When’s the last time you included a shoe factory visit in your vacation plans? Not many of us would consider a factory to be a tourist attraction. When the SOM Footwear factory first opened in Montrose, Colorado we didn’t consider it to be an attraction either; however, only a couple months in we had people knocking at the door out of curiosity. Soon after, we decided to officially offer factory tours and these days we welcome everyone from school groups to people passing through and give them a glimpse of how our shoes are made.
Last week we had a retired couple from Texas stop by. They had never seen a shoe factory and thought that they’d give ours a look while visiting the area. We walked from station to station in our production line, pausing to chat with folks at all points in the process, even catching our shoemaker Olie as he was sewing pairs of Norwoods. We joked that our visitors could have a pair of shoes autographed by every person who touched them at every stage of production (we are not releasing a signature model anytime soon, though we’d be glad to take special requests).
Seeing that we in fact do much more than just assemble pre-made pieces, our guest was delightfully surprised to learn that we design, cut, sew, glue, and package all in this facility. He had been expecting to see a factory that was doing nothing more than assembling pre-made pieces. It can be eye-opening to see what shoemaking really entails (you’ll never use the words “cobbled together” again without feeling slightly guilty toward all the hardworking cobblers out there.) One of the most frequent comments we hear during a tour is inevitably “I had no idea so much went into making shoes.”
Truth be told, our founders had no idea either when they started SOM Footwear. Making shoes in the U.S. is not as straightforward as it may seem. Manufacturing domestically is full of unique challenges. Our visiting couple remarked that the SOM founders seem to be truly living the American Dream. While some days our founders will say that the dream feels more nightmare-like, our visitors are correct; it really is a dream to be able to open your doors and show the world what you are creating.
We always enjoy hosting a tour around our facility. There is something special about being your community’s local shoe factory and there is something fun about being a tourist attraction. Most importantly for us, though, we find that tours are a great opportunity to connect and interact with people while inviting them to think more about how and where products are made.
Our couple finished their factory tour with a quick pitstop in our outlet store and left with matching pairs of yellow SP-L3s from one of the first years we were in production. Calling each other “Big Bird” and “Banana,” they stopped halfway out the door and rushed back in—they had forgotten too show off their new kicks to Olie before heading back out on the road.