Clarks Footwear – A British Shoe Label

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Clarks Shoes since 1825

View Clarks Fashion collections on London Fashion Review Blog

Clarks Fashion Label

Clarks Originals Footwear - Ashcott Shoes
Clarks Originals Shoes – Ashcott

History of the Clarks Footwear Brand

The beginnings of one of the largest footwear companies the world has ever seen were humble ones. It all started in 1825 when an industrious James Clark saw that he could make slippers out of the sheepskin off cuts from his brother’s tannery. The Clark brothers named their sheepskin slippers the ‘Brown Petersburg’. The slipper became an instant success, and soon the brothers were selling 1,000 pairs a month. Clarks was born.

The C&J Clark product range gradually expanded to create lines of footwear for every occasion.  As of 2011, there were five footwear lines for adults (K, Nature, Originals, Sport and Unstructured) and six lines for children (Big Grippa, Bootleg, CICA, Daisy Explores, Jack Nano and Mizzy)

In the late 1990’s, Clarks underwent a rejuvenation process with the aim of attracting a wider range of customers. Clarks did this by not only producing their classic styles, such as the desert boots and the Wallabe (now known as the Clarks Originals), but also creating footwear that responded to consumer demands and the latest fashion trends. This new change in direction appeared to boost the fortunes of Clarks and perhaps even inspired the Jamaican dancehall star Vybz Kartel, who has written three songs, apparently in praise of Clarks. Clarks footwear does seem to be particularly popular with musicians; Florence Welch, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Dizzee Rascal and Robbie Williams have all been spotted wearing Clark shoes.

Known for its sturdy, comfy adult footwear and sensible, well-fitting children’s shoes, C&J Clark have come a long way since the ‘Brown Petersberg’. As of 2011, Clarks footwear was sold in over 1000 stores in over 160 countries, and with more stores planned in the future, the brand shows no signs of slowing down.

  • 1825: Clarks was founded in the Somerset town of Street, England, when James Clark was working in his brother’s tannery. Clark noticed that the off cuts from the sheepskin rugs were building up; he realised with a few stitches the off cuts could be made into sheepskin slippers.
  • 1842: The Clarks’ sheepskin slipper, which they had named the ‘Brown Petersburg’, had become a huge success, with the brothers were selling up to 1000 pairs a month. At the time, the brothers, known now as C&J Clark Limited, had no factories so all the work was done by outworkers to meet demand.
  • 1851: C&J Clark Limited, won two awards at the Great Exhibition, an event organised by Prince Albert to showcase the achievements of British industry.
  • 1863: The Clark brothers found their business in trouble, when a recession hitting Britain hard. As lifelong Quakers, they turned to the Quaker community for help and managed to secure a loan on the condition that James’ youngest son, William, was to take over the company. Under William’s leadership, C&J Clark underwent a brand rejuvenation; he modernised the factory process, bringing in the (at the time) state of the art Singer sewing machine. The loan was soon repaid in full.
  • 1883: The Hygienic range is launched, the first ever shoe designed to fit the shape of the foot.
  • 1900’s: A new generation of Clarks were running C&J Clark, and with the female ankle now acceptable to be seen, women became key customers of the brand. A chain of shops called Peter Lord opens; a name that was to remain on the British high street until the 1990s. Additionally, the first ever Clarks foot gauge was developed, an innovation which became standard practice in the measuring of growing feet.
  • 1938: The brand launches its first ever advertising campaign in the press.
  • 1939-1945: During the Second World War, Clarks stepped in to help with the war effort and their main factory was used to make torpedoes. To deal with the shortages in materials that the war brought, Clarks developed a unique, hinged wooden sole, so they could carry on supplying shoes to fill demands from their customers.
  • Late 1940s: C&J Clark underwent a period of rapid growth when the workforce in the town of Street was too small to meet demands. The brand opens 15 new factories in neighbouring towns and cities. The expansion continues with the opening of new stores.
  • 1950: Clarks Originals is introduced for the first time.
  • 1957: The first Clarks’ flagship store opens on London’s Regent Street.
  • 1978: Clarks acquires the US shoe manufacturing and retail business, Hanover.
  • 1979: The brand acquires another US-based shoe manufacturing and retail business, Bostonian.
  • 1981: The brand acquires British shoe manufacturer and retail business K Shoes Ltd.
  • 1996: Clarks hires its first Chief Executive Officer, Tim Parker, who oversaw a brand restructuring operation. The brand began focusing on increasing its responsiveness to shifting consumer demands and fashion trends.
  • 2001: Clarks had their eye on expansion in Germany, paying £23 million to acquire children’s shoe specialist Elefanten from industrial conglomerate Freudenberg.
  • 2002: Tim Parker leaves the company, with Peter Bollinger replacing him at the helm.
  • 2005: Changes in global trade unfortunately meant that the brand could no longer compete with rival brands while continuing to manufacture in the UK. The brand had no choice but to close the factory doors in the UK and move the entire production operation overseas.
  • 2010: Melissa Porter replaces Peter Bollinger as Chief Executive.

