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Cowboy Boots Are Still Handmade

Some makers of high-end cowboy boots still follow traditional boot-making techniques that have been used since the 1800s.

However, high tech does meet handwork in the Lucchese factory, and automated equipment helps fashion creative and consistent designs.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the How It’s Made video in the spotlight, and the Steamboat Pilot article, Western wear icon Lucchese rides into Steamboat Springs with new store, by John F. Russell, January 3, 2024.  Image source: Iconotec/Glow Images

Discussion Questions:

1. How does the strategy of this company that makes high end cowboy boots influence the choice of materials and components?

Guidance: High quality is a key dimension of this company’s strategy.  Here, high quality pertains to both the construction and the appearance of the boots.  A high quality strategy can help Lucchese justify the relatively higher price it needs to charge for footwear that is very labor intensive and uses expensive raw materials.  In this How It’s Made video, the quality of materials including the leather, the interlacing threads, and the welt, are discussed.

Whereas much other footwear uses synthetics as raw materials, cowboy boots must be durable.  The need for durability affects the choice of raw materials.  To provide the level of quality that customers demand, real leathers are used.  Popular choices for leather are cowhide, calfskin, and pigskin.  Sometimes less common options, such as alligator or ostrich skin, are also used.

Special interlaced threads are used to attach the sole to the shoe towards the end of the assembly process.  Because the threads are interlaced, they are particularly strong and durable.  They, along with the glue and cork used in the bottom of the boots, increase durability.

Other features of the boot, such as the welt, a strip of leather that is sewn along the border of the shoe, also add strength and durability.

2. What element of waste minimization (muda) would be important when using the “clicker” machine to cut out the leather parts for the boots?

Guidance: Process waste should be minimized in this step of production. That means, when using the clicker machine to cut the parts, one wants to have as little wasted leather as possible.

Leather is expensive.  Unlike some materials where the extra can be (for instance, melted back down and used again), leather scraps do not have much if any value.  Thus, getting as many cutouts as possible from each piece of leather is an important goal.

In watching the video, one can see that in some instances, the pieces are being cut just about as close together as they possibly can be to minimize waste.  In other shots, however, it seems like the cuts could be made more efficiently by moving closer to the edge of the leather or to the piece that was previously cut.

3. How does the use of programmable machines improve efficiency and quality in the decorative stitching process?

Guidance: Whereas a person can only decoratively sew on one piece of leather at a time, the programmable machines shown in the video can sew many pieces at the same time.  In addition, because they are all being stitched in a synchronized way, consistency from one piece to the next may also be improved.

4. What is work-in-process inventory?  What is the finished good in this process?

Guidance: Work-in-process inventory refers to the inventory in any of the fabrication or assembly processes.  Generally speaking, the amount of work-in-process needed is a function of how many finished boots are being produced.

After the last steps of the process, which are the polishing and waxing of the boots, they become a finished good.

The final inspection along with the polishing and waxing help ensure top quality, a key part of Lucchese’s strategy. The boots are then boxed and ready to be shipped out.

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