LEWISTON — As soon as the crowd thinned out, the machines fired back up, stitching dog beds and custom totes, assembling bikes and molding thousands of iconic boot bottoms.
On Aug. 17, Freeport-based L.L. Bean opened the doors to its new factory at 12 Lexington St. to tout its work and workforce: 70 employees working three shifts a day, soon to grow by about 40 more people.
“Manufacturing is both our history and our future,” said Shawn Gorman, executive chairman of the board and great-grandson of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean. “We couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished and we commend all of you for a job very, very well done.”
L.L. Bean moved into the former 110,000-square-foot VIP factory space from its Lewiston home on Westminster Street over the spring.
Roland Cote, manager of Lewiston manufacturing operations, said dog beds, cushions and custom totes and monogramming work moved from its Brunswick operation to Lewiston to give Brunswick more space for sewing.
At the same time, Lewiston also gained a second, $1 million injection mold machine to turn out boot bottoms. Lewiston now has two mold machines, Brunswick one, and between the three, they make about 3,200 pairs of boot bottoms a day, Cote said.
They’re all sewn and assembled in Brunswick.
“This year we’re looking to make 750,000 pairs. In order to do 750,000, you’ve got to build up to that,” Cote said. “Right now, we’re almost at a point where we have enough staff to get us into place.”
L.L. Bean made more than 600,000 pairs last year. It’s projecting 1 million for 2018.
Walking through the factory on a tour, Cote pointed out the mix of automation and handwork: yards of fabric that glide into place with puffs of air, tote straps fed into sewing machines by hand, slag trimmed off boot bottoms.
The classic Bean Boot’s popularity has exploded in recent years, recognized as trendy in New York and on college campuses and raking in media coverage. One headline in Popular Mechanics last year: “The Never-Ending Greatness of L.L. Bean’s Boots.”
The backlog was 100,000 pairs at one point, Cote said. It’s under 1,000 now.
“We’re expanding our footprint westward and southward,” he said. “We have our Japan market we’re going to and we’re even starting to dabble in the European market. What we’re trying to do, as we’re growing this thing out, we don’t want to put all our eggs in the New England market.
“As a consumer, you’re going to see a lot more variety offered,” Cote said. “This is what sells,” he said, pointing to the traditional tan on brown bottoms, “but complimenting it with different colors keeps people’s interest in it.”
L.L.Bean President and CEO Steve Smith kicks out his foot to show off his Bean Boots during an open house of L.L. Bean’s manufacturing facility on Lexington Street in Lewiston on Aug. 17.
Jennifer Black of Sabattus uses a trimming machine while manufacturing a pair of Bean Boot bottoms at the L.L. Bean manufacturing facility in Lewiston on Aug. 17.
A Bean Boot label put in place by Laurie Ducharme of Leeds dries at the L.L. Bean manufacturing facility in Lewiston on Aug. 17.