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.