FREEPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — L.L. Bean is on course to shatter sales records of the product that put the company on the map back in 1912: the bean boot. The anticipated sales numbers are locked in at three-quarters of a million pairs.
Although it goes by a number of names: the duck boot, the Maine hunting boot, the bean boot, it is defined by its trademark rubber sole, hand-sewn leather upper and loop at the top to help slip the boot on.
Every inch of the fabled L.L. Bean boot is made inside a factory on Industrial Highway in Brunswick. Each day inside the mammoth space, 3,300 pairs of them are made by hand, with a little help from automation.
“When you take a look at it from start to finish, it’s really similar to what it was 30 years ago," said Operations Manager Roland Cote. "Some of the differences that we’ve brought into this particular manufacturing process is some automation, but for the most part, people are still using their hands to put this product together which is what makes it so special.”
One of those employees is Cindy Morse. She runs the three-needled commercial sewing machine that binds together the rubber soles with the leather uppers. A layer of rubber cement keeps the leather in place until Morse guides the material under the fast moving needles. It is more art than standard process and requires training, a good eye and nimble fingers to properly work the steel with the hide.
“Vamping,” Morse explains. “I stitch the bottoms onto the uppers. It’s pretty easy. It all goes on down through, makes the hole, the needles come up, wrap the thread and then you’re good to go.”
PHOTOS: L.L.Bean Boots
► PHOTOS: L.L.Bean Boots
If it sounds simple, it’s not. There are indeed many pieces, many work areas and many highly trained people who bring the boots together. Some are the old-fashioned, unlined boot of 1912.
Others are lined with shearling, flannel or Gor-tex.
“The Gor-tex boots are the only ones that are guaranteed to be waterproofed,” Zoe Chute explains. She has, arguably, one of the most unique jobs at the factory — she seals Gor-tex seams with hot tape, then tests them in a vat of water in a glass tank to see if they make the grade.
She describes the process: “For water testing, it inflates the boot with air. We submerge it in the water and then we check for the bubbles, if there are no bubbles then we send it right into the dryer.”
Those with bubbles get re-sealed, re-tested, then inserted into the boot. Quality assurance is part of L.L. Bean’s trademark, and it's why, Cote says, the boot remains so popular, not just in Maine, but the world over.
“It’s a high quality product, it keeps your feet dry and it’s very versatile.”
To keep up with demand, L.L. Bean has made some significant changes.
“In this past year, we’ve built up our workforce to be able to handle a larger amount of output.” The iconic company has opened up another plant in Lewiston, bringing jobs and training to an area known for its rich history of shoe manufacturing.
If you are planning to order the traditional bean boot for the holidays, L.L. Bean says it doesn't anticipate any complications or back order waiting.
If you order them at the flagship store in Freeport or you order them online, L.L. Bean officials say your bean boots should arrive at your house before Christmas.