In the world of traditional British luxury, Crockett & Jones stands head and shoulders above its compatriots as a shoemaker of nigh-on titanic proportions. Founded in 1879 in Northampton, the company has remained family owned throughout its history, occupying an expansive factory with long-serving, loyal and talented staff. This was not always the case, though. When Mr. Jonathan Jones started at Crockett & Jones in 1977, he joined a highly respected manufacturer that was, to put it mildly, not in great shape. Indeed, it was losing ground to its competitors and very close to closure. Forty years later, Crockett & Jones is one of the largest producers of high-quality Goodyear-welted shoes in the world. How has this been achieved? Well, Jones was kind enough to talk The Rake through his time at the helm, the strategy that has helped build the Crockett & Jones of today, and what the future holds for this most impressive of traditional British manufacturers.
When I came into the business, the footwear industry was at a real crossroads. Some companies were on their way out, and a lot of people thought that Goodyear-welted shoes didn’t have a future. Even so, I had to look at the strengths of Crockett & Jones, and I could see certain other British Goodyear-welted producers were doing O.K. in their specialist sector. I thought, we have to be concentrating like them; we are a high-end Northampton shoemaker and we need to be concentrating on our superior Goodyear-welted shoes.
At the time, C&J wasn’t in a strong position because we had retained our pre-war mentality and hadn’t really seen the massive change coming in the sixties, when the fashions moved on. Fathers wore traditional English brogues and their sons went round in Gucci moccasins — everyone was prophesying that English shoes were going out. Even so, we decided to turn into a specialist Goodyear plant — there was no point in trying to chase business in other areas when we had such expertise. I took over responsibility of developing the product line because I thought, we need to get the whole thing right, and I started getting involved in sourcing skins and last making. I developed the first C&J own-brand line in parallel with making for Ralph Lauren. At the time, Ralph was building an English line so we developed a strong relationship with the house.