A few month’s back, I was strolling through Covent Garden, one of my favourite haunts in London, when I came across a store I hadn’t noticed before… On Neal Street, – The Natural Shoe Store. immediately appealed to me for its commitment to selling shoes that have ethical and artisan practices at their core, so I have been tracking its progress and lusting after several of the brands on there ever since. But when it came to looking for a fully English shoe brand, one where the shoes are actually designed and made in England, I was stumped. It turns out after careful investigation that very few of the brands on there are ‘fully’ English – most of the ‘English’ brands on there actually have their shoes manufactured elsewhere, such as China. Although this helps provide employment in less economically privileged countries, it does add an awful lot of air miles onto the finished product, thus making its carbon footprint a great deal larger than one designed and produced in the country it is sold – such as those items lovingly made at Grenson. Unfortunately, the materials used in making the shoes themselves are not sourced from England. Instead they hail from all parts of the globe, as one of their Customer Services team kindly explained to me when emailed requesting to know exactly that. Here is what they said:
“The upper and sole leathers are sourced from Europe and India depending on the type of leather and where the shoes are produced.
The raw hides are all northern European. These are then tanned in Italy, Portugal, USA, UK or India. Tanning processes are tightly controlled worldwide now to minimise use of chemicals and pollution of the environment.
Laces are all made in Europe as UK suppliers are sadly not available to our quality.”
Although clearly it would be better if the materials used in making shoes were also sourced in England, what was important to me here was that the company was transparent about its products’ journeys.
Grenson has been going since 1866 – that’s 150 years of shoe making! As a brand, it has come through 2 world wars, providing shoes for countless soldiers, and the Great Depression, as well as several brand challenges and manufacturing innovations. A small excerpt from its website says the following:
“…the company is called into action and makes many shoes and boots for the soldiers, not only of British forces but of the Allied Forces too. Among many styles it develops is a flying boot with a leg that zips off to make running easier in case of being shot down in enemy territory. At this point the factory employs nearly 500 people making shoes.”
Now Grenson’s shoes are stocked in Liberty and Selfridges, although they have yet to stock the Women’s range that was launched in 2010. Even after so many years and so many challenges, Grenson still makes all its shoes by hand in its factory in England, using the same techniques that were developed in the mid-1800s:
“We have been making shoes continuously since 1866 and we are only in our third factory in all that time.
Apart from our new moccasin collection, all of our shoes are “Goodyear Welted”. This is a shoemaking technique that was invented in the mid 1800’s and involves many individual processes, but the key benefit is that the shoes are strong and last a long time.
The main feature of Goodyear Welted shoes is that the upper is stitched to a leather band called a Welt and this is then stitched to the sole.
It takes up to 8 weeks to make our shoes and involves well over 200 individual operations.”
Grenson are so proud of their heritage and skill that they are launching the Grenson Shoe School in Summer 2016 where anyone can come to learn about how their shoes are made. The Shoe School will involve a tour of the factory and a lecture. For more information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For such a mature brand, their shoes are really interesting and stylish, the only problem being now that I am inevitably lusting after all of them! I picked out my best ones below. Happy Green Shopping with a proper English shoe brand!