Crockett & Jones has been making shoes in Northampton since 1879, for much of that time in the red-brick Victorian factory that the company built in the heart of the town in 1891.
Manufacturing shoes in the traditional British way is a labour-intensive process, requiring the highly skilled workforce to complete more than 200 separate operations over an eight-week period. Many of the production techniques rely on excellent hand-eye co-ordination, which take years to learn and a lifetime to master. It is this intricate, demanding process that produces the shoes whose strength, durability and comfort are recognised the world over.
Running Crockett & Jones is a constant challenge, a juggling act that only the most committed of directors can manage. The fact that the company is owned and managed by the family – seven of its members work in the business – allows it to react quickly and decisively to changing circumstances. That said, in 2020 the business faced an unprecedented number of hurdles. Crockett & Jones has survived two World Wars and countless political changes, but the only historical event which compares to the double jeopardy of the pandemic and Brexit is the Great Depression.
Crockett & Jones has faced these twin challenges with determination. The social distancing rules were easily accommodated as the factory is a sizeable building and the shoemakers have always needed space in which to work. As a result, the factory has been working three-and-a-half days a week since the middle of June, a compromise which has protected jobs and balanced production with sales.
It was the strength of its brand in the Far East that helped Crockett & Jones to weather the storm. This was especially true of the Japanese market where the resilience of its revenues did much to keep the company afloat during the pandemic. Having had its own retail operations over the last 20 years has strengthened the company, enhancing its ability to come through the pandemic in good shape.
This sense of optimism for the future is reinforced by the fact that early this year Crockett & Jones will sell its first pair of shoes online. This is a development that has been slow in coming, albeit for good reasons. The finite capacity of the factory’s production and loyalty to longstanding clients were the two major reasons why the company did not launch an online sale channel earlier.
Digital represents a new and exciting string to Crockett & Jones’s bow at a time when many of its competitors, having already maximised the potential of online marketing, are finding sales hard to come by. For this reason, the outlook for 2021 and beyond is very positive.
This year Crockett & Jones will be entering uncharted territory when it launches a collection of loafers made using a superflexible Goodyear-welted construction method developed during lockdown. These more casual shoes may well be the most comfortable Goodyear-welted shoes the world has ever seen, softer and more summer-friendly than even the company owners predicted.