I love visiting factories. Many of us don’t realise how many there still are in the UK making high quality clothing, footwear and accessories. I recently visited Crockett & Jones’ Northampton headquarters and thought I’d give a flavour of what goes on behind the factory doors.
All factories have a distinctive smell and Crockett & Jones is no exception: the aroma of high quality leather immediately hit me as I walked in through the front door. It was like opening a box containing a brand new pair of shoes. The smell of quality and craftsmanship.
Passing though the main entrance and up the stairs I entered the Victorian splendour of their offices - all polished mahogany and glass partitions where I imagine armies of clerks used to work processing orders and keeping the company’s books. One of the larger rooms still remains the Crockett & Jones showroom to this day. I was surprised at the size and range of the display: a large number of lasts, materials and colours from loafers to boots, oxfords to derbys, all carefully designed for maximum comfort and durability.
Whilst touring the factory, pride is evident at every stage of the manufacturing process. First was the pattern cutting room, where modern technology enables the pattern cutters to keep ahead of the demands of consumer and fashion trends, through the continual development of patterns, last shapes and material choices - designs never stand still. I saw many shoes in development and had the impression of a constant drive to improve - no resting on laurels here.
We then moved through to the leather store and the Clicking Room in which craftsmen and women, clad in leather aprons, cut the leather to the many shapes required to make the unending variations of patterns available. Known as ‘Clickers’ from the sound made as their knife is removed from the leather, they work deftly and quickly, ensuring that maximum use is made of each skin so that the best leather is used as efficiently as possible.
I noticed men and women go about their business with remarkable dexterity, working on the shoes with great skill, care and attention.
On to the Closing Room, where sections are stitched together to form uppers before they move onto the Lasting and Making Rooms to be lasted, welted and have the soles stitched on. At each point the ever-present smell of leather is overlain by additional smells; adhesive, polish and, at lunch time, the smell of food as the workers open their lunchboxes. Sounds are muted; gentle conversation with the rattle of sewing machines in the background.
Everywhere throughout the production process, from the selection of the leather, its cutting, stitching and lasting, the welting and finishing, I noticed men and women go about their business with remarkable dexterity, working on the shoes with great skill, care and attention. Many of the processes are made to look effortless, but it was clear to me that this is the result of much practice and careful training.
I came away from my visit with the thought that when I buy British-made shoes, like those from Crockett & Jones, I’m buying into a heritage of which we should be proud. You know that your shoes have been entirely made in Northampton and are the result of more than a century of combined refinement. They are made by well-trained crafts people who are proud of their skills. But it was clear to me that these aren’t skills that stand still - the craftsmanship I saw on my visit was testament to that.