Last week I was in Northampton visiting a few of the shoemakers, particularly Crockett & Jones and the new Gaziano & Girling factory.
One reason C&J has such a range of lasts, colours and styles is that it works with dozens of retailers around the world, all of whom order their own, specific designs. There is still a lot of product development in house: it is the key strength of Jonathan Jones, the owner. But he receives constant feedback from the various retailers, where other brands concentrate more on their own ranges and stores.
There are differences of course, mostly in the handwork, but the materials tend to be similar – at least with the Handgrade range, which has always been great value for money. Materials tend to account for around 40% of the price of a Crockett & Jones shoe, with labour the extra 60%. As shoes get more expensive, the amount of labour increases but the materials are the same. It’s easy for shoemakers to know this because they all know who buys from which tannery. (Although the price of upper leather in particular is rocketing up, due to luxury brands buying up all the good leather – and tanneries – for handbags. As if there weren’t enough reasons to hate those overpriced fashion accessories.)
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Crocketts, particularly the people. I saw Cliff Roberts again, who works there. It’s easy to be optimistic about the company, with James and Philippa the next generation. And I particularly enjoyed talking to Nick Jones, Jonathan’s brother, who runs the production as well as his own farm. This is the archetypal Englishman for me: not a black-tied poser smoking a cigar in his club, but a man of modesty, enthusiasm and the slightest touch of silliness. Michael Palin; not James Bond.