Pulling off I-95, the town of Lewiston hits my windshield with a thud. Cruising their main strip, I passed a chicken shack, a Burger King, and a slew of empty buildings. My directions read, “Look for ‘Maine Thread.’” Even with eyes peeled, I nearly passed the small sign fashioned of white plywood and black vinyl letters no bigger than my hand.
Thinking I’d reached my destination, I sauntered through the doors at Maine Thread, past walls covered floor to ceiling in spools upon spools of the stuff, organized by color and gauge. Finally, I reached a small metal desk, where a small wooden man sat in a big ball cap embroidered with an eagle and an American flag.
“Excuse me? Are these the Quoddy offices?”
“No – no. What you gonna do….”
Rising, he walked me past the spools and outside, pointing to an arched brick alleyway.
Random House defines the moccasin as “a heelless shoe made entirely of soft leather, as deerskin, with the sole brought up and attached to a piece of u-shaped leather on top of the foot, worn originally by the American Indians.”Wood tools, like this rounded wedge Kevin uses to press the leather into the last, are rare.A stitch gauge measurement of five assures they are properly spaced.
“They’re Kwah-dih,” Alex, the kindly English sutler, informed me upon discovering a grizzly boot and boat shoe for sale at Freemans Sporting Club a few years ago. I’d mispronounced the name in asking the make. I remember saying the leather felt waxy, and Alex, not content to let my observation stand, replied, “Yes, they’re buttery.” Supple, sturdy, well-oiled, well-cushioned, all stand to describe a Quoddy Trail moccasin upon first interaction. When held, when properly examined the precise balance of heft and delicacy emanates. Their handmade attributes, every stitch, every stretch mark, every skived edge beg to be admired. They define remarkable.
QUODDY the sign read. I felt the sweat on my feet. Wool socks, Bean Boots, and a shock of nerves hit me as I entered the factory doors.
This is the new handsewing workshop for Quoddy Trail Moccasin which until recently was based in a small storefront on the main drag. That isn’t to say the building is new. Quite the contrary, Kevin and Kirsten Shorey, owners of Quoddy Trail, recently acquired two floors of the defunct Maine Moccasin factory, along with relics of the factory’s past: antique sewing machines, old wooden lasts, tools, and leather scraps aplenty. The powder blue paint job was covered with dust and dirt; the floor beneath me could have just as easily been beach property, albeit beach property beset by a nagging nail infestation. As I entered the darkly lit room where Quoddy stitches all their shoes, I watched four men hunched over tanned, pressed leather, as they spun gold. Each of them moved around a mounted shoe as though it were a seven-layer cake receiving seven layers of icing. Stitch by stitch crafting moccasins with their bare hands – bare, but for the grip tape wrapped around their knuckles.
Gambler Tobacco, Grip Tape, Handsewing Ends
This is how the leather looks after it’s prepared at their facilities in Perry, Maine.
“The Shorey family has been making moccasins for generations, beginning with Harry Smith Shorey, a hand-sewer for L.L. Bean in the early 1900s,” this from their charming, out-dated website.
The shop manager stitches the ends to the toe of a new blucher.
Kevin Shorey, the well-spoken, well-shod, bear of a man runs the day-to-day operations from his office in Perry. He introduced me to some of the skilled craftsmen who form these shoes and gave me a bit of background.
Several years ago, fed up with his job at a big-time newspaper, he moved home to Maine and alongside Kirsten, started making moccasins in his family’s barn. Yuki Matsuda, of Meg Company, got wind of the Shorey’s shoe-making operation,. Yuki, Kevin, and Kirsten formed Yu-Ke-Ten to target the Japanese market. As business grew, Yuki’s desire to expand the brand’s offerings beyond footwear led him to take full control of Yuketen, as Kevin and Kirsten concentrated on Quoddy.
