Shane C Kurup
Buy less, buy better is a mantra that is bandied around a lot in style columns these days, but for brands, which have always traded in the concept longevity, this ideal is second nature. Crockett & Jones, the world’s leading manufacturer of handmade shoes in the cordwaining capital of Northampton, has long been familiar with this refrain.
While many traditional shoemakers have jumped on the ever-burgeoning trainer bandwagon, Crockett & Jones has stuck to its guns – making traditional, solid footwear designed to go the distance. ‘By continuing to produce high quality, handmade footwear, we are setting ourselves apart just by doing what we do best; developing excellent collections of Goodyear-welted shoes and boots,’ explains James Fox, marketing director of Crockett & Jones.
The Goodyear welting technique – developed in 1869 and used throughout Crockett & Jones’ offering – requires a skilled hand to build into a shoe, but its benefits are well documented. Not only is it far hardier than lower-grade glued soles, it means the shoe can be resoled multiple times, so your perfectly seasoned footwear doesn’t need to be condemned to the rubbish heap at the first sign of a hole.
Many leading footwear brands use Goodyear welts, but Crockett & Jones offers a comprehensive in-house repair and maintenance service to keep your footwear just as it should be. Shoes that arrive at its repair department are first stripped down by hand before joining the main production line where they are given the same attention from craftspeople as a box-fresh pair of shoes. ‘All footwear that comes in for repair is worked on by the same skilled hands as new shoes and boots. As part of this process, every pair receives a brand new welt as standard,’ explains Fox. ‘This differs from local cobblers, who often reuse an old welt, which isn’t going to last as long.’ In addition, every pair that comes in for a tune-up is repaired on their original lasts to maintain their shape – a practice the brand is able to employ due to its extensive last store, which has archived over 40,000 examples since the Edwardian period.
The family-owned firm was founded by brothers-in-law, James Crockett and Charles Jones with a £100 loan in 1879 and today has the patronage of HRH Prince Charles – a discerning dresser who is known for wearing the same Goodyear-welted shoes for decades. Despite this blue blood pedigree and a clear penchant for tradition, the brand isn’t reticent about having one foot in the future. In fact, its heritage and sound knowledge of the craft are chief tools to improve on what’s come before.
‘We are always reacting to customer requests, buying habits and needs. Innovating materials is a big part of our work – all our footwear should have functionality with a contemporary, classic soul,’ says Fox.
Its slate suede Coniston boot – fresh off the production line – is a case in point. For all intents and purposes, a suede boot for winter might seem about as useful as a chocolate teapot, but the brand side-stepped the issue by applying a specialist tanning treatment to make it water repellent, while a Dainite rubber sole and storm welt also enhance performance in inclement weather. ‘The new material came about from many conversations around the desire for a lighter colour suede, that would also be practical to wear. When our partners at our suede tannery visited the factory last year, we got to work and the slate suede was what we landed on,’ explains Fox.
Also forging a path for progressive design is the third Black Editions collection, which incorporates an eclectic mix off scuff-resistant Scotch Grain leather and Rough Out suede – an innovative material that was first developed by an English tannery for Ralph Lauren in the ’80s and is waxed to bolster its resistance to rainwater. Chunky cleated soles – featured on all styles in the line – add contemporary clout and tip a brim to the forward-thinking nature of the nation that inspired it. ‘The Black Editions is a continuation of a concept that came about after a brand trip to Japan. Oversized, bold shoes and boots in a variety of leathers seemed a fitting tribute and the third rendition is possibly the most inventive to date’, says Fox.
The result of the Crockett & Jones efforts for AW21 is hardy, well-executed footwear that is tough enough for an amble in the country but also smart enough for town. And like everything that comes out of its Northampton workrooms, you know it’s built to last the long walk.