Tim Little bespoke shoes

 
A few months ago, I got to know Tim Little – the owner of the Grenson factory in Northampton and of his own eponymous shoe brand (pictured above, on the left). Not only has Tim been a modernising influence in Northampton ever since he took over Grenson, but the range of shoes he now offers covers pretty much every potential customer, from hand-made bespoke to Indian-made RTW.

Tim is open and honest about every part of this offering, but it can still be hard to get your head round it all. As the first part of a few posts on Tim (and particularly his bespoke), I therefore thought it would be good to start by explaining the full range – how it’s made, where it’s made, and what it offers.

First off, Grenson v Tim Little.

Grenson is by far the bigger of the two brands. It has four stores in London and around 400 wholesale accounts around the world. Tim Little is just one shop, in Chelsea.

Both offer bespoke to some extent, and different types of RTW, but the biggest difference is the style. “At Tim Little the customers tend to be a little older and more formal. The standard last is chiselled and we make far more black shoes. Grenson, on the other hand, is known for tan brogues, with chunky soles. There are many other styles, of course, but that’s the overall aesthetic – more casual shoes for younger guys,” says Tim. (Albert, £375, below)
 

Grenson shoes explained

 
Second, the two bespoke offerings.

Tim Little offers full bespoke. Measurements are taken by Tony Botterill (below), a mainstay of Northampton shoemaking and a patternmaker by trade. He works with Springline to have a bespoke last made – explaining the measurements in person and checking it afterwards, before making the patterns himself and then sending it all to an outworker (who also does bespoke for some of the London houses). It is all handsewn.

Bespoke is £1950 for the first shoe, and £900 for every subsequent one. There is a direct and clear cost for making the last, which is then the customer’s to keep. The first shoe should take 12 weeks, others 8 weeks. Tim makes around 50 pairs a year.

You may well question how good the fit can be with the last being made externally. We’ll test that soon enough, with a pair of boots I’m having made.

Grenson, on the other hand, offers ‘factory bespoke’ (£1100). A last is made for the customer, again at Springline, and then made in the Grenson factory to the same standards as RTW shoes. So you get a factory shoe with something approaching bespoke fit. This is similar to what Tricker’s offers, for example.
 

Bespoke Tim Little

 
Third, the RTW options.

Grenson shoes vary from £190 to £460, and divide into three categories: G: Zero, G:One and G:Two. The first two categories are entirely made in the Grenson factory, with the difference between them being materials and finishing. G:One has an open-channel sole, for example, while G:Zero is closed, and the latter also uses chestnut- or oak-tanned soles, lining leather that is the same quality as the upper, hand-painted waists and so on.

G:Two is made in India. The design, pattern-making and most leather sourcing is done at Grenson, and then it is sent to a Goodyear-welting factory in India. “Although the shoe is almost more handmade than in a Northampton factory, simply because they don’t have the machinery,” comments Tim. (Marcus, £190, below.)
 

Marcus shoe Grenson

 
The distinction between G:Two and the other G: brands is important to Tim. So G:One and G:Zero are made entirely in Northampton – ‘skin to box’, as the phrase goes. There are a few low-end brands that half-make a shoe in India, put the sole on here and then call it ‘Made in England’ (they are perfectly allowed to do so). I won’t say which those brands are without having it confirmed by them, but in any case they are not ones ever featured on this site.

“You can spot them fairly easily if you tour their factory – they will have almost no one doing any closing, where at a high-end producer that’s almost half the factory,” says Tim. “It’s also pretty easy to tell from the price of the shoes. The higher the price, the more that’s made in England.”

Grenson also has G:Lab, which is essentially made-to-order, which Tim Little also offers (both around 30% more than retail price for the model). All the Tim Little shoes are made at Grenson, except for things they can’t do, such as moccasins, which are made in Italy.

I think that’s it. Hopefully a useful guide to a big brand – and more on the bespoke side, which is great value for money, soon.
 

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Anonymous

Hi simon
Which in your opinion would be the better brand cheaney or grenson both similar price point similar product what do you think

Anonymous

Love this, seriously useful for your readership, especially younger, to get under the skin of big brands and see where the value lies. Great thing to do and more like this please

DE

Nice post Simon. I know that from time to time readers of PS (including me!) ask about shoe polishing and patination. Like many lovers of good footwear, I often give my shoes a thorough ‘all over’ polish and then employ a traditional ‘spit and polish’ technique to get a mirror shine on the toe (this is particularly effective on shoes with a ‘chisel’ end). I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned them on these pages, but I recently purchased a Selvyt polishing cloth which I have been extremely impressed with. I know your friends at ‘A Fine Pair of Shoes’ supply them, but they are also available elsewhere online and are vastly superior to the standard yellow duster – I would particularly recommend the Selvyt cloth for your readers who are struggling to get a ‘deep’ shine. I hope this is useful, but if you’ve already mentioned them please accept my apologies.

Anonymous

Thats what we had to use when we spit shined in the Coldstream!

David

Simon,

I can’t recall you every directly commenting on Loake’s “made in England range”. Any thoughts you might have about them, from the time you had to be more price conscious?

James

Hi Simon, any chance you could do a post or posts about keeping warm/dry during autumn winter ? Both smart and casually.
Thanks

James

Yeah, all clothing, that would be great, thank you.

David

Yes, that’s one of the things I am worried about, hence the scare quotes.

Paul Weide

DE raises a good question – would you spit shine a pair of bespoke shoes? Spending that much would make me hesitant to strip the quartermaster and clog the pores, although I suppose it depends upon the shoe.

Jai

I own three pairs of Tim Little shoes and love the shape and sleek cut of his shoes. A pair in brown suede was recently confused by Gianni Cerutti for a pair of G&G!

