“What word could I invent that represented Maine for me?” muses Kyle Rancourt, the founder of the new cycling and outdoors brand Pinebury, and scion of the state’s first family of footwear—the Rancourts.
“I came across the suffix -bury, it’s Olde English and it means “a fortified place”—the first known usage was “Canterbury.” Maine is the pine tree state, so to me Pinebury means land of pines, my imagined name for Maine.”
If you know Kyle Rancourt and his fixation on quality, heritage, and place, it’s through Rancourt and Co., the Lewiston, Maine-based shoe company that’s been in his family since the late 60s. For decades, the Rancourts have made the kind of shoes you’d equate with Maine–preppy loafers and boat shoes, and boots that will see you through a season or two in Acadia National Park. For a stretch of time, the family factory made shoes for the venerable Allen Edmonds brand, and in 2009, Kyle and his father revitalized the brand under their own name.
They read the market just right, riding the #menswear wave of the early aughts to both blogosphere acclaim and IRL success. So why is Kyle, who is retaining a leadership role at Rancourt and Co, shifting attention from shell cordovan to a personal passion like cycling?
“Pinebury has been a dream for a while now. I wanted to start a brand that makes and celebrates the things that I believed in, and that I actually wanted to wear aesthetically,” he says.
Rancourt has been an avid cyclist for much of his life, but he found himself bumping up against a familiar problem for those who can’t divorce a garment’s aesthetics from its production.
“I found myself buying cycling apparel from Italian or European brands because I liked the look but sometimes it was made in China and Vietnam. And there are so few options for American-made cycling brands and the style of those brands doesn’t really match with my own personal style.”
Because Rancourt had set his sights on a triple bullseye of local manufacturing, performance, and aesthetics, he basically had to start his own cycling brand. As he started following the trail of sustainable performance fabric that could be made in the US, he found the answer on the other side of the planet.
“My search for the right way to make the cycling gear I wanted to wear, I found this company out of New Zealand called The Merino Company. They make NuYarn, this really amazing merino yarn that when knit into fabric has so many advantages over synthetics—its fast-drying, superlight, keeps you cool, wicks away sweat. Once I discovered it, I was like, ‘We’re going hard on merino.’”
NuYarn is essentially performance wool. And the Merino Company has developed a technique for spinning merino yarn that locks in the cooling, wicking, and durability that traditional spinning leaves out. With NuYarn, it’s more like being a sheep (who basically do fine in all seasons) than wearing a sweater.
In a sense, landing the materials and design was the hard part. American manufacturing is already in Rancourt’s blood, though it must be said that Maine’s salad days as a major hub for shoe production are largely in the rearview. The state’s most famous shoes–LL Bean’s Bean Boots–are still made in Maine, but the majority of Bean’s other footwear is made overseas. It’s only the smaller, boutique brands like Rancourt, Quoddy, and Easy Moc that have kept the tradition alive.
“I’ve had countless people with lots of experience tell me you can’t scale a clothing business and make things in the US,” Rancourt says. “And the truth is, there really aren’t any models I’m aware of doing what I want to do. I feel like I’m inventing this model and creating my own path.”
Jacob Hurwitz, founder of the brand American Trench, is a brother in philosophical arms, and he’s excited to sell Pinebury in the American Trench online shop and in its flagship brick and mortar locale in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which opens this September.
“Pinebury is very attuned to perform exceedingly well for biking, and for running too, but it doesn’t look like that’s the only thing you can do in it,” Hurwtiz says. “A lot of activewear looks like the only thing you can use it for is to be an aggressive leader in the sport and I don’t want that.”
Hurwitz should know; he’s been wearing the Pinebury merino tee on his bike rides to work and raved to me that he’s not drenched in sweat when he arrives. I’m pleased to report the same. Pinebury’s Portland short sleeve performance tee and Signature socks were more than up to the task of several sets of tennis and a weekend of camping. Not only did the tee wick moisture on the court, but it handled washing and line drying admirably.
Pinebury launched online in 2022, and by summer 2023 boasts sharp, minimalist cycling jerseys and tees in NuYarn merino wool as well as socks and arm warmers. and though the genesis of the brand is in cycling—see the long- and short-sleeved jerseys, arm warmers, and merino socks made in North Carolina by DeFeet—Rancourt’s ambitions are larger.
“I wanted to reflect the diversity of interests I embody. I’m a cyclist but also a skier and outdoorsman and there’s nothing outdoors that I don’t enjoy or don’t want to try.”
So now, the obvious question—When will we see a Rancourt and Co x Pinebury collab?
(It’s not an entirely facetious question. Rancourt has collabed with brands like Taylor Stitch, David Coggins, and Todd Snyder. In summer 2024, they’ll manufacture the shoes Ralph Laren is designing for the US Olympic team.)
“That would be a challenge,” he laughs, “but I think we could do it. We’ve never done anything like that at Rancourt,” he says, then pauses thoughtfully, “but we could.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Pinebury
Where do I get Pinebury?
Why does Pinebury’s NuYarn wool perform better than my merino sweater from J. Crew?
Does anybody else in the outdoors would use NuYarn?
Tell me more about those Rancourt collabs?