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US Shoemakers Come Together for Veterans Day Collab

Los Angeles shoemaker ComunityMade on Friday announced a cross-country collaboration with a cause.

The company teamed with Pingree Detroit, a design and manufacturing cooperative that employs local artisans including veterans, to create a Veterans Day sneaker style that benefits communities in both groups’ hometowns. “The Mayor” sneaker is an urban utility mid-top silhouette manufactured by Pingree and ComunityMade. Made with upcycled leather from Detroit’s automotive industry and eyelets, laces midsoles and insoles sourced from U.S. component manufacturers, the $349 style is available in stone grey or onyx on each brand’s e-commerce site.

“The collaboration between ComunityMade and Pingree Detroit allows each of us to leverage our strengths and to learn from each other,” ComunityMade owner and co-founder Sean Scott told Sourcing Journal. “We will be dividing the production process in half—Pingree will cut and stitch the uppers from the upcycled leathers and we will do the assembly and finishing.”

“By collaborating in this manner, we are able to expand capacity and work with a like-minded company who believes in the power of the community,” he added. ComunityMade has made its mark on Downtown L.A. over the past five years by providing jobs to local makers and re-establishing a hub for footwear production in the city’s garment district.

Founded seven years ago, Pingree sought to provide living wage jobs while training local workers in essential industrial skills like sewing, shoemaking and leatherworking. “What prompted us to start the company was that we were finding too many hard-working folks—especially veterans—who were looking for meaningful work, but couldn’t find it,” co-founder and CEO Jarret Schlaff said.

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Taking its namesake from Hazen S. Pingree, owner of the second-largest footwear company in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1800s, the co-op makes bags, homegoods, pet products, accessories and footwear from waste materials reclaimed from Detroit automakers. Since 2015, the company has used more 18 tons of leather, seatbelt webbing and airbag material saved from the landfill as inputs for new products. The company says 77 cents of every dollar of profit goes toward veterans and the production team.

Pingree Detroit x ComunityMade tongue detail.
Courtesy

Pingree, who co-founded Pingree and Smith Shoes, was a Union Army veteran, governor of Michigan, and three-term mayor of Detroit. His legacy provided the inspiration for the company’s best-selling sneaker style, The Mayor, which debuted in 2018 as the first sneaker made in Detroit. “I was inspired by how he maximized well-being for everyone he served, so I got permission from the family to use his name,” said Schlaff, who wanted to create a business where veterans “could work with their hands and be part of a purpose-driven environment again.”

Schlaff connected with ComunityMade founders Sean and Shannon Scott through their joint participation in building Pensole Design Academy’s shoe design and manufacturing curriculum with founder Dr. D’Wayne Edwards. Given ComunityMade’s mission to onshore more footwear manufacturing and re-establish a domestic footwear supply chain, Sean said he appreciated how the partnership would aid workers across state lines.

“Detroit, like Los Angeles, has a rich history of manufacturing knowhow and a pride in the work produced locally,” he said, hinting that The Mayor was just the beginning. “We look forward to collaborating on new designs, such as a low-top style in the future.”  

The Mayor shoe comes in stone grey and onyx.
Courtesy

“One of the really unique aspects of this collaboration is that, traditionally, you could look at us as competition,” Schlaff said, as “both have brands that sell to customers who are looking for well-made American-made products.” Instead, the project allows both companies to broaden their reach.

The collaborator plan to produce up to 500 pairs of The Mayor sneaker, depending on order volume. Each pair will be cut and partially assembled in Detroit, then shipped to L.A. by train where the shoes will be finished at ComunityMade’s facility. “Our teams will be learning from each other and it’s going to be an exciting East-meets-West American manufacturing collaboration,” Schlaff said.