Two pairs though, have taken me some time to get comfortable with; a pair in blue suede in particular, continue to feel very right on my feet.

All in all though, I highly recommend them; they’re sturdy and they look great, even after regular use some 4 years later.

Bradley

Morning Simon
Shoe question if i may.
I often attend meetings outside and recently i spent a whole day in the rain which resulted in my shoes becoming so saturated that i had wet socks and stained feet (the black polish had actually come through the show and stained both my big-toes!). The shoes took over a week to dry out (are now stained inside) and i could not even place shoe trees in them as this seemed to inhibit the drying process. Questions are: Is it bad for your shoes to become so wet? Why do not manufacturers place a waterproof layer in the sole or between the leather soles and upper? Would you recommend having a rubber sole glued on (I do not like rubber bottomed shoes and so leather is my choice of sole but could live with this option). How do you get rid of a white bloom that is now showing on the shoe? I have the shoes on today which is the first time since the saturation but they still feel damp so how can i dry them out fully?
Your guidance would as ever be much appreciated.
Thanks – Bradley

Paul Weide

Recommend that Bradley stuff the inside of the shoes with crumpled newspaper (The Times, preferably). After this kind of wear, it may be a good idea to use a soft brush, warm water, and saddle soap to fully clean the leather before allowing it to dry out a few days. In the service we’d then apply a coat of leather dye and then rub in a base coat of polish with bare fingers before re-shining. Be patient. It takes a while to restore a high shine after fully stripping the shoe.

Md

Hi Simon

What are the advantages of having a shoe made in England? If the factory process are the same to those in India or elsewhere, does it make any real difference?

Thanks a lot.

John

Hi Simon,
Thanks for this very interesting post on Grenson. I have a lovely pair of brown brogue bought in Paris 10 years ago. And frankly, I’m still amazed by its high quality! Funnily enough, I wear them while typing this comment.
Now, “as a general rule, don’t judge quality based on where something is made”. I thing it’s wise to see things that way!

Deborah Carre

hi Simon
This is one of the best posts I’ve read and really explains the different offerings/ price points really clearly. Tim Little’s open approach is really refreshing.
Cheers
Deborah

CW

Re not judging quality by where something is made – I actually do, as my impression (substantiated by some experience) is that goods from countries without a tradition of manufacturing them do not have the same attention to detail. Uneven stitching, visible glue, and poor quality have been my experience.

Scott

Simon, how would you rate the quality of the Grenson Northhampton made shoe in terms of workmanship,materials, and design compared to companies like John Lobb, G&G, Edward Green? It’s always fascinating to me to discuss shoe because I’ve noticed that occasionally one finds a shoemaker that makes a shoe that rivals,or comes close to, its much more expensive competitors in terms of quality that’s much cheaper. Carmina, the spanish shoemaker, comes to mind. Does Grenson fall into this catagory of high quality,but underappreciated english shoes?

Scott

It’s a big help actually, thank you. As always, your expertise is much appreciated. I tell my friends who care about sartorial matters that Permanent Style is required reading.

Solomon Kimuyu

I love your shoes

Matt

Bought a pair of Grenson Ryan C boots a couple of months ago new from an ebay re seller. Really disappointed, poor quality leather, terrible finishing, the boots seemed to have been constructed then colored afterwards leaving visible undyed leather at some seams, leather feels like very thin cardboard.

I own several pairs of Grensons, some i’ve had for over 10 years and are beautiful, i don’t think these will last the season, deeply disappointed that such an iconic brand could produce such a shoddy product.

Matt

Paul S

It may be that the ”Grenson’s” that you purchased on eBay were fakes. Have you compared them to the same shoe in a store?

Andie Nicolas

Got a soft spot for Grenson though don’t know if it is owned by the same group/person as in 1985. Then I bought a pair of classic brogues (chunkysole/heel etc and prominent holes in the upper leather) from I think, S Fisher in Covent Garden. Problem is I bought them one size too big. My fault entirely. Back in Australia I stored them in a box for some ten years or so as I had plenty of other shoes to wear out before I got to them. However, when it came time to wear them I found out -shock, horror!- that I had bought them a size too big. I contacted Grensons who accepted the ones I had bought in wrong size (but unused) even though I had put steel tips on them soon after I had bought them. They sent out to me at their cost another pair in my correct size. That is “over and above” good service in my books and I doubt if it exists today. A few months ago, I e-mailed an Italian shoe maker details of the sizing of a pair of shoes I had. I am still awaiting their reply. .

Les Davinson

I have lived in Chelsea over 61 years and cannot find Tim Little’s shop!

Joel

Great to read, I just ordered a pair of Radley boots, a website said made in The Uk which is important to me. Having read this and checked the Grenson website I now know they are made in India. Think I might be returning them, pay extra and get some Red Wing boots.

Your thoughts on Red Wing boots would be appreciated? I couldn’t find anything in your Brand section.

Joel

K K

I have just re-read this post and think I should correct a somewhat misleading impression given in the comparison between Grenson factory bespoke and Tricker’s bespoke. As I understand it (and I realise I am writing this comment more than three years after this post was written), the Grenson bespoke option is essentially a pair of standard factory shoes built on a customer’s specific last but using the same factory manufacturing process, i.e. Goodyear welted. Tricker’s bespoke is only similar insofar as the lasts are also made by Springline and the styles offered are essentially the standard RTW models (with some variation possible), but the shoes are handmade and hand-welted. I visited the factory this summer and Scott, the head of the bespoke department, showed me how they work. It seems like a very good value option within the constraints and cheaper than any other bespoke maker within the UK.