Cordovan Leather, Gum Sole, Cross-stitch Toe, Quoddy for Albam Another view of the Albam moc alongside a refurbished Ring Boot
This was eleven years ago. Since that time, Quoddy has been quietly growing a loyal following around the world, and rightly so. The company offers handmade shoes, made the old-fashioned way, “the hard way,” as Kevin likes to say. He was eager to express just how customizable their offerings are, walking me through several custom jobs they’ve acquired: everyone from Rogues Gallery to J. L. Powell to South Willard; Sid Mashburn to Freemans Sporting Club; Camilla Staerk to 3sixteen. The newly formed “Quoddy for…” line has begun to pick up steam. “People are willing to invest in the name, Quoddy,” says Shorey.
Today he makes the four hour drive to the stitching plant in Lewiston roughly once a week. When I met him, he wore a zippered fleece, khaki pants, and a pair of Quoddy Trail bluchers with a solid tread Vibram sole.
“Not bad,” I said, admiring the yellow Vibram logo.
“Yeah, these won’t wear out too quickly.” Kevin chuckled.
Not a Vibram, still a crepe sole will last a long time. Beyond them are two memory foam insoles which are wedged between the two pieces of leather in shoes like the double-bottom ring boot above.
With a one-piece vamp – the front, sides, and bottom of the shoe – swaddling the entire foot, full leather sock lining, and a heel pad, I can guarantee they won’t wear out too quickly. Using leathers from the tanneries of Horween in Chicago, S.B. Foot in Minnesota, and Irving from right there in Maine, everything is handmade. All the major cutting and prepping of the leathers occurs at their shop in Perry. The handsewing and finishing touches are added in the storied town of Lewiston, once home to thousands of skilled artisans famous for their quality craftsmanship. Kevin and Kirsten Shorey are making moccasins, a shoe with a story that began thousands of years ago with this country’s first settlers, made with as much domestic product as humanly possible, and they’re doing so entirely by hand, by American hands – cutting, skiving, stitching, and hand-sewing.
Nearly every sentence Kevin spoke began with, “We take great pride….” “We take great pride that we’re not conventional… that we do it here in Maine… that we stand by our product… that we’ll fix any problem.”
“With Quoddy, you receive a genuine handmade moccasin. While leather properties vary slightly with every hide, each pair demonstrates our philosophy: Attention to detail and no shortcuts. Also, many of our moccasins can be made in special widths or sizes… without an outsized price tag.” (website).
That said, I asked the guys working in the factory if they owned a pair.
“Can’t afford it,” One gentleman quickly replied.
I, too, can’t afford it but couldn’t leave without ordering a pair. Never in my life has the vice president of a shoe company approached me with the backside of a desk calendar and a pen saying, “Stand on this piece of paper. I’m gonna outline your foot.” Usually, I wear an 11D; according to my invoice, these were made on a 10.5 E last. Excited, I await the arrival of my first pair of custom-made leather moccasins.
I chose to have a canoe moccasin made with dark brown full grain leather and a deerskin full-sock liner in gold. The eyelets will be nickel-plated silver. They will have a red brick camp sole, and for a bit of flash, I chose red leather laces, a personal trademark. The cow’s leather is from Horween in Chicago, the deerskin comes from a butcher in Holden, Maine who passes the skins along to a tannery once he’s carved out his venison, and the soles are from Brazilian gum trees by way of Ohio. Priced at $165, for a shoe of the highest quality materials, made to my exacting specifications down to the last stitch, it seemed reasonable.
Leaving the factory, I caught a glimpse of myself in a window’s reflection. In that moment, the scruffy, bespectacled hipster staring back at me wondered how the moccasin made its way from the feet of a Canarsee chieftain stalking wild turkey along the marshes of the East River to the boutiques of Bedford Ave. Something tells me he didn’t take the L train.
Quoddy centers their brand around doing things well, doing them locally, and doing them with pride. Invest in a pair of Quoddy moccasins. If you wear your Quoddy’s with the same care that went into crafting them, then they might even outlast you.
For more, please contact:
Kirsten & Kevin Shorey
1041 US Route 1
PO Box 129
Perry, Maine 04667 USA
For more photos of my visit to the factory, see Flickr.