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Meet Your Makers – Marching Footwear Made in the USA: Gateway Shoes LLC

Mike Lawson • • August 14, 2015

Gateway Shoes has been manufacturing footwear in Missouri for over 30 years. The company started making children’s shoes for the large retailers in the ‘80s and ‘90s. They eventually added men’s and women’s styles to their product line as well as expanding their production capabilities to include bowling shoes, tap dance shoes, and sandals. Through the years, Gateway has evolved with the world economy and expanded its reach and depth into many different industries while utilizing their deep knowledge of shoemaking.

 
There are only a few ways to attach a sole to the bottom of a shoe and Gateway has become an expert in the most cost efficient and reliable method – direct attach. Utilizing old world technology based on German engineering and Italian shoemaking principles, Gateway has been able to produce shoes for the many industries we service at a great cost savings. 
 
The process of making a shoe is much more complex than most people imagine.
It has been said that with all the different materials and sizes of shoes, it is more complicated to properly make a pair of shoes than it is to build an airplane.  The thought being that on an airplane, there are bolts and metal and screws and wires that all have to fit just right. If it does not fit, the plane cannot be built. But in shoemaking, some materials stretch one way, some the other, while others could stretch both ways. When you add those variables to over 20 different sizes of single style, there is a very good probability that the shoe will not “fit” correctly or not appear aesthetically pleasing.
 

The Performer by Gateway Shoes. It has been said that it is more complicated to properly make a pair of shoes than it is to build an airplane.

The Process of Making a Shoe
Shoes begin with upper materials. These can be leather, textiles, or manmade materials.  Based on the patterns that have been developed, the materials are cut with dies (heavy duty cookie cutters). 

 

 

 

Shown here is the vamp (front portion) of the shoe being cut on a 20 ton press with steel, cookie cutter-style dies. There is a different die for every size to ensure good fit and clean appearance.

There is the vamp (the front of the shoe), the quarters (the back of the shoe, both inside and outside), tongue, and any other part of the shoe that might need reinforcement or decoration. The more parts there are on the upper, the more pieces need to be cut. From there the materials are prepared to be sewn.  This might involve laminating two pieces together for sturdiness, putting a line on it to show the sewers where to stitch, or applying foam for comfort. This is also the time that the size and other markings are put in the shoe.
 

 

Next comes the sewing. 
There are over 15 different operations that happen on a shoe before it can have a sole put on it. Here reinforcement is being sewn onto the bottom of the eyelets to make the shoe more durable.]

For a typical band or formal shoe, there are 15 different operations that happen. And most of them have to be done in a specific order so the parts are prepared for the next operation.  For example, the backseam of the shoe must be sewn together and the counter (heel reinforcement) sewn in before the collar (ankle padding) is sewn on. The eyestay (reinforcement and decorative treatment around the eyelets) must be sewn together, before the eyelets are put in.  All of these parts and how they fit together change for every single size as well. 
 

Eyelets are automatically put into the shoe with a specialized machine that lines them up straight, punches the hole, inserts the metal, and then crimps the metal to hold onto the materials.

Gateway has a proprietary tracking system for each and every shoe that goes through the factory. This system not only keeps the correct parts with the correct size, it also enables us to track labor costs and material usage by each type of shoe and each size. 
 
Once the uppers are sewn together, they look more like a visor than a shoe.  

 

 

 

The uppers look more like a sun visor when they are sewn. They are ready to have the soles attached from here.

The uppers need to be pulled onto the foot form, or lasted, so they can take the shape of the shoe. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Every style and size has a different last, or foot form, that the materials are stretched onto. Gateway specializes in string lasting, which is the most reliable and economical.

 

This is an art form and takes years of practice to do well. The challenge is to get the wrinkles around the toe and heel to pull under the bottom of the shoe. If it is not done properly, or the sewing is imperfect, the shoe will have wrinkles on the side or get lasted lopsided. Gateway uses a precision method called string-lasting to achieve a perfect shoe each time. The American craftsmen and women who do this process are very proud of every shoe that they make. 
 
Finally the sole gets attached to the shoe.  Gateway operates several rotary (round) specialty, footwear injection molding machines.  The tooling, or molds, that create the sole are precisely matched to the last for each size.
 

each size and style has it’s own, high grade, hand tooled aluminum molds to make the outsole. These are precisely matched to the corresponding last using a proprietary fitting process.

Tolerances are measured in thousandths of an inch to ensure a good bonding of the upper to the sole.  The machine then injects molten polymers at high temperatures and under pressure. The temperature of the proprietary sole formulation runs in excess of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The soles are formed at the same time they are attached to the upper creating a permanent and melted bond. Technically, the bond on the Gateway Performer and Performer Plus shoes are waterproof. As the machines cycles around, a pair of shoes gets produced every 1.2 minutes. Gateway has made over 5 million pairs of shoes using this reliable and efficient process.
 
Gateway has made over 5 million pairs of shoes using the direct-attached soling process. It is the most efficient way to attach a sole onto a pair of shoes.

Gateway has made over 5 million pairs of shoes using the direct-attached soling process. It is the most efficient way to attach a sole onto a pair of shoes.

 

The shoes are then inspected and trimmed. They get our exclusive comfort cushion foam insole permanently glued into the insole. They are then laced, washed, buffed, wrapped in tissue, and boxed.

 

 

 

The computer-tracked warehouse has computerized barcodes on each carton and they are stacked by style, color, width, and size for easy selection by the packing department. In all, there are over 40 different jobs associated with assembling each and every pair of shoes. It is very labor intensive, which is why the majority of shoes purchased in the USA are made in low-cost labor countries like China. 

Gateway Shoes use recycled, post-industrial materials in several parts of their shoes and packaging.

 

Made in the USA 
All of Gateway sales come from our extensive database marketing efforts and factory direct pricing models. Long before the Internet became the retail marketplace it is today, Gateway anticipated the impact and started its website and online direct sales. Through emails, Facebook, direct mail, and trade show attendance, Gateway is able to extend the best pricing and quality to the entire band and orchestra community through factory-direct purchasing. While the Performer and Performer Plus marching shoes are our best selling items, we also have an extensive line of formalwear shoes in all colors for all occasions. We count barbershop choruses, drum corps, professional musicians, and community bands as loyal customers. We ship all over the USA and the world from our centrally located facility in Missouri. 
 
Gateway is conscience of the world we live in. We use post-industrial, recycled content in many of our materials and packaging. By manufacturing the shoes in the USA, we have the lowest carbon footprint compared to the importers we compete with. We support the  local public schools, parades, and community organizations in the small rural town where the production facility resides. And we are founding sponsors of the St. Louis Strollathon benefitting the International Rett Syndrome Foundation (rettsyndrome.org). 
 
Gateway is very proud of our ability to keep American workers employed through finding niche industries like performance footwear for bands and orchestras. We continue to innovate our shoes and the process for making them through the use of computerized sewing, proprietary upgrading of the lasting machine mechanical and control systems, and finding the best sources for raw materials from all over the world.  With the support of the thousands of customers around the USA and the world, Gateway looks forward to continuing the art of shoemaking in the USA.
 
Gateway is very proud of our ability to keep American workers employed and looks forward to continuing the art of shoemaking in the USA.)
 
For more information, visit gatewayshoes.com

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