Thursday, May 26, 2011

Field Trip to L.L. Bean Manufacturing.

During Our visit to Maine, we had the absolute pleasure of going for a tour of the L.L. Bean Manufacturing Plant in Brunswick. It was a rainy morning, and my stomach was full of butterflies. I could not believe I was going into the birthplace of my favorite footwear. As we waited in the lobby for our tour guide we were asked if we were the "Canadians", with a smile we replied "Yup!”. Our Guide Jeannine, greeted us with the warm smile, and we were off on our way. The first stop was to the leather cutting area. Pallets of waterproof sides surrounded the area and the smell of leather filled the air. We were introduced to Norm, a leather cutter who has been with L.L.Bean for over 20 years. Norm took the time to show us the cutting dies (some 15 years old) and the techniques for cutting; the wealth of his knowledge was absolutely incredible. Next stop was the repairs, looking at the process of attaching new rubbers to the customer’s old leather uppers. Looking into the bin of disposed bottoms you can see that the people wearing Bean boots really put them through the ringer. Beside this station was the new boot construction area. Small stations with smiling people skiving the leather and shearling, sewing the pieces together for the uppers. A good laugh was the gentleman gluing the uppers and lowers together saying he unfortunately made the cutting room floor for the current L.L. Bean Commercial showing the construction of the boots! On one side the Massive triple stitch sewing machine attaching the bottoms to the uppers sounded like a machine gun, but was being used so effortlessly and accurately, the women stitching could probably be blindfolded and still turn out top quality work! From there we went to the iconic Canvas tote area where rows of sewing machines whizzed through the bullet-proof duck canvas like a hot knife through butter, whipping the totes together in seconds. Stopping to talk to a few workers, they gladly share some of their stories about what jobs they have done here, and include us in the jokes that the co-workers share. We walked by the Pet bed and chair cushion dept, seeing the very long cutting table that the operator get to ride, and made our way to the bicycle assembly dept. Seeing the workstations my jaw dropped. Their own area with all sorts of "Park tools", wishing I could wrap the station up and bring it to my basement, it was something to see for sure! After a quick discussion with the group about the peak assembly seasons, and comparing gas prices we said farewell. As Jeannine slowly walked us to the end of our 90 minute tour we chatted about how inspiring it is to see so many people who love what they do and what they make. I feel I can say that all the products made in this facility are made with great pride and care. I would like to thank Kathy for helping make this experience happen, and Jeannine for making the informative tour really fun, sharing some laughs and introducing us to everyone. And a big thank you to all the true craftsman that create these fantastic items with decades of skills and precision, and sharing their work area with my wife and I for the morning. Thank you.

Pallets of leather sides.

Dies to stamp leather.

Finished cut pieces.

Cut Rubber bottoms from repairs.

Shiny and new.

Getting attached, sewn in the same holes as before.

New boots.

Work station.

Rubber getting cement applied.

Triple stitch sewing machine. No Bobbins!!

Work stations.

Tote sewing, seconds and its done....Perfectly!

1 comment:

  1. Great post and photographs - glad to see the quality and history behind the Bean Boot.