Eastland Shoe Corporation Business Information, Profile, and History
Since 1955, Eastland Shoe Mfg. Corp. has made classic American styled footwear reflecting our Maine heritage and casual style of living. While the seasons may change and shoe styles follow with them, Eastland Shoe remains constant--committed to creating classic styles, contemporary and durable designs. Our commitment to our customers is to continue making quality leather shoes with the finest workmanship, long lasting value and comfort. Today, our line of men's and women's footwear is specifically designed to meet the demands of daily life and weekend activities--where comfort, style and function merge.
History of Eastland Shoe Corporation
Eastland Shoe Corporation is a leather casual shoe company based in Maine. Founded in 1955, the company was one of the last large-scale shoemakers to produce footwear in the United States. Ultimately, price competition caused it to succumb to the allure of the Orient and begin importing shoes in the late 1990s; in 2001 it closed its last plant in Maine. Since then, Eastland has continued to strive to sell quality products in classic styles at affordable prices.
Eastland Shoe Corp. of Freeport, Maine, was formed in 1955. (It has also been known as Eastland Shoe Manufacturing Corp.) Jonas B. Klein was one of the co-founders of Eastland, which would remain controlled by the Klein family through the end of the 20th century.
According to Footwear News and Footwear News Magazine, daily production began at 540 pairs and Eastland was soon making 900 pairs of moccasins a day by hand. It then progressed to manufacturing penny loafers, boat shoes, and other casual leather footwear for men and women--Yankee styles pioneered by Maine rivals G.H. Bass & Co. and Sebago, Inc. Another perennial competitor for the company would be the Dexter Shoe Co. of Massachusetts.
The original Eastland factory was located a few blocks from the famous L.L. Bean store in Freeport. In 1964, the company opened a plant in the largely agricultural western Maine town of Fryeburg. This site was dubbed "Northland"; it produced golf shoes, other sport shoes, and casual shoes. Though about 60 workers staged a brief walkout over stagnant wages at the Freeport plant in 1965, the company remained non-unionized.
A Brand of Its Own
Eastland originally produced shoes for sale under other brands. It introduced its own "Easysteps" label in the mid-1970s before trading this for the Eastland name. It continued to make private label shoes for discount chains, though by the mid-1980s its own brand accounted for 70 percent of sales.
The removal of quotas in the early 1980s led to a flood of cheap, imported shoes in the U.S. market. This had caused 94 U.S. footwear manufacturers to close in 1984, reported the Christian Science Monitor; 32 of these were in Maine, the country's largest shoe-producing state. An industry spokesman told the Christian Science Monitor that foreign manufacturers had increased their share of the domestic market from 50 percent to 71 percent. Eastland's workers were still hand-sewing 6,000 pairs of shoes a day, according to the Monitor. This was down 25 percent from the previous year.
While Eastland was one of the survivors, it was vigorously cutting costs and scaling back its manufacturing operations. The company shut down stitching rooms in Fryeburg and Lewiston in 1984. Overall employment had been cut back nearly in half, to 325 workers. According to company president Jonas Klein, Eastland was committed to its domestic manufacturing, investing in such things as new computer equipment and stitching machines. In fact, the company did not even use imported components at the time, an official told Footwear News Magazine.
In spite of the industry woes, Eastland grew rapidly in the last half of the 1980s and the early 1990s. A 1987 story in Footwear News Magazine said that after an upturn the previous year, the company had 500 workers making 3,100 pairs of shoes a day. "Made in America" was becoming an important selling point again, and buyers praised Eastland's quality and affordability. "There's a very serious and renewed interest in domestic manufacture," said executive vice president Bernard Kazon in the Southern Maine Business Digest. At the time, Eastland had four factory outlet stores around Freeport, but was focusing on the manufacturing end.
