Hunter – Royal-endorsed all-weather footwear
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Introduction to the Hunter Brand
Since the brand’s inception in 1856 as a rubber boots company, Hunter has contributed to two war efforts, received two Royal Warrants and almost faced collapse. Yet Hunter has expanded from a small Scottish company with a predominantly British clientele, to being a global brand with a range of products which highlight the proud heritage of the company while also reflecting modern trends in style and fashion. The brand has grown into something truly versatile – there’s a range of boots to suit the needs of all kinds of Wellington wearers all over the world.
Unsurprisingly, a brand which has sailed through three centuries is not without its hiccups. In 2006, the brand was forced into administration due to cash flow problems. In spite of a reported turnover of over £5m, accountants from administrators, KPMG said the firm suffered from high manufacturing costs, including fuel costs, and made a loss from the expansion into the US. According to documents filed with Companies House, Hunter reported a loss of £600,000 from September 2003 to the end of February 2005, when it had a net debt of £2.03m.
However, this was not to be the end of Hunter. A private consortium (led by Lord Marland of Odstock and comprising of Peter Mullen (ex CEO of Thomas Pink) and Julian Taylor, all of which were previous shareholders in Hunter Rubber Company – led a take-over of the Hunter brand. The buy-out was supported by footwear giants Pentland Group PLC – Hunter Boot Ltd and the Dumfries Rubber Company were born. A new management team is put in place and the brand undergoes a rapid restructuring process involving finding new supply routes and distribution partners in the UK and the USA.
The following year (2007), Hunter Boot Ltd enjoys a record season announcing, in August, an 85% sales increase, against the same period in 2006.The brand opens showrooms on New York’s 7th Avenue and London’s Carnaby Street as Hunter manages to re-establish itself as a major player in the traditional country and leisure footwear market in the UK and the US. In recent years, Hunter have produced bespoke versions of the classic Hunter Original boot for Jack Wills, WaterAid, Cowshed and Fortnum & Mason, as well as creating a trench coat designed by Suzy Radcliffe, owner of denim brand Radcliffe. As of 2011, the brand is still going strong being stocked in over 1000 stores in the UK and in many stores overseas, and is regularly worn by some of the world’s hottest celebrities, including Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Kate Moss and Emma Watson.
The Hunter Story: A Timeline Snapshot
- 1817: The Wellington boot is born when The Duke of Wellington asked his shoemaker to create a new style of leather boot that could be worn in battle but also for evening wear beneath the trousers.
- 1855: Henry Lee Norris arrives in Scotland from America, in the hopes of finding a location for his new rubber footwear factory.
- 1856: Henry Lee Norris acquires a factory space in Edinburgh’s Castle Silk Mills and the North British Rubber Company is registered as a limited company. As well as making rubber boots, the company also produces tyres, conveyors, combs, golf balls, hot water bottles and rubber flooring.
- 1858: More lines are added to the product range, including rubber hosing and belting.
- 1875: The North British Rubber Company begins to manufacture solid rubber tyres for the recently invented traction engines. From just 4 members of staff in 1856, the company has grown to 600 employees.
- 1914: The North British Rubber Company is commissioned by the War Office to construct a boot suitable for the flooded trenches of World War I. Throughout the war, over 1 million pairs of trench boots were made, with the mill having to run 24 hours a day to keep up with demand.
- 1939: During World War II the North British Rubber Company dedicated 80% of its production to creating war materials, including ground sheets and gas masks.
- 1945: Changes in the boot design, making them roomier and giving them a thicker sole, meant that by the end of the war, the Wellington boot had become popular amongst men and women for wet weather. Additionally, the continued rationing that followed the war meant that labourers began to wear the rubber boot for everyday work.
- 1946: The North British Rubber Company switches its operations to the larger Heathall factory in Dumfriesshire to cope with customer demand.
- 1955: The Company introduces two new boots to its product line: the Green Hunter (now known as the Original Hunter) and the Royal Hunter.
- 1966: The North British Rubber Company is acquired by Uniroyal Limited of Greenville, South Carolina, which was formerly known as the U.S. Rubber Company.
- 1977: The North British Rubber Company is awarded a Royal Warrant from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
- 1981: Sales of the Hunter Originals Wellingtons soar when they are worn by Lady Diana Spence in her engagement photographs. By the end of the 1980’s they were synonymous with the much caricatured figures of The Sloane Ranger Handbook.
- 1986: The brand is once again awarded a Royal Warrant, this time from HM the Queen. Also this year, the brand once again changes hands when Uniroyal Limited is bought by Gates Rubber Company Limited of Denver, Colorado.
- 1987: The brand is now formerly known as Hunter.
- Early 1990’s: Soon after Hunter’s take over by Gates Rubber Company, the brand enters the dry diving suit market, becoming at its peak, the number two producers in the market with a 35% market share.
- 1996: The Gates Rubber Company is acquired by Tomkins PLC of London for a reported £366 million.
- 1999: Recognising the need to build upon its position in their core markets, between 1998 and 2001, Tomkins PLC streamlines its activities by disposing of a number of businesses. In 1999, Tomkins PLC sell the Consumer and Industrial Division of The Gates Rubber Company to Interfloor, the country’s largest carpet underlay manufacturer.
- 2004: A Hunter management-led investor group acquired the Hunter Boots business from the Interfloor Group Ltd for a reported £1.98m. For the first time in the brands 148-year existence, Hunter became an independent, standalone company under the name of the Hunter Rubber Company. Also this year Hunter celebrated 50 years of the Original Hunter Green Wellington boot by launching the charitable initiative, ‘Giving Welly’. The initiative saw Hunter release a range of seven different coloured Wellingtons, along with the Kid’s range. By the end of the campaign, Hunter had reportedly raised over £250,000 for charity.
- 2005: Hunter boots launches in the US for the first time. Also this year, Hunter produces boots under license for the Royal Horticultural Society.
- 2006: Unfortunately the Hunter Rubber Company is placed into administration due to cash flow problems.
- 2007: Hunter is bought out of administration and a new International Sales Director is recruited to develop new Hunter ranges and to increase existing sales in new markets. Also this year, the relationship with the Royal Horticultural Society ‘blossoms’ with the launch of the new RHS wellies at the Chelsea Flower Show in London.
- 2008: The official Hunter’s website is launched as are the Hunter Festival and Balmoral ranges, and a new charity partnership with WaterAid, which launches at Glastonbury festival. Also this year, Hunter Boot Ltd makes a historic move from their base in Dumfries to new offices in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.
- 2009: Hunter collaborated with Jimmy Choo to create a limited edition black Wellington boot, embossed with signature Jimmy Choo crocodile print and containing gold rivets and a leopard-print lining.
- 2010: Hunter announces a partnership with former Blur member, writer and farmer, Alex James through a series of annual events across the country, which will continue to build Hunters status as an authentic British brand.
Future of the Hunter Brand
Hunter successfully weathered the financial storm in 2006 that saw the brand sink into administration. With a loyal following, both in the UK and overseas, expect much of the same in the future for the prestigious Wellington boots brand. Hunter will forever remain a company known for producing top quality weatherproof boots that The Duke of Wellington himself would be proud of.
Visit the official Hunter website here
Hunter for Jimmy Choo – Designer Wellington Boots
Hunter x RHS Chelsea Flower Show Wellington Boots