Clarks Originals Footwear - Wallabee Shoes
Clarks Originals Shoes – Wallabee

Clarks Originals

The Clarks Originals is a footwear range of classic and timeless styles of shoe that champion authenticity, simplicity and comfort. Each style is made of natural materials and has the perfect combination of fashion and functionality. The range was first introduced in 1950 with the launch of the Desert Boot and further iconic styles were to follow. The 1960s saw the introduction of the Wallabee, the 1970s the Desert Trek and the 1980s the Lugger. The Clarks Originals range collaborates with a wide range of brands and institutions to create unique capsule collections. Some recent collaboration include:

  • Strummerville (2011): The Clark Originals Desert Boot, Natalie, and Wallabee are given musical makeover, in deep black nubuck with a full colour print of a festival crowd. And for every pair of ‘The Festival Collection’ sold, Clarks Originals donated £2 to The Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music. The foundation was set up by those close to Joe Strummer the year after his death in 2003 as a charity to offer support, resources and performance opportunities to artists that don’t usually have access to them. Strummerville and Clarks Original’s hosted five ‘pop-up’ shows at the Clark’s store in London’s Regent Street, honouring their collaboration.
  • Laura Ashley (2011): Clarks Originals teamed up with Laura Ashley, using a feminine floral print in powder blue and rosehip pink, from the Laura Ashley archives. The print was used to give a fresh look to the women’s Desert Boot, Natalie, and new styles Crystal Edge and Crystal Sun.
  • Millerain (2011): Based in Rochdale, Lancashire, British Millerain has been manufacturing high performance materials since 1880. Millerain are known for their waxy leathers and oilskins, Clarks used a rich brown shade of their waxed leather, and added buttercup yellow laces and stitching, for a limited edition men’s Desert Boot, Natalie and Wallabee.

 

Clarks Originals x Laura Ashley Dessert Boot Collaboration Shoe
Clarks Originals x Laura Ashley Collaboration

Clarks Originals x Millerain Footwear Collaboration
Clarks Originals x Millerain Collaboration

Clarks Originals x Strummerville Collaboration Shoe
Clarks Originals x Strummerville Collaboration

Future of Clarks

Throughout C&J Clark’s extensive history, there have been many rumours of the brand going public. However, Clarks have continually issued statements saying that there are no plans for the company to go public. As of 2011 the majority of the company was still in the hands of the Clark family, which owns 81% of the shares. The remaining 19% of shares is owned by employees of the brand and institutions.

The company claims, to be the number one shoe brand in the UK, and the fourth largest footwear company on the planet. With continued growth in North America, Europe and the Far East, the brand also claims to be the biggest supplier of casual footwear in the world, selling 50 million pairs of shoes annually. Sales and profits would seem to support this claim. In the 12 months to January 2010, the company reported sales of £1,174 million and profits of £125 million.

An announcement in Spring 2011 revealed that Clarks was to expand into India for the first time in a joint venture with leading Indian retailer Future Group with plans of 100 stores throughout India over the next 5 years. This shows that the international brand expansion of Clarks is still in full swing, so expect plans of even more retail outlets throughout the world in the near future.

Visit the official Clarks website here.

If you like the look of Clarks, check out other British labels Loake and Church’s

Clarks Originals Footwear - Yarra Dessert Women's Shoes
Clarks Originals Shoes – Yarra Dessert

Comments 3

  1. neil alexander

    9Face Book)
    Clarks shoes.
    Anyone else have or know of the problems with damp to wet serfaces with their shoes.????? Both myself & youngest son have.
    They say that their lab. ” Couldn’t find any fault with them ” (Mine.) but wouldn’t supply a lab. read out & wouldn’t say that they had tested them on wet or damp surfaces.

    Some of the shoes are lethal on concrete or metal tops. Penny has to warn me if that is the state of the road or pavement.

    Clark’s costomer care sevice was OK they gave me £35 finally. but their customer concern/empathy is non existance.
    Ms Malissa Porter is the International representative. at customerreplies@clarks.com

  2. sofi granger

    Clarks provide the best quality shoes out there and normaly will stick to their shoes. I think the fact that both shoes and Trainers have an air cushion like effect on them. It feels like your walking on air.

  3. Tyrone Bland

    Can I still purchase Clarks Original x Millerains that is in the picture above? i had a pair 30 years ago and I always loved them.

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