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The modern voice of classic elegance

CraftFebruary 2018

Bodileys: Born to Last

We speak with Sarah Dudley, CEO of British shoemaker Bodileys, about the history and bona fides of this 99-year-old Northampton brand.

captionNorthampton-based footwear brand Bodileys has been creating shoes since 1919. Photograph by Kim Lang.

Established nearly a century ago, Bodileys began as a leading retailer of footwear in the British mecca of men’s shoemaking, Northampton. Starting out selling the wares of local cordwainers including Crockett & Jones, Cheaney and Alfred Sargent, more recently, the firm has evolved into a footwear brand in its own right — motivated in part by the renewed interest in traditional craftsmanship spurred by the menswear blogosphere (not to mention websites such as the one you’re currently perusing).

CEO Sarah Dudley, the latest member of the founding family to steward the business, relates a little of the history of Bodileys. “The shop was established in the heart of Northampton in 1919 and every family member who has been at the helm has made changes over the years,” she says. “When I first started to work at Bodileys in the year 2000, my father was running the business very successfully selling ladies’ Italian footwear as well as the Northampton men’s shoes that we are so renowned for.”

At the dawn of the 21st century, in what might be described as the toddler days of the internet age, Sarah says it became apparent that the Northampton men’s shoe was becoming very popular and more accessible to the overseas market. “We became aware that our company was being talked about in what we used to call ‘hobby websites’ — now known as blogs — internationally. My father, John Steadman, was a very forward-thinking person and I believe we were the first shoe retailer to set up a website to sell all over the world.”

When her father passed away suddenly in 2008, Sarah found herself at the helm in the midst of the evolving retail market. The brand enlisted John Garner, who previously worked at Edward Green and came out of retirement to help design the brand’s first in-house range, the London Collection.

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Bodileys recently launched its second house line, named the Mayfair Collection. “It’s our ultimate selection of five classic styles designed and made for us by Northampton’s leading manufacturer,” Sarah says. “Each style is made from the finest calf skins or premium suede produced by world-class tanneries. All of the styles are fully calf-lined and made on the Goodyear welted process.”

One pair taking up to eight weeks to complete, the quality of Bodileys’ footwear is of the impeccable standard Northampton’s leading shoemakers are renowned for, and prices are remarkably affordable considering the craftsmanship of the product. “Our collections are made using what we believe to be the most comfortable lasts, with the highest quality materials and patterns, giving the customer a shoe that, with the best of care, should last for many years. We do advise that the shoes are returned to us so that we can send them to the manufacturer for refurbishment when necessary,” Sarah adds.

Growing up amongst shoemakers and retailers, Sarah’s earliest memories are of visiting factories and the Bodileys shop, giving her a rich pedigree in the business, which is reflected in the shoes Bodileys create. As a young girl, Sarah recalls spending time at work with one of her grandparents — Frank Webb of George Webb & Sons, a shoemaker that produced 1.2 million pairs of boots for the British armed forces during World War II — and gaining a keen appreciation for the shoemaking process and the pride the craftspeople took in the fruit of their labours. “It’s given me a lifelong passion for the shoe industry,” she says. She’s determined that under her stewardship, Bodileys will honour the legacy of her ancestors. “I find being the fourth generation of the family at the helm a huge responsibility, to carry on the great name of Bodileys and make my forebears proud. I feel that being the fourth generation I have lifelong experience in both retail and manufacturing and every day consider what my grandfather, great uncle and father would be thinking and advising should they be here today.”

Sarah clearly feels she had big shoes to fill, but judging from Bodileys’ array of fine footwear, we think she’s doing so with aplomb. Peruse the range of Oxfords, brogues, chukka boots and loafers on now, and we’re sure you’ll feel the same way.

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake’s Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music – ideally in unison.

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