We all have our own images of what the work of American manufacturing looks like–calloused hands running under the light of a Juki sewing machine, cinder block warehouses out by the train tracks, name tags embroidered on uniforms without the slightest hint of irony. As someone who’s seen the inside of quite a few factories, let me tell you that the vast majority of it is in your head. The people who still work in manufacturing in the United States may be few and far between, but they aren’t unicorns.
That said, you can’t help but feel it surrounding the factory where they make PF Flyers. PF produces their Made in USA collection in the Boston suburb of Brighton. When I first went to the factory, I thought I was entirely in the wrong place, it was all split level houses and oak trees. After about eight turns in what feels like the wrong direction, a gentle slope leads down onto New Balance’s production facility, PF’s parent company, which also houses PF Flyers.
Boston Manufacturing was the only New Balance factory when current owner Jim Davis bought the company in 1972. Production has moved four times since then, eventually landing them at this current facility, which was originally built in 1965 for machine parts stamping, whatever that might entail.
The facility is currently home to 85 line workers, who produce PF Flyers as well as New Balance walking and performance running shoes. Roughly five million of all New Balance shoes are made domestically throughout three facilities in Maine, one in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and this location in Boston. Past the entrance and a small office space at the front of the building, you get to where the magic happens.
The first PF Flyers, however, didn’t roll across the line until late 2014, when PF brought production back to the United States for the first time in decades. Making PFs, however, is a little different than New Balance walkers. The PF line is run on a DESMA injection molded Poly-Urethane machine, which hot fuses liquid Poly-Urethane to the upper of the shoe.
Despite the heavily mechanized nature of injection molding, much of the work on the line still happens by hand–the stamp on the tongue, the removal of the excess rubber from the injection mold, even the stripe down the side of the sole.
The Made in USA line began as somewhat of an experiment, but has grown as more and more of PF’s sales every quarter since introducing the first two models in March of last year. And production shows no signs of topping out or slowing down. With over 950 shoes produced in every 8 hour shift, we’ll only be seeing more and more domestically produced PF Flyers from here on out.
Shop PF Flyers Made-in-USA line at their official website.
Images by Pat Piasecki.