All American Duchess shoes are proudly designed in the USA and are manufactured by our own team of highly skilled, artisan shoe masters using ethically sourced and high-quality materials at our factories in China, Mexico, or Portugal.
We'd like to take the opportunity to address a question that we get asked a lot, in the form of a description of how we came to the decision to make our shoes where we do...
...why don't you manufacture your shoes the USA?
Firstly an important point, the decision wasn't about squeezing the maximum profit out of our products, it was about making great shoes. Naturally, we would love to produce all of our products here in the USA, so when we started our journey into shoe production we figured that we would source a local, boutique shoe factory... the USA still has quality, boutique shoe factories, right? Well, that was our first mistake. There are almost no shoe production facilities left in the USA that are willing to make shoes designed by other companies (OEM) in the consignment sizes that we are able to buy, and we did a LOT of looking! Despite being ignored by most American companies we contacted, we were able to find one good candidate, however, the production costs were about three times more expensive than Europe, and four times those of Asia. While this remains an option, we're not sure that customers are as happy paying $550-650 for a pair of shoes.
Maybe set up our own factory in the USA?
We then thought about setting up a factory of our own, producing shoes here in the USA but that’s something that’s just not possible for a company of our size, especially when you factor in the current economic climate and the availability of experienced, highly skilled labor and willingness of Americans to work in a repetitive factory job. From an ideal perspective, we would like to use locally sourced materials, but we discovered that there are very few leather suppliers left in the USA, no heel manufacturers and that a lot of factories that are still operational source most of their materials from China and other international sources, before assembling them here.
Use local artisans?
Another option was to partner with a local artisan shoemaker but the costs are prohibitively high and they are unable to produce the shoes in a sufficient quantity for our needs. Availability of materials is still limited and would need to be sourced offshore, from places like China and South America, driving costs up further.
How about the rest of North America?
So it was fairly obvious that the USA wasn’t going to work, so we turned our attention to our neighbors (Canada and Mexico) which was mainly a similar story unless we wanted to source low quality or fashion shoes from Mexico. Investigating the territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Marianas, etc) dug up some pretty horrible issues with exploited imported Asian workforces in sweatshops. The territories can legally place "Made in the USA" tags on everything, but are not subject to US labor laws which open up a huge can of problems with regards to business and work ethics - is it worth being potentially involved in such activities for the sake of the "Made in the USA" tag?. We decided not…
We found that production costs can be amazingly cheap in places like Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia but the logistical networks are weak, political stability is a potential problem, quality is a significant issue and we had a lot of concerns with workplace ethics, exploitation, and safety.
That left China as the obvious but still undesirable choice due to its reputation, and especially with the reputation that it has with our customers. Naturally, we had concerns about the exploitation of workers and the environment, social issues, and low-quality products, but as we investigated further, we found our pre-conceived ideas about Chinese manufacturing to be completely wrong. We discovered that China has developed massively, both socially and in business mentality in recent years, and was nothing like the China you hear in the horror stories.
We were delighted to find that legislation was comprehensive and protected international commerce, as well as the Chinese workers. Reassuringly, the environmental impact of the industry is starting to be addressed, both in legislation, social responsibility programs, and from pressure from international sources.
Recent changes in legislation and a growing economy have turned the power balance in the employer/worker relationship on its head. With more jobs throughout China, there is a reduced need for job seekers to migrate to the Special Economic Zones for work, so many are now staying in local cities with their families, leaving a shortfall of millions of workers in areas like Guangdong Province. The net result is that many of the unethical factories cannot attract employees and have closed, and to attract skilled migrant workers employers have had to significantly improve wages, working and living conditions. Skilled and experienced employees now interview employers and choose where they wish to work. If an employee has an issue with an employer then they usually have the option to move jobs to a company that treats it's workers well.
This was massively reassuring, especially when comparing China to the territories in the Pacific.
It was also relatively simple to find several enthusiastic, trustworthy, ethical partners in manufacturing that had skilled workers and were willing to work with us, rather than against us - a refreshing change from the shocking wall of silence that we got from US manufacturing! Our selected partner runs a small but new, well-organized factory that’s a great place to work.
To address our quality concerns, we briefed our manufacturing partner to attract the very best, experienced and highly skilled shoemakers, and shoe masters, and we assembled a team that has been engineering, prototyping and making shoes for some very, very well known quality designer brands. These artisans work on a small, dedicated line and everything from the base materials, to the completed shoe, is inspected at every stage of manufacturing.
While we cannot make our shoes in the USA, we sincerely believe that China is a great place to source our product. While it’s true that it’s cheaper to make our shoes there, it’s far from the cheapest place globally, and we hope you too recognize that cost of production is far from our only consideration. We truly believe that at this time that all of our products are produced to the best standard possible, from the highest quality materials available, constructed by skilled craftsmen, in an ethical and sustainable way with consideration for the environment, and at a price that offers exceptional value for money for our customers.
And then we had trade wars....
With the implementation of Section 301 tariffs on imports from China for the protection of US manufacturing (and particularly List 4A, proposed on July 17th, 2018, and implemented on Sept 1st 2019), our shoes were subject to an additional 15% import duty, increasing the taxes to 25% on each pair of shoes we imported.
Despite what you may have heard from a sub-section of media and the President of the USA; import duties are paid by the "importer on record", which is us, at the point that they enter the United States. These duties are not imposed on China, or any other country. The additional costs have been partially absorbed by us (in reduced margins), and also passed onto our customers in an increase in the retail price of our products in Q3 2019. It's an unfortunate stealth tax on our customers, but, yeah, winning.
These additional costs have subsequently reduced the gap between the cost of production in China with that in Mexico and some European countries - which lead to some interesting conversations and a fact-finding mission to Portugal in early 2020.
In August 2020 we implemented a pilot project to manufacture some of our styles in both Portugal and Mexico, which should create some additional options when the political Sabre-rattling gets expensive for our customers, and should help us maintain quality of product with volatile pricing.
These new factories are small, privately owned operations that support local economies and families, and we're delighted to be working with them, hopefully for many years to come!
We also have some plans to improve the purchasing experience for our European customers, and having a production facility within the EU is the first of several steps in making this expansion a reality.
It’s not all about offshore economics!
However… despite manufacturing outside of the USA, there is a benefit domestically! We have been able to grow our little company to the point where we’ve created American jobs, and support our local economy by using local suppliers for our business and shipping supplies. A large proportion of our sales are international, to the extent that we are now a net exporter (our revenue from international sales exceeds our international costs). We are proud to be able to influence the balance of trade positively and help reduce the USA’s trade deficit.