“They’re more comfortable than my socks!” is what my best friend Lee told me about the pair of Quoddy Bluchers he’d just bought—his second pair. Lee is not given to hyperbole, so I figured I’d better not be any later to the party than I already was.
If you know of the small Maine shoemaker (and don’t spend a lot of time in Maine), you probably encountered them through J.Crew—Quoddy was one of the more notable third-party brands offered before the Crew began its slow decline. I wanted my pair straight from the source—and the full skinny on the brand along with them—and luckily John P. Andreliunas, Quoddy’s current President and CEO, was nice enough to tell me all I could have ever wanted to know.
Heddels (John Bobey): You’re not new to the shoe business…can you tell me a bit about your career before you came to Quoddy?
Quoddy (John P. Andreliunas): I have been in the footwear/sporting goods business since 1987 with companies such as Reebok, Salomon, Timberland, and Nike. I have always been on the Product & Marketing side of the business.
H: What was it about Quoddy that attracted you from both a personal and business perspective?
Q: I have always known about Quoddy since my parents lived in Eastport, ME before I was born. The grandfather of my business partner Kevin Shorey had a store near the corner of Route 1 & Route 190 in Perry, ME (the turn off the coastal route to go to Eastport). Back in 2001 when I was running a division for Timberland I was at the Kittery Trading Post in Kittery, Maine and came across an incredible footwear product—a Quoddy Ringboot.
I had not encountered Quoddy in decades. I was blown away by the level of craftsmanship. I bought a pair to show my designers at Timberland, to show these young people how real hand-sewn footwear was made, the old school way. And I filed away that memory of Quoddy in the back of my mind.
In 2008 the company I was working for, Bauer Hockey, a subsidiary of Nike, was sold to a private equity group. As often happens in times of transition, I took stock and thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my career. This was smack in the middle of the recession in 2008/2009, so of course I came up with the brilliant idea of investing in a tiny Maine shoe company!
I had always talked about trying to build a great little brand—so it was time to literally put my money where my mouth was. Quoddy had some great elements on which to build—the heritage of Maine hand-sewn shoemaking, an authentic brand, distinctive traditional design aesthetic…and the wonderful mystique of Maine.
H: In today’s time of fast fashion, Quoddy is still making shoes largely by hand, one pair at a time. Have you ever thought about “modernizing” the production process?
Q: Our product is a product of the way we make most of our shoes – hand-sewn moccasin construction. The only way to modernize or speed up the process is to add more skilled hands! That’s always the biggest manufacturing challenge.
H: I love your Ring Boot…a staple Quoddy offering since the beginning. It’s so idiosyncratic a design…how has it come to hold such a special place in your collection?
Q: The Ringboot. It is our icon, no question about it. How it arrived at that status is a mystery…even to us. People just react to it. And like many iconic products, people read into what they want…and it begins to take on a life of its own.
H: You now offer your styles in a variety of colors, thread accents, and sole colors—was there any resistance from Quoddy old timers in adopting those design evolutions? If yes, how did you handle the push-back?
Q: Longtime customers are always suspicious of change of course. But we are always careful to maintain in our products the essence of what Quoddy represents. For the most part, that means: glove-like fit and feel; durable and supplest-in-class materials like Horween leathers and Vibram soles. And, because of the way we build, the ability to resole and repair the shoes you have invested in.
H: What’s one aspect of Quoddy that you will never let change?
Q: Resole & Refurbish may also be our most important products because it creates a lasting relationship with our customers. When someone receives their shoes back from the service, it’s like the product is reborn! It’s almost like magic. Just look at the reviews on the website—the largest number and the biggest raves are for this service.
So, the one thing we will never change is the ability to resole and refurbish. It’s a clear statement of our values. It’s a great service for our customers. And you could call it our version of a sustainability policy—our shoes are renewable.
H: How do you feel about workplace culture, and how does it manifest itself in the shoes your workers make?
Q: The work culture at Quoddy is centered around respect for the product and the customer. The fact that we have a substantial, made-to-order business and the Resole & Refurbish capability means you could easily say we are as much a service business as a manufacturer. Because of this, everybody in the company is tightly connected to what we make…and who purchases it from us. As our direct business has grown, this has become even more the case.
H: It’s obvious that a huge part of Quoddy’s continuing success is refusing to stray from doing things the way you always have. With that being said, do you have any thoughts or plans for the future that may shake things up just a little.
Q: Quoddy will continue to evolve. We have certainly evolved our product line over the 10 years I have been in charge here. We are starting to really address the lack of depth in our women’s product. Ultimately, for us it always comes back to our connection to home—Maine. The history of the place informs who we are, and the landscape and the people inspire us to continue creating.
The name Quoddy comes from Passamaquoddy, the native people of Downeast Maine. Over centuries they developed the hand-sewing techniques we still use today. Our logo was created by the late David Moses Bridges, a Passamaquoddy artist who grew up near Eastport. Maine has a practical and spiritual grip on our company and our brand. So we are the stewards of that, no matter how big the company gets, how many countries we operate in (we have shipped to over 80 at this point), or even how many non-Mainers work here!
H: Lastly, while wearing your Quoddys…socks or no socks?
Q: Finally, I absolutely do not like wearing socks—they get in the way of enjoying the glove-like feel of moccasin construction shoes. In fact, you will notice that we have developed many products with shearling linings because it allows one to go from barefoot footwear to cold weather footwear without donning those accursed socks. And our slippers are there when you arrive home…so that you continue barefoot.
For the record, the thought of not wearing socks with anything other than flip-flops rattles me to my core, but to each his own.
And now that I’m finally into a pair of my own Quoddys (with Vans no-show socks, natch), I can’t imagine them being any softer—they are a hug for my feet. I got the traditional blucher, and they arrived in a muslin shoe bag, that unmistakable smell of high quality leather hitting my nostrils even before my eyes got a peek at the goods.
Quoddy’s “Design Your Own” feature lets you truly customize your own pair, with a selection of leathers, soles and doo dads that lets you be be as (un)traditional as you like. I went with a pretty classic combo, and the look is timeless. And as for the fit, my friend Lee was right (as usual—damn his consistency!). Should I wear out the soles (unlikely, as I live in Southern California where walking is frowned upon), I will have the fine folks at Quoddy bring them back to life. At Heddels we encourage “owning things you want to use forever,” and these shoes fit that bill very comfortably.
To learn more about Quoddy, visit their website.