The British shoe industry is one that is steeped in heritage and has constantly maintained a level of superb craftsmanship. However, as evident with many industries, footwear brands moved elsewhere to produce. Consequently, the post war British shoe industry was left struggling and depleted.
Fast forward to 2012. The last few years has seen ‘homegrown’ fashion go from strength to strength, with consumers opting out of poor quality mass-produced items. Spending more money and more time looking for new clothes and accessories has become an increasingly acceptable practice. Shoes, an item worn regularly and with many different things, are seen to be investments – with that, droves of British men are now looking closer to home for such an investment.
Last year, I made the decision to stop buying mounds of high street shoes and focus on smaller quantities of footwear that I would lovingly care for. Two things motivated this. Firstly, I had stopped being a student and therefore there was no real excuse for wearing £3 pumps or looking like I had just strolled through swamplands. Secondly, I had a job! Not one that required me to dress in anything that exceeded smart casual, but it gave me money in my pocket.
So with a fresh outlook on footwear, I took the idea to my Dad. After years of questioning his past fashion phases, I listened intently as he told me the shoe brands that were, and remain to be, the best.
Now this next point is extremely important. Do not just walk into a shop, find a style you like and purchase them in ‘your size’. I learnt this the hard way – trying on a £165 pair of shoes, presuming they were fine, only for them to not fit me in a month. Talk to someone who knows about shoes. My second shoe-buying trip was more planned. I had done some research beforehand and set off to a specialist shop.
The difference was notable from the start. The sales assistant was extremely knowledgeable, providing me with industry tips and personal advice. Shoes were fitted to my feet properly and the different fits and styles were explained to me in depth. I left with new perfectly fitting brogues in a size nine (wide) – when I had always bought 10.5. I felt as though I had come a long way from cheap pumps and mucky loafers.
With this in mind, today I am going to quickly breakdown my top 5 English shoe manufacturers (in no particular order). Each and everyone of these companies has a true passion for making shoes. Each and every pair of shoes they produce are lovingly crafted by experts in the field who actually love their job (how many wish they could say that?)
With an average gestation period of over 8 weeks and multiple quality control checks at each stage throughout the process, you can be sure that when you purchase a pair of their shoes, they are built to last and something to be proud of. This is the same feeling you should always get after any investment purchase – knowing that your money has been well spent and you won’t regret the purchase a month down the line.
Another trait that ties all the brands below together is that their current lines are continued to be manufactured in the home of English shoemaking; Northamptonshire. This county has a long and decorated history within the industry (even their football team is known as ‘The Cobblers’), and has long been the home to some of our country’s finest craftsmen. If you are interesting in reading just how synonymous Northamptonshire is with quality shoemaking, try reading this BBC legacies piece on the subject.
We are a shoemaker, born in 1866 in the heart of Northamptonshire, the shoe making capital of England.
We are still in the factory that we built in 1895 and we still make shoes very much the same as we made them back then. All of our shoes are Goodyear Welted, as they were back then and all are still made from the finest shoemaking materials.
First of all – Grenson; great for brogues and classic Derbies. You will be looking to pay around £150 – £200 for a pair. They are probably the most accessible and affordable traditional shoe manufacturer you will come across, and a great way to introduce you to an alternative process of buying and wearing quality shoes.
Joseph Cheaney and Sons have been making traditional English shoes in the same small market town of Desborough in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside since 1886.
We are an independent family-owned English company, fully committed to handcrafting our footwear entirely in our factory, from the cutting out of the leather through to the final polishing.
When you choose Cheaney shoes, you may be assured that you are purchasing the finest English craftsmanship.
Jonathan and William Church
Next we have Joseph Cheaney, who I often use for slightly more formal styles that are suitable for work, and occasions likes wedding or funerals. Consequently, this was my last shoe purchase and some beautiful £200 calf leather Oxfords now sit proudly in my room – and will do for many years to come.
Throughout the 180 years of the company’s history Tricker has remained a family business and is run by the same family. The Barltrop family has been at the helm for more than 150 years, but we do know Joseph Barltrop was making shoes as early as 1829, although we cannot go back further than this.
