When classic American shoe brand PF Flyers reappeared on the scene a few years ago, one of the markets they chose to pursue was the raw denim and heritage clothing subculture. At almost a century old, they had the heritage cachet and the styling and quality of the product was certainly up to snuff, but one caveat for many heritage fans was that production took place almost entirely overseas. Much of that wasn’t PF’s fault, America was ill equipped to produce a vulcanized rubber sneaker.
Parent company New Balance, however, still operates several production facilities within the United States and was able to make a made in USA PF Flyer shoe a reality. To be considered legally “made in USA”, at least 70% of production must take place within the US borders. For the PF shoes, that happens at the New Balance factory just outside Boston, Massachusetts.
We had the opportunity to tour the production line and see just how these shoes are made. For a production process that requires so much heavy equipment, there’s a surprising amount of handwork that still goes into making a pair of Center His. Let’s have a look:
Uppers arrive pre-assembled from another production facility, so we pick up at the leather patch.
A computer programmed sewing machine first attaches the leather PF Flyers badge to the ankle on the upper.
The shoes are then hand-stamped with the PF logo on the inside of the tongue.
The uppers are now ready to be fused with a sole. They’re first mounted on heat-resistant lasts.
Which are attached to a large conveyor rack and suspended above an injection mold plate loaded with a gum rubber sole.
The mold is fired by giant burners to partially melt the sole. The upper then lowers onto the rubber while it’s still tacky to fuse the two together. The mold is then injected with molten rubber to create the side walls of the shoe.
There’s a flange of excess rubber along the bottom of the sole when the shoes come out of the mold.
The flange is trimmed off by hand on a vibrating blade and the shoes are ready for finishing.
The shoes are quality inspected and details like the sidewall paint stripe, heel badge, and insole are all added by hand.
They’re finally tagged, bagged, boxed, and ready to ship to your local retailer. That same process happens up to 950 times per 8 hour shift.