The pair that started it all
The village of Street in Somerset, England, 1825. Using the off-cuts from his brother Cyrus' tannery, James Clark creates a sheepskin slipper. It is the very first Clarks shoe and, within a year, sales of the 'Brown Petersburg' are averaging 1,000 pairs a month. In 1851, the Clark brothers win two awards at the Great Exhibition, a celebration of British industry.
It is the beginning of a remarkable success story.
Invention and Vision
The late 1860s. James and Cyrus step down William Stephens Clark - James's eldest son - takes over C & J Clark. He recognises that footwear manufacture is behind the times and sets about implementing change. The company designs and patents its own sewing machine (The 'Crispin' Sewing Machine) and, instead of using out-workers, begins the introduction of a factory system with working conditions that are ahead of their time.
A first that lasts
In 1883, C & J Clark launches the Hygienic range, the first ever shoe designed to fit the shape of the foot; an innovation that is still the bedrock of Clarks’ reputation. Whilst developing the commercial side of the business, William Stephens Clark remains true to the ideals of his Quaker roots. He invests in the community, looks after his workers and builds them homes, many of which can still be seen in Street today.
Ankles and Ads
Together with managers brought in for their shoemaking expertise, life directors John, Roger and Alice Clark are now running the company and Clarks continues to expand. Women are a major new consumer: the female ankle is suddenly on display and shoes that show them at their best are a must-have for every elegant lady of the time. C&J Clark are happy to oblige. The first Clarks press ad appears in 1936.
More in Store
The end of the 1940s ushers in a further period of rapid growth. The workforce in Street is too small to meet demand, so the company establishes 15 new factories in nearby towns and cities. Under the name Peter Lord, Clark begins retailing. There are shops in the London boroughs of Kensington and Richmond and, in 1957, the capital’s prestigious Regent Street becomes the setting for a Peter Lord flagship store. Also, the Desert Boot, designed by Nathan Clark, makes its debut in 1950. It is the first ever casual shoe and sparks a trend that is destined to endure.
Making our Mark
In the decades to come, Clarks continue to pioneer many new advances in technology; advances that will revolutionise footwear design and comfort. Active Air makes its debut and will remain a patented feature of some of the company’s best-selling shoes for years to come. New materials like polyurethane are the inspiration for new looks as well as new benchmarks in comfort. On the high street the Clarks logo appears for the first time above their own shops.
A growing international reputation finds Clarks collaborating with visionary photographer Helmut Newton and Count Renato Zavagli-Ricardelli, better known as the uniquely talented fashion artist, Rene Gruau. Closer to home, the England football captain, Bobby Moore, endorses a range of Clarks kids’ sport shoes. Two decades later another English footballing legend will follow in Moore’s footsteps when an up-and-coming David Beckham lends his name to the brand.
The Somerset town of Street is still C & J Clark’s headquarters. It is also the setting for Westway, the massive, state-of-the-art distribution centre that serves the company’s worldwide wholesale and retail customers. Selling tens of millions of pairs of shoes a year, continuing growth in all four corners of the globe helps Clarks become the world’s number one name in ‘Everyday Footwear’.
Clarks has come a long way since 1825. But the vision and passion shared by Cyrus and James lives on.