Church’s historical involvement in the manufacture of handmade gentlemen’s shoes can be traced back to Northamptonshire in 1675, a county at the centre of a flourishing leather and footwear industry since the Middle Ages.
But it was two centuries later, in 1873, that Thomas Church and his three sons – Alfred, William and Thomas Jr – founded the ‘modern’ Church’s as we know it today. They consolidated production, which had traditionally been carried out in the workers’ own homes, into a factory in Northampton, where the firm’s worldwide headquarters are still based today.
In the space of a few years, Church’s was transformed from a craft workshop into a benchmark firm for top-quality footwear. It is interesting to note that Church’s was the first footwear manufacturer to introduce the concept of left and right shoes, ahead of most other companies that were still selling ‘straights’.
With the dawn of the 20th century, Church’s began exporting to new markets like the United States, Canada, China, and South America, and appointed distributors in mainland Europe. The company opened its first British retail store in 1921. In 1929 a store in New York followed and over the next 30 years many more opened in mainland Europe and Asia, all dedicated to showcasing the very best of English shoemaking excellence and unparalleled levels of customer service.
In 1999 the Prada Group, a global leader in the luxury industry, took Church’s over, with the declared desire to optimise the brand’s business opportunities while fully respecting its British identity. As a result, Church’s has massively expanded its retail footprint over the last ten years.
Today the company operates from three Northamptonshire factories and has continued to receive numerous plaudits, culminating in the prestigious Queen’s Award for Exports, putting the official seal of recognition on Church’s status as a leading international brand. Church’s now has 62 stores throughout all the major cities of the world, including four stores exclusively dedicated to the company’s women’s collection. In 2020 Church’s announced its first women’s collaboration with designer Kei Ninomiya, who launched the Noir Kei Ninomiya line in 2012 under the Comme des Garçons umbrella led by Rei Kawakubo.
For all this momentous growth and change, the manufacture of Church’s shoes remains inspired by its history, heritage and handcrafting techniques. Dedicated craftsman hand-make the welted shoes in a process that can take up to eight weeks and involve over 250 detailed manual operations. This commitment to craftsmanship is evident also in Church’s aftercare service. Full refurbishment facilities at the Northampton factory utilise the same top-quality materials and craftsmanship as in the original manufacturing process. With proper care and attention, Church’s shoes can – and do – last a lifetime.
Church’s shoes transcend fashion. Colours may vary seasonally but classic men’s styles, like Oxfords and Brogues, never date. Meanwhile, the brand is always innovating and developing, offering a gentle evolution of design and style to appeal to new, discerning customers throughout the world. It continues to build on its position as the world’s leading provider of exceptional Goodyear Welted Footwear.