A few weeks ago the Californian sneaker brand unveiled its first sneaker model assembled in Los Angeles, the Louie trainer, in the KX Lab, the very first technologically advanced knitting factory in Los Angeles. Its co-founder, Joshua Katz, opened the doors to the factory.
Located in Chinatown, in a former warehouse made up of three buildings, formerly a tyre retreading plant, the KX Lab opened its doors a few months ago. An ultra-modern factory of 36,000 square feet, divided into a research and development section and a production area, which looks like a futuristic ship and where the 40 employees work to music.
After the showroom area, KX Lab unveiled a series of Shima Seiki automated knitting machines, robot arms, and other robots capable of transporting hundreds of kilos of yarn spools, relieving employees’ backs. There were also robotized systems for steaming and ironing, machines dedicated to laser cutting, others to the assembly of shoe parts or the recycling of material scraps, and an area dedicated to quality control. At the back was a garden in the place of an old parking lot where employees can enjoy their lunch and watch turtles and fish living happily in their pound.
Joshua Katz opened KX Lab in partnership with several private investors. He is the former global marketing director for Levi’s Strauss and Quicksilver, before which he was the creative director for Kor Group and a hotel development specialist for Proper, Avalon and June. He is also the founder of the Dad Grass cannabis brand.
“The idea of KX Lab is to bring the best of what is done in Asia, in terms of technology, and to find the best solutions to produce shoes and apparel parts with minimal waste and physical labor,” explains Katz. “Our idea here is to show that it is possible to work differently, locally and transparently, to offer brands a more collaborative approach that allows them to stay closer to the sampling, development and overall design process. The production of sneakers in Asia is not going to stop tomorrow, but now with KX Lab it is possible to reduce the carbon emissions linked to global transport and thus avoid inconsistencies,” adds Katz.
An approach that recently appealed to sneaker brand Clae, which called on KX Lab to produce, in part, its latest sneaker model, the Louie. The very first shoe to be assembled in California where the entire upper knit part was created in KX Lab, while the outsoles, laces and insoles were made by factories in Vietnam.
“Partnering with KX Lab gives us a new way to create sustainable sneakers by allowing us to design, develop and manufacture products under one roof,” says Clae designer Adam Contreras. The limited edition Louie was designed with comfort, sustainability and community in mind. Through this launch, we wanted to mark our willingness to explore new materials and to be more local in our approach to production. The minimalist Louie sneaker is lightweight and is made from sustainable, vegan knitted materials, while its upper part is made from recycled polyester yarn.”
While the brand continues to produce the majority of its shoes in Vietnam, its main production area, “the launch of the Louie sneaker follows a general movement towards eco-sustainibility,” continues Contreras. “After the release of sneakers made from cactus fiber, we will soon continue with apple fiber, and we are thinking about knitted shoes.”
The costs of production of the Louie sneaker has nevertheless led to a slight price increase to $180 compared to $160-170 for the brand’s other sneakers. “Price wise, consumers are obviously used to buying very cheap products,” comments Katz. “But in reality, not everything should be cheap. The question is: what is the compromise and who should be making it? At KX Lab, we create a better understanding of production, a new transparency, we build a social contract between the designer and buyer. No one really has an answer yet, but it’s part of the questions we’re always asking ourselves.”
In 2021, 88% of the global footwear production was concentrated in Asia, according to Statista sources.
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