean Factory (Picasa),
All Plaidout.


A said...

Hey Foster,

I really enjoy your blog and this post was spot on! I wrote about the post and linked to you, and I just wanted to let you know.

Thanks for these pictures and the information, it really illuminates a piece of clothing that I never considered stylistically attractive, but I have worn since I was a child for purely utilitarian means.

Check out my blog as well, via the link my review of your post. Keep in touch if you like.

Elevated Sky > Bean Boot Resurrection @ A Restless Transplant


Foster Huntington said...

I am glad you like the post and linked it. I love to snowboard and skate as well. Keep shooting your canon xti.

This is were to make orders: said...

LL Bean has the best customer service I have ever experienced. Since my x-mas presents from my dad were often whatever I wanted from the ll bean catalogue, I got to know their product line. I loved my river driver red undershirt. I don't know why I ever got rid of it.

A TIME TO GET said...

I don't even like the boots, and now I want a pair.

Foster Huntington said...

the entire experience made me respect ll bean as a company and brand so much. i will definitely be getting a pair for myself.

heavy tweed jacket said...

Great photos! This is the best post I've seen anywhere in some time. I had a pair of LL Bean boots resoled about 12 years ago, and they did a great job. Though many of their products are no longer made in the USA, it is reassuring to see that this American tradition is continuing.

Foster Huntington said...

I am flattered, thanks complement. I agree its a shame that ll bean doesnt make more of their stuff on this side of the pond. how are your bean boots doing?

Angelo said...

"It's Margaret, she's calling about the biennale."

Love the Lebowski shout out.

Foster Huntington said...

We speak the same language, i am glad some one got that.

Angelo said...

A classic indeed. We ought to find a field trip like this one the next time we're both back in P0rtland.

Foster Huntington said...

I know the family that owns and runs pendleton, that could be cool to check out. there are also some sweet boot companies based around portland that we could check out.

greenjeans said...

Amazing. It's stuff like this that makes you want to get a pair of those boots and live in a cabin forever...

trip said...

Awesome. Neither pairs of my boots need to be resoled yet, but this makes me want to go ahead and do it.

Foster Huntington said...

the cool thing about ll bean is that they will replace them at anytime, regardless of condition.

james at 10engines said...

just phoned llbean, $39 to resole the uninsulated models. love gettgin shoes/boots repaired... i am doing this. thanks for the inspiration Foster+Max.

Jon Gaffney said...


Great pics per usual. And a great post. As someone who grew up in Maine, this makes me ashamed to have never owned a pair. They have been on my list for some time now, but are now a definite purchase next fall. Getting a little warm to justify them in East TN right now.

It really is sad that LL Bean produces so little domestically these days. The askandy trad forum is awash with guys lamenting the day they shipped their shoe and moc production overseas.


Foster Huntington said...

Hey Jon,
This weekend i am road tripping to Bristol to see the race. Any advice for things i should do in your great State?

Foster Huntington said...

I am glad we could help inspire you. Let me know how the resoling goes,

Anonymous said...

James, let's see some photos of before and after!