C & J Clark International Ltd. (Clarks) is a leading manufacturer and retailer of formal and casual footwear. After almost 200 years of existence, the Clarks’ business is now known globally as a world-leading shoe manufacturer and retailer. The company produces shoes, boots, and other footwear and also specializes in manufacturing children’s shoes under the renowned Clarks brand name. The company also makes K shoes in the UK and “Bostonian” in the United States. This article will explore Clarks’ history from its inception and how it became a world-leading shoe brand, mentioning notable dates.
The Beginning of Clarks’ History
Clarks’ history dates back to about 200 years ago, in 1825. It began when Cyrus and James Clark made a slipper from sheepskin off-cuts. The idea, new at the time, was a ground-breaking innovation combined with craftsmanship. Priding themselves as pioneers and innovators, Clarks now makes shoes with some of the latest modern technology.
A flash of inspiration
This innovation and the exceptional technology we see in Clarks’ shoes all began with a flash of inspiration in the Somerset village of Street in 1828. Cyrus had a workshop where he introduced the production of sheepskin rugs to his business in 1825. Joining his brother to do business in 1828, James wondered what could be done with the leftover sheepskin.
In 1828 as James Clark was busy working at the tannery owned by his brother, he suddenly had a brainwave – “Slippers.” After having the idea, James took some of the leftover sheepskin off-cuts and figured out a way to make it a fit for the feet. A few stitches and a few years later, the sheepskin slipper was born.
The sheepskin slipper was revolutionary and an eye-opening chapter in a remarkable story in Clarks’ history, even to this day. Fashion in footwear come, go, and come again. However, Clarks prides itself on creating stylish footwear in which people feel comfortable and confident.
Early Economic and Business Boom in Clarks’ History
The Brown Peter Slipper
In 1830, the sheepskin slipper was launched into full production. James Clark named the slipper “Brown Petersburg”, which became popularly known as Brown Peter. During the 1800s, Britain experienced phenomenal economic, colonial and industrial growth. Starting from 1837, during the reign of Queen Victoria, Britain flourished.
Cyrus and James Clark were not left behind, as business was booming. “Brown Petersburg,” the name of their sheepskin slipper, was a massive success. Soon after, Cyrus joined his brother fully in making the Brown Petersburg, and the company was renamed C & J Clark in 1833. Over the next decade, sales continued to increase speedily. Distinguished by its unique design, the sheepskin slipper was taking Britain by storm, and sales were averaging 1000 pairs a month by 1842.
System of production
Clarks’ history in this decade is characterized by increased demand for sheepskin slippers. In this era, there were no factories. The Clark brothers had to employ the cutting and sewing services of the locals to meet the demand for their slippers. The making of the Brown Petersburg was outsourced to local workers and was handmade. The workers collected leather from the tannery and some design patterns, took it home, and turned them into slippers. Transforming the leather into slippers became a family affair, where all family members would partake in a portion of the work – cutting, sticking and sewing. The finished foot wears were then taken to Cyrus and James and were swapped for wages.
In Clarks’ history, this system worked well for many years. The workers were happy, and the company prospered. The Clark brothers were even awarded two awards at the Great Exhibition – an event organized to showcase the achievements of the British industry.
A Recession Hit In Clarks’ History
In 1863, disaster struck. A recession affected business badly, and demand for the Brown Peter slipper crumbled. Sales were plummeting, and very soon, the Clarks needed help. The company was in debt and at the very edge of bankruptcy. Having acquaintances with Quakers, they turned to contacts in the Quaker community for financial support. They managed to secure a loan, which came with two conditions. Cyrus and James were to step down, and Williams, James’s youngest son, was to take over.
After handing over the company’s reins to Williams, the deal was sealed. In Clark’s history, the young Clark became the driving force for the company’s growth even into the next Century. When Cyrus Clark passed in 1866, James and his son, Williams, reformed the terms of the partnership but still kept the company’s name as C & J Clark.
Being a visionary, Williams transformed the C & J Clark. In the 1850s, he modernized the manufacturing process and invested in mechanized production, precisely the Singer sewing machine – a ground-breaking technology at the time. This mechanized production allowed Clarks to produce more shoes more quickly and with a consistently high standard rather than the varied quality provided by workers with different levels of expertise. Mechanized production also enabled Clarks to experiment with new shoe designs, which Clarks initially sold under a new brand name, “Torbrand.” After a few years, Williams was able to revive and revitalize the C & J Clark and pay back the loan in full.
The Hygienic Range
In 1883, Williams launched “The Hygienic Range”, the first shoe ever to fit the shape of the foot. Until now, shoes were straight and could be worn on either foot. Clarks made the hygienic pair to fit the shape of the feet with different left and right shoes. That innovation is an integral part of Clarks’ history, revolutionising the shoe industry. Making shoes with a better fit is still the bedrock of Clarks’ reputation.
