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The announcement in the last few days that the UK shoemaker Clarks will restart making its iconic desert boot at its headquarters located in the town of Street, Somerset, is a big issue by any definition. In rough terms, Clarks sell about 50 million pairs of shoes around the world each year so 300,000 pairs of desert boots is not a lot; but it is a significant production and does need a proper infrastructure putting into place. Buyers will be queuing up for these shoes, and I will be at the head of the queue.
As prices kept rising in China over the last decade, with pressure to reduce lead times for new products along with growing consumer expectations of a more reactive situation at retail, we could see that supply chains would be thought through anew rather than just skip from China to cheaper countries, some of which, such as Bangladesh because of the dysfunctional nature of the state/industry relationship have buyers uncertain about the treatment of both the environment and the workforce. Clarks still sources mostly in Asia with Vietnam, China, India and Cambodia topping the list and no one is expecting this to be upturned any time soon, but the new move is suggestive of a big cultural shift inside the business being inspired by the new CEO Mike Shearwood.
He had already indicated that he wanted a big shift in lead times, and with further units planned throughout the world this should help a move to a time zone manufacturing structure.
What is perhaps more important is that this makes Clarks a shoemaker once again. I remember lengthy discussions back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as to whether Clarks was fundamentally a retailer or a shoemaker. The problem with being a retailer is that it makes you a follower, while since it was founded in 1825 Clarks has been a shoe industry leader. The Desert Boot is typical, and legendary, example.
After it closed its factories, some of its best “shoe dogs” stayed on to monitor the productions being made for them around the world, but they have now all retired. To stay innovative, in the traditional Clarks way, making shoes in Street once again and developing more of its Clarks shoe dogs by doing so is vital.
It may only be 80 jobs, but is an enormous statement of intent to all its stakeholders. A great foot forward.
5th July 2017
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