When we first started making shoes 50 years ago, all of our leathers came from domestic suppliers. But as shoe manufacturing moved overseas, so did leather production and now we must go all over the world to find leathers and other materials, though we source as much as we can from the U.S.
Our leathers are custom made to our specifications and inspected at our Hot Springs facility.
The first step is to insure the color of the leather meets the standard set months earlier by the designers, product development team, and the tannery. A bundle of leather is laid out on a lighted inspection table and each hide is compared to the color sample that is used as the standard.
Next we use a special gauge to check the thickness of the hides for consistency from one end to the other and consistency from one hide to the next. A certain amount of variation is normal but significant differences will affect the ‘fit’ of the shoe later in the production process so we have to pull any hide that falls too far outside the acceptable range.
While all natural leather will have slight imperfections, our initial inspectors check for flaws that prevent the leather from being used in production. They pass the acceptable hides to the cutters, who perform their own inspection based on the type of parts they are cutting: vamps, quarters, saddles, collars, etc. In turn, each operator that handles the shoe will inspect the leather parts for quality and performance. This means that while a piece of leather may have looked fine to the cutter when it was sitting on a flat table, once it is sewn into the toe of a shoe it may develop wrinkles because of slightly irregular thicknesses that the cutter could not see.
This inspection station is checking the piece count to be sure there are enough for a full case of size 8 medium shoes. She is examining each piece for material quality and to be sure the operator did not make any mistakes.
This inspector is focused on one piece of the shoe puzzle. She is examining a very small but always important sandal part. She is looking at the quality of the finished part for even a minor issue that may mean the operator must redo the entire lot.
Finally, here you see sandals that are almost ready to be packed into shoe boxes. One last quality check is scheduled by the quality control supervisor who will randomly spot check these finished sandals for any flaw that may have escaped one of the previous inspectors.