Jul. 22—LEWISTON — This summer at the Olympics, it's red, white and Lew again.
Team USA athletes will wear red, white and blue sneakers hand-sewn by Rancourt & Co. in the opening and closing ceremonies in Tokyo on July 23 and Aug. 8.
"We are honored, very much so," President Mike Rancourt said Wednesday.
He described the process of creating the shoes, which began in March 2019, as "very demanding, very precise and I understand — we're making sneakers for people who are going to be on the world stage with lots of eyes and phones and cameras on everything we do, everything Ralph Lauren does."
The high-end fashion brand, which has outfitted Team USA since 2008, tapped Rancourt & Co. to hand-sew red, white and blue leather boat shoes for athletes at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
"They're making every effort that they can, that's practical, to have everything made in the United States. That started in 2016 and that continues today," Rancourt said.
This time, Ralph Lauren was after sneakers from the jump. Prototyping began more than two years ago.
"As you start to develop a new product, it has its own peculiarities that we have to learn about," he said. While the company makes its own line of sneakers, "we typically 99% of the time work with leather, so this time it was fabric and leather, but the bulk of it was fabric. It poses its own challenges."
Production paused in March 2020 when the games were delayed due to the pandemic and started up again last fall. Sneaker soles arrived premolded with everything else hand-sewn and assembled by Rancourt & Co.'s 41 employees.
"It's about 100 steps," Rancourt said. "At the end, three-fourths of our production in March, April, May was devoted to the sneakers."
Rancourt & Co., in its third generation of shoemaking with Rancourt's son, Kyle, is known for its high-end, hand-sewn footwear. The company makes private label shoes for companies such as Sperry and Ralph Lauren in addition to having wholesale accounts with J.Crew and Huckberry.
In recent years, it's shifted to selling more of its own branded products, Rancourt said.
"Sixty-five percent of our revenue now is based on Rancourt products that we're selling online," he said. "That's a big change since 2016."
As before, Rancourt & Co.'s sneakers will also be worn by Team USA in the Paralympic Games.
After the leather boat shoes' exposure in Rio, "we saw a real big bounce (in sales) in August in 2016, and then it carried right on to the holidays," he said. "It's a great piece for us because people around the country are excited about the fact there's a maker in the United States."
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