The rubber vulcanization process involved with making shoes can be smelly and inefficient. Vulcanization with sulfur requires high temperatures, long heating periods--and that nasty chemical smell. So Portland, Ore., based footwear company KEEN decided to try something new with its Santiago Collection of shoes: they're bringing back Desma's hand-operated direct vulcanization machines. The only catch is that these machines haven't been made for 60 years.
Desma's German-made machines stopped being manufactured because of the arrival of quicker chemical vulcanization processes. But KEEN CEO James Curleigh went on a worldwide hunt to find them--in part because the hand-cranked machines make for a healthier environment for workers.
"With these machines, the shoes don't smell at all," explains Linda Tom, KEEN's marketing manager.
The Desma machines are the size of a small dryer, and can make shoes in a couple of minutes using heat and pressure to directly attach rubber to the canvas on KEEN shoes. It's a little bit slower than more modern vulcanization methods, but it's also more hands on--one machine makes the shoe, instead of having it sent along a production line.
Now that KEEN has refurbished dozens of Desma machines, the products have been sent to KEEN's new factory in the Dominican Republic for use. "The Dominican Republic has a long history of shoemaking, but factories are at low capacity or are not being used at all. We wanted to revitalize that [history]," says Tom.
The Santiago Collection goes on sale next year.