A New Major Customer In Clarks History
The 20th Century
Moving into the twentieth Century, James’ children – John, Roger and Alice Clark entered the business, and Clarks continued to expand. In Clarks’ history, these next-generation Clarks built the company into a modern manufacturing operation, adopting mass production techniques and incorporating new materials, technologies and processes. Staying true to their brand identity and the creation of comfort, Clarks focused on inventing new techniques for crafting soles, insoles and heels to enhance the shoes’ comfort. In 1920, the company dropped the Torbrand name and placed its name on its shoes instead.
Changes In Women’s Fashion
Emerging from the buttoned-up days of the Victorian era, women became a new major customer. In Clarks’ history, as this transition occurred, Clarks focused on the changes in women’s fashion where hemlines were getting shorter, and women’s footwear was getting more visible. The female ankle, usually covered by floor-sweeping dresses, was suddenly on display, and shoes that showed them off best were the new gold for every elegant lady. C & J Clark was happy to oblige by launching new women’s shoe and boot designs.
The Beginning Of Expansion In Clarks’ History
Clarks’ Expansion Into Retail
As Clarks’ product merchandise got broader, the need for advertising and product promotion arose. Clarks’ first ad appeared in 1936. An expansion into retail characterized Clarks’ history in 1937. Seeking to expand beyond production and gain control of the distribution market, Clarks bought a chain of shoe shops named “Peter Lord” by Hugh Bryan Clark in 1937. Clarks again expanded its retail outlets with the addition of the James Baker Chain in England and the Rayne & Duckett chain in Scotland.
The Desert Boot
In 1950 “The Desert Boot,” designed by Nathan Clark, made its debut and captured people’s imagination and remains a global icon even to this day. Nathan was inspired by shoes brought over from Egypt by some English officers during his service in the British army in India during the second world war. These boots featured a suede upper on a crepe sole. The desert boot was first manufactured in 1946 but was fully produced by 1950. It experienced massive success and became very popular in Jamaica, becoming a Jamaican signature.
Expanding Into Children’s Footwear
Wanting to be even more involved in providing suitable shoes for everyone, Clarks involved itself in looking for ways to provide shoes for a baby’s feet that were continuously growing. Considering the care of growing baby feet, Clarks made another exceptional innovation. By the 1960s, Clarks became famous for making “fitted” children’s shoes that considered the particularities of children’s feet. These shoes had a choice of width fittings to children’s range, coupled with the first-ever Clarks’ foot gauge – a device used to measure children’s feet. These two Innovations became a benchmark in caring for growing baby feet in Clarks’ history. Before long, Clarks established itself as a world-leading producer of children’s shoes. Over time, the foot gauge has evolved into a state-of-the-art iPad foot gauge with innovative cushioning, rapid prototyping and 3D printing.
The History of Clarks’ International Expansion
Technology And Innovation
Interested in developing new technologies, Clarks invested in the process of vulcanizing rubber soles directly onto rubber uppers in the 1950s. In the 1970s, the company began working with the recently developed material, polyurethane. Clarks adopted the lightweight resistant material as part of its shoe-sole designs, including its air-cushioned soles forming the basis of the company’s Air-comfort line in the 1980s.
During the late 1970s, C & J Clarks focused on retail expansion. The company bought a well-known shoemaker and retailer company, “Hanover” in the United States. The following year, the company acknowledged “Bostonian” with a strong retail presence and network in the United States. As a result of these two acquisitions, Clarks’ history saw a boom in sales in the coming years. Seeking to boost its UK position in 1981, Clarks acquired K Shoes Ltd, which targeted an older audience.
A Change Of Location
In Clarks’ history, Clarks faced some tough decisions early into the 1990s. The use of computers, the world wide web, and emails introduced a few decades earlier caused significant changes in world trade. The competition also rose to become a threat. The company became at a competitive disadvantage if it continued in the UK. A change of location was necessary to stay in business. Eventually, Clarks closed its headquarters factory doors in the UK and moved the entire production and distribution process overseas. The company closed down some of its stores both at home and abroad.
Tim Parker was made the first CEO of the company in 1996. Parker shifted the company’s focus from a manufacturing-dominated company to a customer-oriented one. With strategic campaigns like the highly successful “Act your shoe size, not your age” campaign, Peter revitalized the company. Sales topped £830 million by 2002, and £930 million at the end of 2001, even after refusing to go public.
From humble beginnings in Somerset in 1825, the Clarks’ business has entered the 21st Century as one of the world’s leading shoe brands and as UK’s number one shoe retailer using ground-breaking technology. This success in Clarks’ history is a result of the commitment to individual designs, premium quality, exceptional comfort, expert modifications, and the use of some of the latest modern technology, which remains characteristic of the Clarks’ business today. This article explores the journey of C & J Clark International Ltd from inception to date.