I got the opportunity to go to the New Balance factory, so I treated it as the once in a lifetime chance that it was. The factory is located near Scotland, in a village by the sea called Flimby. In case you do not know, New Balance is a hundred year old sneaker brand founded by an Englishman in America. Today, the Flimby factory is a historical place, as it is the remaining European factory where sneakers are manufactured. New Balance has other factories in the US and so far, only the soles are produced in China, which is much more conscientious than what other brands have been. This is just my experience of going up there, and unfortunately you cannot take photos inside the factory.
For obvious reasons, I was wearing my 554 NBs, which I have to confess, I don’t use too often. Since I turned 20 I don’t travel on my own anymore, my friends or my girlfriend come with me, but this time I was on my own. I cycled to the train station, where I would go to Carlisle by train. To me this kind of things is not so much about what you see at your destination, but also the journey. Going to Northwest England was part of the appeal to me, you have time to read, to think and to see the landscape. As most Londoners, I don’t really go anywhere else in England that often.
The trip was to take more than four hours, which were good to read and gain some perspective about my life. I rarely have a dull moment, with a lot of time being committed to things I pressure myself to read or watch. Sounds crazy, but I have told myself that in this phase I still have to absorb as much as I can, so when I reach 26, I can sit down and create, just going back to my all time favourites. But new things always appear in front of me, so I hustle at whatever I can.
I did not have to sit in the seat that was allocated to me, so at least I faced forward all journey. Who reserves seats anyway? Score! A bit of literature too.
The day was good. Thanks industrialization for fucking up the view.
The English countryside is actually really beautiful and there are animals basically everywhere.
At 9.20am (which for me was like lunch hour), I arrived in Carlisle, a city where I would return later in the evening, from where my bus would leave at night. Twenty minutes later I had another train booked to Flimby, a 40 minute trip explained by a very simple factor.
The factor is called slowness. I am not joking if I say that I would have cycled faster than the train. It only had two carriages and people started talking to me as if Portugal or London were in different planet. They were kind and so where the views. Finally I started to see water, which meant that Flimby was close. Andy was there to pick me up from the station, which just shows how kind they are (or how far away from everything it is).
Understandably, I cannot post pictures from the inside of the factory. I had a talk with Andy, who seems to be some sort of manager of everything and my contact in there. Really kind, and so was Jim, my guide, who has worked at the factory for more than 30 year. He took me to a meeting room where he explained the different components of a sneaker to me. It was great to be given that opportunity by someone who definitely knows what he is talking about, and in a way it kind of surprised me that everyone was so patient and really wanted me to understand things.
In the factory there are a little over 200 people working, and like I said, this is the last sneaker manufacture factory in Europe, so if you have bought New Balances in Europe, they came from this remote location.
What they do here is simple. The soles come from China and all the different textiles arrive in Flimby. There they have the different teams doing everything, from cutting the different materials to the stitching and boxing. Stitching of materials takes most of the job, as there are labels to be sewn, different components of the sneaker to be put together and so on. Jim was really nice to me and explained carefully how everything worked, taking me from stand to stand to see the different processes in action. The workers there are highly regulated, as the sneakers are done in a very high standard, so they have one person responsible to check the work of every 5 people. All together, there are 14 models in production, with all the different colours available. The way it is glued and stitched together is magical.It was definitely an experience that I will never forget. I have to admit I had never seen a large factory inside, so it was revealing to see how boring their job is, doing the same thing all day long and being pressured by the constant targets that appear in the digital screens, with all the productivity levels shown in the corridor to see how the different departments are doing. At least they get free sneakers.
Anyway, after saying goodbye, I decided to walk to the next village to get an idea of the area. It is Northwest England, therefore windy and cold. I walked for about one hour next to the sea and things were a bit desolate. I found a train station and went back to Carlisle, where I spent the afternoon, because the only bus leaving was at 10.30pm.
Carlisle is famous for its castle (which looks average) and its cathedral (not average at all). The cathedral is gigantic and absolutely beautiful. As soon as I got in, I was bombarded with a tape recorder (read, woman who liked to speak a lot) and I listened to her. The history of the place and the decoration were astonishing, and even though I do not have any faith (excluding in human stupidity), I have been inside a lot of churches. This was definitely one of the best ones. Despite the beauty of the town center, Carlisle has been attacked by the same plague as any other English city. They all look the same, with no personality and the same major chain stores. While the people I talked to were extremely kind, kids on the street only seemed to care about their haircuts, which were of a hideous taste.
And so I came back to London with a new pair of New Balance, Made in England, and I can tell you exactly where. Great experience overall.