Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Making shoes, and making things.

I have some unbelievably smart friends (you're probably one of them). Isn't life grand, being surrounded by incredible people? I think so.

In college, one of my best friends (and my favorite person on the planet to argue with) was a very smart cookie named Kyle, from Maine. Earlier this morning, my Facebook news feed helped me to stumble across this article in the Lewiston, ME Sun Journal. The article is about Kyle, his dad, and the re-institution of their company, Rancourt & Co. Shoecrafters, as an independent business from under Wisconsin shoe manufacturer Allen Edmonds. If you're into shoe-making, the article is kind of riveting, and overall very well-written; I encourage you to check it out.

An excerpt:

"Rancourt & Co. makes men's shoes by hand for customers such as Ralph Lauren, high-end retailers in Tokyo and Japan and a retail group in South Africa, Michael Rancourt said.

"We buy raw materials from around the world, bring them here to Lewiston and then we cut them, stitch them and hand-finish." he said.

He envisions the company staying unique, and its volume small, but searching out new markets. His son, Kyle, 25, is interested in trying lines that reach out to consumers younger than the traditional mid-30s to mid-60s demographic."

photo credit: Lewiston Sun Journal

As an update, Kyle later informed me of the following:

"The thing that makes me the proudest about what we are doing is that we are manufacturing in the United States! That is so rare today, the people we employ are craftsmen/women, their skills should not go to waste. So we need help from everyone so that American craftspeople and American small business can survive."

Nice work, sir. Seriously, smart guy. I'm not surprised at his success, but it definitely made my heart swell up a bit to see yet another of my friends rocking it out.

It also reminded me how jealous I am of people who make things for a living. I mean, look at him. He's creating things with leather! Leather!!! Don't get me wrong, I super love advertising (obviously), but sometimes I feel like it would be so satisfying to be able to touch, smell, and see the fruits of my labor.

As a planner, what real good am I to society? I was having lunch this week with a friend in the biz, discussing silly things about our jobs. He's a funny guy, and we were joking around, but it kind of hit me right in the chest when he made a comment about how useless we were, as ad professionals. "If the apocalypse comes and I survive," he said, "I have no real skills with which I could rebuild society. I can price the heck out of a center spread, but I can't stitch up a laceration. I can't even sew a button."

Is this why we have hobbies? To feel like we can contribute? My friend Clay wrote a post a while back about strategy and fulfillment that does a much more eloquent job of sounding out the issue than I have here. Basically, he asks the question as to whether strategy alone can ever be truly satisfying. And, I have to agree with him, that no, it can't. Perhaps I am verging on quarter-life crisis, but I am itching to join the ranks of my smart friends who have found a way to make their ideas tangible, be it through hobby or career. In the meantime, I am very happy and proud to be in such brilliant company.

Congratulations, Kyle, on all your success. You smell terrific. If any of my smart peeps want to collaborate on a shoe project, let me know and I'll see what I can hook up.


  1. Pretty much. Hobbies are the things that enrich us outside of our area of expertise. Because nobody can survive on one niche alone (for long).

  2. You're very wise, grasshopper. Thanks so much for reading, and I really appreciate your comment. I count you among my smartypants brigade. :)

  3. oh, you. just wait. the nearing-30 crisis is SO much more fun.

    ps, isn't planning the art of problem solving? oh, and when the apocalypse inevitably hits in 2012, who is going to tell the 16.8 survivors where to find their shoes?

  4. I cannot wait for the nearing-30. Thank you for reminding me.

    It is the art of problem-solving, you're right. I guess I just feel like we are solving problems that we have created - so circular! And, I guess my friend Kyle will take care of the shoe issue.

    Thanks for reading Matt - hope to chat more next week at Likemind!

  5. Interesting and thought provoking post miss beio... I'd take it one step further and ask you whether or not the skill set, not the actual task, you learn from planning is applicable to life outside of the prefabricated mediums we inhabit. That would be a true measure of value to society in my opinion. And if you were to do that, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised :)

    I'd also propose that you're dealing with an archetypal question that most people our age inevitably deal with in our seemingly never ending journey to refine our identity. As we mature to an age where we've got that better idea of who we are, it becomes easier to develop nice insights regarding your value like your friend Mattsy was able to do...

  6. Thanks for reading, Max. I appreciate your faith in my skill set and your evaluation of my worth in society. I suppose I am feeling a bit antsy.

    And, you're right on the second point on maturity. Maybe someday I will be as wise as Matt ;) We can only hope!

    Thanks again for reading, and I appreciate the discussion, as always!

  7. Keep writing it might be discovered among the rumble.
    I am blessed to have you as my creation.
    Happy Valentines Day too! Love, Mom

  8. Thank you Mom. :) Happy Valentine's Day to you <3

  9. Lilmissjen, I loved this post, and I know how you feel, but I have to say I don't think you are giving yourself enough credit! If you didn't search out and price ad venues for your company's creative, that creative would never reach and sway its intended target audience, and would never make your clients any money. For proof of the fruits of your labor, look at the number of inquiries you have generated for your clients, and the number of sales those inquiries have generated. And look at how much you have educated your agency about new media platforms like Twitter, FourSquare, etc. If anyone would survive and thrive following the "apocalypse" referenced in your blog, it would be you, as you have the ability to adapt easily to and capitalize on change--change in advertising venues, changes in technology, etc. This is an irreplaceable quality, and one that many would love to have in their arsenal. Keep moving forward to find your special purpose, but don't sell yourself short!:) Have a wonderful day!!:) Betsy:)

  10. Aw shucks, Betsy. Thank you for the kind words. Let's hope advertising and tech survives the apocalypse, or I'm screwed ;)

    Thanks for reading!

  11. Thank you for writing about me Jen, you've made me feel like my chosen career path is a lot more important than I thought it was! And don't diminish your role, the apocalypse aside, where would a design and manfufacturing company like ours be without the creative planning and marketing strategies from people like you?

    One last note, the thing that makes me the proudest about what we are doing is that we are manufacturing in the United States! That is so rare today, the people we employ are craftsmen/women, their skills should not go to waste. So we need help from everyone so that american craftspeople and american small business can survive.

    Love you Jenni

  12. Love you too, Kyle. I'll add that note about manufacturing in the US to the post - that is an important element.

    Miss you :)

  13. Love it. Love Kyle and his dad, Mike. My best advice to you is to use all your advertising prowess along with your appreciation for the HAND MADE SHOE WORLD to turn that into something much appreciated by the general public who have forgotten how special handsewn shoes really are. Kyle and his Dad will need your help and promotion. There are so few people who realize what they do is truly unique and special and acutely uncommon today.

  14. Tons of land - thanks so much for reading! Agree - handsewn shoes are something very special, and I can only hope that my fellow ad people are helping to keep them all in business.

    Appreciate your comment, and your kind words.

  15. LMJ...

    Thanks for writing this. I grew up with Kyle and my extended family keeps me in the loop with the guys I grew up with. Via snail mail, I just got the article about Kyle today. I immediately hopped on google and found your blog. Thanks for writing, my next step is getting back in touch with Kyle. Much love...keep up the good work!

  16. 'swell -

    This is probably the greatest comment I've ever received. Thanks very much for commenting, and tell Kyle I say hello.