A ship builder in Virginia, USA fixed a sign above his door which read, ‘We shall build good ships here. At a profit – if we can. At a loss – if we must. But always good ships.’ It’s an appealingly straightforward, humble sentiment and very much the same ethos that inspires the Northampton shoemaker, Edward Green, which has been in business since 1890. The company concentrates on what it has always done best: making top-quality shoes in the time-honoured method, helping in the process to conserve and develop Northampton’s historic shoe-making tradition. So, after what’s been an extraordinary couple of years for so many businesses, Edward Green is proud to have pulled together, adapted and kept the flame of British shoemaking very much alive.
It’s been a time of great uncertainty, but after a difficult period for footwear, the market is showing signs of bouncing back. Online sales have been robust, especially in the United States and it’s particularly gratifying to see life returning to traditional bricks and mortar retail in the West End and Jermyn Street in London. And while menswear is constantly evolving there will always be a place in anyone’s wardrobe for a pair (or three) of beautifully-made Goodyear-welted shoes.
With the arrival of hybrid-working and a softening of formal menswear codes, the Edward Green collection is moving with the times. A new range of boots has been introduced made from Yorkshire-tanned waxed suede – a leather that ages handsomely and works with a more casual workwear-inspired style. Next spring, Edward Green will introduce the Modern Classics – a capsule of signature styles with updated detailing and cut from a beautifully pliable matt calf. Unlined styles are very much to the fore, complementing the ubiquitous unstructured jacket the totem of today’s more relaxed style of dressing.
The company has always worked closely with its retailers, who are an integral part of Edward Green’s operation, showing flexibility whenever possible for the benefit of all in troubled times. As a result, in many ways, they have emerged from this difficult period with those important relationships strengthened.
Edward Green takes pride in the fact that so many of its customers have a tangible connection with the company. One client recently had the shoes her husband wore at their wedding repaired for their golden wedding anniversary. One of the reasons that clients feel so passionate about the shoes is that they appreciate owning an object made with real care and authenticity, something built to last. Paradoxically, we live in age which is focused on sustainability yet surrounded by a throw-away culture, the curse of built-in obsolescence. Edward Green’s shoes are the polar opposite of that: they are made to last and to age handsomely but also to be repaired. Fitted with a new pair of oak bark-tanned leather soles they will give years of continued comfort and pleasure. Quality endures.
Too often it is felt that manufacturing has left Britain, outsourced to far-flung parts of the world but in Northampton’s shoemaking quarter, Britain still possesses a genuine centre of global excellence. As 2022 breaks, it feels as if the tsunami has passed and a new dawn is emerging on the horizon.