Half an hour drive north of Northampton in a small, unassuming market town called Desborough resides the quintessential English shoemaker Joseph Cheaney & Sons. Founded in 1886 by a cobbler who’d previously been the factory manager at a nearby shoemaker, the business originally traded under the name J. Cheaney, Boot & Shoemakers. However, when the eponymous founder’s sons joined the workforce, the name was adherently changed. Unlike many of its contemporaries, which now exist exclusively in the dusty pages of history, Cheaney managed to survive and prosper through the two world wars by manufacturing boots for military officers. “In Desborough and Rothwell, which is just down the road, there used to be 14 shoe factories, but it’s since condensed down to one – us. So that gives you an idea of the industry and its decline during the 20th century,” William Church, Managing Director of Cheaney, tells me.
It wasn’t until 1964 when Cheaney started to maximise on its potential when the family sold the business to the Church Group in a bid to preserve the family name. Following the sale, Cheaney began to make steady gains in the industry and with the luxury of hindsight, it was the right decision for the founding family to alleviate themselves from the business. Two years later, the factory started to produce shoes under the Cheaney name, as up until then it was primarily known for being a very well respected private maker for brands and businesses both in England and overseas.
The business is now underneath the stewardship of cousins William and Jonathan Church, who recognised the huge potential in the Cheaney brand and bought it from the subsidiary of Prada in 2009. Together, they’ve established Cheaney as a leader in the highly saturated yet well-regarded English shoemaking industry. “We were, at one point, 20-30% Cheaney and the remainder was for other brands,” explains Church on where they’ve come from. He continues: “Part of our strategic drive was that we knew that we could be more commercially resilient, so now we’ve flipped that around the other way. We’re now 70% Cheaney, the rest is for private labels. So, we’ve consciously flipped that.”