Boots manufactured by Kamik in Littleton. Photo by Judi Currie.
With a history of boot-making dating back to the 1800s and forward-thinking environmental strategies, Kamik has one boot in the past and one firmly in the future.
Kamik’s parent company, Genfoot, has 400 employees and more than a century of manufacturing history. Headquartered in Montreal, the company has a plant in Ontario and in June celebrated 25 years of manufacturing in Littleton.
Company president Steve Cook is the grandson of founder William Cook and, along with his brothers and sister, is part of the third generation at the helm of a business that lists its core values as family, reliability and sustainability.
“We run as a family company and make decisions from the heart,” Cook says. “Hence we have many people who have been with us many years. Every year at Christmas we give away five to seven watches for people who have been with us for 25 years.”
Cook says his father’s foresight and vision brought the company to NH. “During the oil crisis in 1973, when oil went from $3 to $12 a barrel, the price of rubber went through the roof,” Cook says. “He brought the manufacturing back to North America.” He says his father saw the coming of NAFTA and quickly moved to open a plant in the United States that wasn’t too far from Montreal.
The company hired an American consultant to select the best location for the U.S. plant, who recommended Lewiston, Maine. Joseph Bichai, vice president of manufacturing, says company officials took a tour of Lewiston and talked to some business people, and one said if he had it to do all over again he’d have gone to Littleton.
Joseph Bichai, vice president of manufacturing. Photo by Judi Currie.
“We had no GPS in those days, so we had find a store and buy a real map. We drove to Littleton, and we went up and down the Main Street three times. We were amazed by the cleanliness and the friendliness of the town,” Bichai says. “Today we have produced over 23 million pairs of American-made footwear, being done in the most sustainable way possible.”
Kamik has since added a second facility in Littleton, and Bichai says the company is able to toggle workers between the two sites. On a tour of the factory floor, Bichai explains that they produce by season and the injection molds are now being used to make rain boots and hunting boots.
“We follow the just-in-time manufacturing model, only producing product to fill to orders. Our factories are lean and there’s no assembly line,” Bichai says. “We use modular manufacturing. Each stitcher assembles the boot from A to Z, and when they close the box the next person who opens it is the consumer.”
Bichai says one molding machine and three line workers can turn out 800 pairs of boots per shift. The boots are 100 percent recyclable, as the felt is made from recycled water bottles. Kamik even built a special oven designed to separate the boot from the felt so if a mistake occurs, all the materials can be saved and reused. “Sustainability is part of our DNA,” Bichai says. “Our employees know they are doing a green product, and they enjoy what they’re doing.”
Both Cook and Bichai say that manufacturing in North America is important to the company and that employees are the key to Kamik’s success. Bichai says the company’s innovations and sustainable methods are critical to lowering production costs. “Everybody else fled to find a place where labor is cheaper,” Bichai says. “Our labor is our biggest asset: We train them, we take them even without experience, spend a lot of time and money on them, and they stay with us forever.”
For more information, visit Kamik.com.