Brown Shoe Bonanza
According to Footwear News, the Eastland brand was little known on the West Coast until the early 1990s. However, with its heritage of making traditional loafers, Eastland was well positioned for the brown shoe mania that was sweeping aside sneakers as the preferred casual shoe of young people. The company emphasized the "rugged dependability" of Maine in its marketing and merchandising materials. The Falmouth camp moccasin was a fashion hit for the company, noted Footwear News.
At the time, women's shoes were the largest segment of business; the company also made men's and children's shoes. It had reintroduced duty shoes after a six-year absence from that market.
Eastland was building a considerable export business. Its greatest success was in Canada and Japan, where the brand had been active for several years. The brand was introduced to Great Britain, France, and Italy in the early 1990s, prominently displaying "Made in Freeport USA" on the shoe boxes. In the midst of the Americana boom, Eastland opened a plant in tiny Lisbon Falls, Maine, in 1994. This was soon employing 170 people.
Eastland advertised in high-fashion magazines such as GQ and The Source in the late 1990s. Company president Jim Klein told Footwear News the target audience was "someone who is going to set the style, not follow it." He added, "We were doing brown shoes before they were a category," referring to the footwear sales phenomenon driven by Timberland and others.
Unfortunately, Eastland's domestic retail sales were slowing, thanks largely to continued price competition from abroad. By this time, the U.S. was importing 90 percent of its footwear. The company closed its Fryeburg factory in 1998, letting go 95 of its approximately 650 total employees. Klein said the move would help strengthen the remaining plants in Freeport and Lisbon Falls. (This was also the year that the venerable G.H. Bass & Co. decided to stop making shoes in Maine after 122 years.) In 1999, Eastland began sourcing some of its shoes abroad, while earning environmental kudos at home for reducing hazardous chemicals at its domestic plants.
Eastland closed its Lisbon Falls plant in the fall of 2000. Some of its workers were relocated to Eastland's remaining manufacturing facility in Freeport. By this time, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, 96 percent of the shoes sold in the U.S. were coming from overseas--Asia and China in particular. Eastland could no longer continue to bear the brunt of the huge price differential of U.S. labor. The company itself had already started to sell some imported shoes.
Last U.S. Plant Closed in 2001
Eastland closed its last U.S. manufacturing plant, in Freeport, in September 2001. About 150 jobs were cut, though the company's administrative and distribution operations continued to employ 50 to 75 people. The Freeport factory building and its surrounding five acres were put up for sale at $1.5 million.
The town of Freeport considered buying the property for use as government offices and talked the building's four owners down to $900,000, reported the Portland Press Herald. However, they walked away from the deal after ascertaining it would cost $6 million dollars to convert the property. The site was later slated for construction of a new 99-room Hilton Hotel.
Eastland brought out a new line of comfort-oriented footwear under the Camden Rock brand in 2004. It was aimed at providing independent retailers with a distinct product line from that carried by national chains, an executive told Footwear News.
50th Anniversary in 2005
The company passed an important milestone in 2005: its 50th anniversary. By this time, James B. Klein had taken over as president from his father and company co-founder Jonas Klein, who remained chairman. "We want retailers to remember we've been around," said Jim Klein in Footwear News. "Our stability is good." At the same time, Eastland worked to keep its traditional styles updated. The company was then producing 1.5 million pairs of men's and women's footwear annually.
Dexter Shoe Co.; G.H. Bass & Co.; L.L. Bean Inc.; The Rockport Company, LLC; Sebago Inc.
- Key Dates
- 1955 Maine's Eastland Shoe company is founded in Freeport to make private label shoes.
- 1964 The Fryeburg plant (Northland) opens.
- 1976 The company begins developing its own brand.
- 1994 The Lisbon Falls plant opens.
- 1998 The Fryeburg plant closes.
- 1999 Eastland begins sourcing some shoes abroad.
- 2000 The Lisbon Falls plant closes.
- 2001 The Freeport plant closes.
- 2005 Eastland produces 1.5 million pairs of shoes in its 50th anniversary year.
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