Clarks, the global footwear giant, is assessing whether it can bring some production back to the UK to champion its British heritage.
Clarks, the Marks & Spencer of the footwear world, is at the embryonic stage of investigating potential costs and prices from UK footwear suppliers to see if a return to some British production would be possible.
The company, which has annual global sales of more than £1bn, made its last pair of shoes in the UK in 2005 when then chief executive Tim Parker famously turned up at its last plant in Ilminster, Somerset, in his Porsche 911 to announce its closure.
At the time, Clarks said cheaper production and cheaper labour in the Far East meant it had to move its production offshore if the business was to survive.
However, rising labour costs, increased competition for production capacity and a hike in leather prices have meant footwear manufacturing in China, where Clarks makes most of its shoes, is no longer as cheap as it once was.
A trend towards patriotism among shoppers is also believed to have prompted Clarks to take tentative steps to investigating British manufacturing.
A senior source in the footwear industry said: “It would be premature to say Clarks is doing this but it wants to look at whether anything is possible. It’s a mixture of both things; partly that costs are going up elsewhere but also the [consumer] desire for authentic product.
“Clarks is a British company with British heritage. There is a sense of patriotism at the moment,” the source added.
However, the British footwear manufacturing industry, which once thrived in Northamptonshire, has been virtually obliterated
over the past 20 years. What little footwear manufacturing there is left in the UK is largely geared towards high-end traditional or specialist men’s footwear, meaning Clarks could struggle to find a partner that would be commercially viable.
Its volumes are huge - Clarks has more than 500 UK stores and it sold 468,500 pairs of footwear across its multichannel platforms in the first six months of 2010 alone.
The source added: “Footwear manufacturing is pretty complex. You need all the components. There would not be any point in shipping the components from the Far East to put a shoe together in the UK.”
Clarks said: “Clarks has a long tradition of sourcing shoes in the UK and there continues to be some exciting possibilities for production here. We are currently reviewing these opportunities alongside other options both in Europe and other locations worldwide.”
UK manufacturers sign up to attend SOS open day
Drapers’ Save Our Skills campaign gathered pace this week as more than 50 UK manufacturers applied to attend our open day with the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT) on March 10.
2010 British Fashion Council Menswear Designer of the Year Patrick Grant has confirmed his attendance, alongside manufacturers ranging from Manchester’s premium heavyweight Cooper & Stollbrand to fast-fashion suppliers in Leicester.
The event, which will take place at the UKFT’s headquarters at 3 Queen Square, central London, will be covered in March 18 issue of Drapers.