Monday, 2 May 2011

Shoes - Northampton vs Guangzhou

Not even three years ago, there were only some half dozen shoemakers in the UK worth looking at. The most expensive, the 'premium', brands were Church and Loake, with a reputation driven purely by word of mouth and discreet product placement in upscale print media. The also-rans were Alfred Sargent, Trickers and Grenson - superb English-made footwear, but little known. For thirty years I've never been without a pair of  zug-grain veldtshoen, black calfskin Oxfords, or tan Gibsons. Indeed, if a chap only owned three pairs of shoes, these would be them. And because each pair can be rebuilt several times, they tend to last for fifteen years or more, even with hard wear. 
The Northampton shoemakers went through something of a business crisis. Cheap, disposable, Chinese-made shoes dominated the market, the young were eschewing shoes in favour of 'trainers' and costs were spiralling ever upward. Their various reactions are interesting. Church and Loake have both gone mass-market; you can now pick up a pair of Loake's for £99. For all I know they're now made in China and feature in the 'Argos' catalogue. Grenson have sought to create a fashion niche - I hope they succeed, for there's nothing in their range I'd now be content to buy. Trickers have stayed pretty much as they were with a reduced range (now only Shipton and Heneage do the slippers), but Alfred Sargent, once the most affordable of the bunch, has bravely priced its range at premium prices - for premium Northampton craftsmanship. Prices have risen by around £100 or 40% in three years. Still excellent value against some glued-up Chinese crud from the High Street, but still. 


And of course there's the Englishman's bootmakers - William Lennon. Excellent value, and a superb range of boots. Paradoxically, the saving of the old Northampton craftsmen could well be the hunger of the new Chinese middle class for premium Western brands; the last thing they want to wear is Chinese-made shoes. Once Alfred Sargent, Trickers and the rest open branches in Shenzhen their future, I think, is secure.  

14 comments:

JohnofEnfield said...

Why is WOT classifying this site as "unsafe"?

Raedwald said...

WOT is a scam 'Trust' marketing tool - I suspect you have to pay them to get a 'good' rating. I've reported them to 'Blogger' and would encourage everyone else to do the same. It's a con.

Anonymous said...

Ironic but true. I once had a tour of Clarkes in Somerset. The ERP process into the Chinese manufacturing plants and subsequent distribution services to support the JIT for the stores was indeed impressive - but sad. The tour included the Clarkes Museum - as I said, how ironic.

Coney Island

Anonymous said...

If i were a rich man!
http://www.manufactum.com/Produkt/0/1447854/Dinkelacker-lace-up-ankle-boot.html

Joseph Takagi said...

Yup. Loake are £95 on Debenhams' website, and made in India now.

There's also Barker in Earls Barton.

Anonymous said...

The boot is on the other foot...

Sorry...

The Englishman said...

The problem with buying proper boots is that they last too long - I have ten pairs of leather boots all in good condition but I want to buy more, but even I can't justify it.

BrianSJ said...

No mention of Cheaney?

Raedwald said...

Yes Cheaney of course; I knew I'd forgotten one!

formertory said...

Isn't globalisation marvellous? The Brits who want cheap crap get it, the Chinese who want the best get it, the Brit-but-made-in-India lower-premium-end brands make more money because their costs are down but the brand still supports premium prices...... win, win, win........

Elby the Beserk said...

RM Williams drovers' boots for this boy. Fit like a kid glove from the moment you put them on and they last for ever. They even do a dress pair, in patent leather. If that's your bag...

Elby the Beserk said...

http://www.rmwilliams.com.au/summer2011catalogue/

Page 78 will find the boots.

James Aird said...

Wholeheartedly agree with the thrust of this post. Although I've been wearing Loakes shoes for a long time, I didn't know where in GB they were made. On a visit to family in Corby (Little Scotland) a few years back, the fact that Northants was the centre of the British shoe-making industry was brought to my attention. Since then I have invested in eight wonderful pairs of shoes, mainly Church - monk style, brogues and Chelsea boots, as well as the accompanying shoe trees, and my feet and myself haven't looked back. Like 'Englishman' I'm having trouble justifying buying more as the ones I have are good for twenty years. Still, I have my eye on a few more pairs, and I'll find some excuse to add to my collection! One thing is sure, no more Chinese rubbish for me.

Anonymous said...

At my last count - Trickers (heavy), Barkers, Church (now Italian owned), John Lobb (of course, not the London boot maker now, but nonetheless), Cheaney, Loakes, Crockett and Jones (first class), Alfred Sargent (now incorporates Regent) Grenson, Edward Green (often cited as the best, an opinion I don't share), Jeffrey West. If only Doc Martens would move back to Wollasten.Haynes and Cann have been let down by the government, who I think chose a US manufacturer for the next army order, and forced to close. An utterly shameful decision.