Guest post by Steffanie Parkes
Sat waiting for Crockett and Jones’s Sales Director Peter Reed, I glanced around the same showroom where the Jones family received HRH Prince Charles just three months before. Surrounded by rails that homed almost every style and colour of shoe that Crockett and Jones have ever made, the antique feel of the factory suggested it was much the same as it was fifty years ago.
Still based in their original factory and producing all of their Goodyear Welted shoes from Northampton, Crockett and Jones have been producing quality shoes since 1879 and are now in their fifth generation of being a family owned business. With shops in London, Birmingham, Paris, New York and Brussels the company are not only at home on Jermyn Street but are worldwide.
As Sales director it is Peter Reed’s job is to liaise with customers and buyers in the UK, Ireland, Scotland and the Far East including Japan. Having worked for Crockett and Jones for 13 years there is very little he doesn’t know about the production of Crockett and Jones’s Goodyear Welted Shoes and why they’re coveted by consumers worldwide. He says, “The strength of Crockett and Jones is that the world wants quality merchandise. One of the reasons that HRH Prince Charles visited this year was our heritage connection. The fact that we still make shoes in absolutely the proper way and we’re still trying to recruit young people to teach them skills reflects this. When I started in the shoe industry, there were about 150 factories in this area all predominantly making men’s shoes. Now there’s about a dozen left and generally, those that are left are the ones that maintain very high standards and high quality.”
There are over 200 processes that go into making Crockett and Jones’s Goodyear Welted shoes many of which require the skills of experienced clickers and machinists. Peter describes why Goodyear Welted shoes are different to others found on the high street. He says, “Generally I would say that the shoes that you wear are cemented, that means that the shoes are just glued together. Whereas Goodyear Welted shoes go through a rather complicated process where by the soles are stitched to a welt, which has been stitched onto the uppers. It’s a very traditional way and it’s also the best quality way in terms of the shoes quality, and for the shoes lasting, their durability, and the repairability of the shoes.” For extra comfort a layer of cork is also used in between the welt and the upper of the shoes, this helps the foot to mould to the shoe more effectively.
It’s not only production that makes shoes desirable to the consumer; shoes must also have the right style and fit. In order to create the right balance it is crucial that new designs are tested before being sent into production. One of the most important parts of a shoes design is that it has a well structured ‘last’, this is the mould that gives the shoe its shape and helps to guide workers.
With most of their shoes now being sold to export, Crockett and Jones have seen demand for their shoes increase. Once making 1,700 pairs of shoes a week, the factory must now produce 3,000 a week to keep up with orders. Peter explains that one limitation to the company’s growth is a lack of young talent in the industry. He says, “We have to train people and we’re doing our best to do that. It’s not easy to get young people to work in a shoe factory but we’re still managing to increase our production.”
Although Crockett and Jones produce both women’s and men’s shoes Peter does not think that the company will focus on the production of women’s shoes. He says, “As far as women’s shoes are concerned, we probably make 98% men’s shoes and 2% women’s shoes. There is certainly a demand for women’s shoes of this type, but when we can’t fully cater for the demand we have for men’s shoes it doesn’t seem workable to spend money on machinery to develop production we cannot sustain. Also, the fickle finger of fashion is more a part of the demand of women’s shoes. It wouldn’t be sensible for us to pursue women’s shoes and invest more equipment to make ladies shoes when we can’t make enough for the current market.”
Buying a pair of Crockett and Jones shoes comes with a fair expectation, typically most of Crockett and Jones’s shoes retail at £300 or above and the factory offers a repair service for £120 per pair of shoes. However, with demand out weighing the production capabilities of their historical factory it’s sure to be an investment for anybody looking for their next pair of shoes.