Tricker’s makes a great variety of footwear. Their shoes for the country have always been a large part of their production. They are particularly renown for their heavy brogue shoes and boots, and these have been adapted for both country walking and town use, and have been extensively used for shooting. In addition the Jermyn Street Collection, a range of beautifully crafted men’s classic shoes was introduced in the 1900s and has proved to be extremely popular for both country and city gentlemen alike.
Tricker’s are the go to brand if you are looking for something extra special. Whilst maintaining their traditional methods, Tricker’s have gone with the fact that classic British shoe brands are now getting cool again. Some forward-thinking collaborations have given the brand all kinds of credibility. Look to spend around £350.
My family has been making traditional English shoes for longer than anyone can remember. My great-grandfather John opened the first Loake factory with his brothers, Thomas and William, back in 1880. Today, five generations and more than 130 years later, the Loake association with fine, handmade shoes lives on.
As the current custodians of Loake, we are immensely proud of the commitment of our forefathers and the tradition they worked so hard to establish. For this reason our premium grade Goodyear welted shoes continue to be made in Kettering, England, in the same factory that the three brothers built in 1894.
The Goodyear welted construction for which Loake is renowned is an intricate process with origins going back over 300 years. Only the very highest quality materials are used. Each pair takes eight weeks to make and we still believe there is no finer way to make a gentleman’s shoe.
A pair of Goodyear Welted Loake shoes can take up to eight weeks to make. Some 130 skilled craftsmen, up to 75 shoe parts and over 200 different operations are involved.
Loake are a footwear manufacturer with great pedigree and a long established history of creating fine shoes. They have a variety of lines that cater to all types of occasions and gentlemen. For those who want a traditionally hand crafted shoe but combined with more modern styling, look no further than their ‘Loake Design’ range, which has an increased emphasis on contemporary detailing, colours and silhouettes with no loss of quality.
Loake shoes are also becoming more accessible. Burton and Topman have quickly realised that there has been an increase in fashionable males who desire not only the latest trends, but quality investment pieces as well. They have begun to stock a few of the key Loake styles in the past year, and a pair of Loake shoes will usually cost around £130, with boots priced just above that.
It still takes up to eight weeks to produce a pair of Church’s shoes: each undergoes over 250 detailed manual operations before it leaves the factory.
All of Church’s men’s welted shoes are manufactured in Northampton: all the production is hand-made and performed inside the factory by specialized craftsmen.
Church’s shoes are beyond fashion. The great men’s styles such as Oxfords and brogues never date, although colours and details may vary from season to season.
Church’s were the first shoemakers to produce differently shaped left and right shoes (as is now the industry standard) and have continued to push the boundaries of men’s footwear ever since – emphasised by the fact that they were also the first high-end footwear manufacturer to introduce the innovative Goodyear Welted Flexible sole.
They release both timeless and trend led designs each season, and I must say that they produce some of the most beautiful suede shoes I have ever seen. You are going to be looking at over £250 up to around £500 for a pair of these.
All this said, these are my personal favourites and do not align with everyone’s taste. Listen to recommendations and suggestions and look in magazines/online for inspiration. Ultimately, however, it is you that will be wearing them and let’s face it – pays for them.
It is important to remember that although brands such as these use extremely good materials, they are not invincible. With that in mind, the aftercare of shoes is very crucial in pre-longing their life.
For a more detailed look, I recommend reading Will Coleman’s excellent guides on leather and suede shoe care:
Industry experts say that no man should wear the same shoe two days running. Bear this in mind. After a long day of work, a lot of heat and moisture builds up inside so let your shoes breathe for a couple of hours and then fill with newspaper to soak up any excess moisture (this also maintains shape). Once dried, place shoe trees inside to ensure, again, that no loss of shape ensues.
Polishing is a process that must be done quite regularly to obtain the required effect. A small collection of brushes and cloths will be suffice and if you are unsure as to which polish to use, take the shoes into the store where you bought them (or even a local Timpsons) and you will be able to obtain the answer.
These are all just basics to shoe care. If the sales assistant is good, they will be able to tell you a lot more information.
So let FashionBeans know what you think about the shoe industry. Should we be trying to revive craftsmanship or accept the fact that at the moment, the high street is winning? Would you spend £200 on a pair of shoes and see them as an investment?
Apparently, a man is always judged by his shoes, so how will people judge you?
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