Sheffield shoemaker Goral & Son moved from Poland to create made in the UK footwear and is reaping the rewards.
The earthy and strangely nostalgic scent of leather permeates the air at Goral & Son’s new and modern factory, where the sloped glass ceiling and pale timber beams grant a calm atmosphere to the manufacturing floor below.
So rapid has been its growth, this is the footwear brand’s third home in Sheffield since it moved to the UK from Poland in 2005. On the day Drapers visits, the Princess Royal is there to officially open the new 12,000 sq ft factory, which produces 900 pairs of shoes and 1,700 uppers a week for brands including Dr Martens.
“We’re quite unique in that we make everything under one roof,” says Dominik Goral, commercial director of the company his grandfather founded in Poland in 1936. “It speeds up the production process and allows us to create fully ‘Made in England’ shoes.”
The appetite for product made in England continues to grow. Goral has just finalised deals with two premium British brands and a leading UK department store regarding its own-brand collection – but prefers not to reveal their names.
Specialising in sidewall stitching – a manufacturing technique that few other UK factories use, in which the upper is sewn directly to the sole – Goral & Son produces footwear across a range of styles, from sneakers to formal shoes.
“As British heritage brands, they like the idea of making shoes in England,” Goral explains. “Manufacturing in the UK has higher labour costs, but the ‘Made in England’ label is desirable for customers, and can make the higher price worth it for brands.
“Over the last few years, we’ve significantly invested in our machinery. That allows us to keep our services and products on trend and keep unit costs lower.”
This is driving its growth, as made evident by the 110% increase in turnover for 2018. The business employs 40 people in total, including 35 craftsmen on the factory floor – up from just 2 employees in 2010.
“What’s helped their growth is, fundamentally, they are good shoemakers,” says John Saunders, CEO of the British Footwear Association.
“Companies like Goral & Son – who, when there is an opportunity, are capable and willing to invest in new machinery and new people – don’t come along that often.”
“To sustain the industry in the long run, we need to encourage young people,” says Goral.
The business supports start-ups and smaller designers with a limited “factory range” of just seven styles, which allows for low minimum orders.
As Goral guides Drapers and the Princess Royal around the factory, explaining every process in minute detail, his family’s shoemaking heritage is obvious.
Stephen Bent, international sourcing and production manager at Dr Martens, which began working with Goral & Son seven years ago, recalls a visit from Dominik’s brother, Kamil, and their father Bogdan, who is managing director: “What attracted me to them was that it was a father and son, and they spoke like shoemakers, not agents,”
“Bogdan and Kamil just turned up at the factory in Cobbs Lane [in Wellingborough, the head office] with a few samples,” he recalls. “It was all very ‘us, we, I’, and I liked the fact that their vernacular was the same as in the factory at Dr Martens and very hands on.”
Not content with producing solely for other brands, Goral & Son launched its own collection in June. The range of sneakers is sold exclusively through the Goral Shoes ecommerce site. Retail prices range from £155 for minimalist designs to £210 for more complex runners.
The spring 19 collection will launch for wholesale at the end of February with eight styles, and Goral is targeting overseas stockists.
“Japan and China are huge markets for UK-made products,” Goral says. “We have a potential agent in China already so we’re working on a Chinese version of our website and with [Chinese social networking app] WeChat.”
To finish the factory tour, the Princess Royal unveils a plaque to officially open the premises. However, Goral & Son is already looking for larger property – its growth is not showing signs of slowing any time soon.