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5 Facts About British Footwear You Probably Didn’t Know

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

Britain is renowned for making quality shoes, but we bet you weren’t aware of these footwear industry facts.

The footwear industry in the UK continues to thrive, with consumer spending growing consistently and unrivalled manufacturing processes coming from Northampton shoemakers. Since we make our Men's premium footwear in the footwear capital of Northampton, we are incredibly proud and just want to spread the word about the joy that comes from owning British Footwear!

In this blog, we celebrate the quality of the British shoemaking industry by highlighting some key footwear industry facts. So, whether you’re a lover of all things British or just can’t resist swotting up in preparation for your next virtual pub quiz, you’re bound to learn something new about the industry we love and adore.

There’s something distinctively Italian about British shoes

A major part of our shoe industry today has evolved from the events many centuries ago. When Romans first arrived in Britain, they wore military sandals, called the caliga. These sandal-like shoes exposed the toes and had a lattice with patterned upper, front lacing and a heavily nailed sole. in today's world we would probably refer to this style as "gladiator sandals"

However, it was their other style of shoe, the gallica, which inspired early British shoemaking. Its closed-toe design was a lot better suited to our weather!

Oxfords are forged in British history

Many people still wear Oxford shoes today, but what you might not have known is that they were first created back around 1640.

As the name suggests, the Oxford style was originally worn by male and female Oxford University students – providing super comfort and a smart look.

But they didn’t become a fashion staple until the late 1800s when the rest of Britain and America started to buy them.

Grimy faces, leather aprons and timeless manufacturing

The British footwear industry owes a lot to Northampton. Since the 15th century, Northampton has been making shoes when assizes (decrees) first regulated prices for cordwainers (the medieval name for shoemakers).

Ever since, Northampton has continued to enhance its reputation as the heart of the British shoemaking industry. In 1642, a group of shoemakers won a contract to supply the army and by 1841, the shoe industry had grown to nearly 2000 manufacturers.

Geographically, Northampton was perfect for shoemaking during the medieval times, thanks to a good supply of material from large local cattle markets and its central location for distribution up and down the country.

We make all our footwear in Northampton, our factory has been in the trade now since 1881 so we are pretty confident they know what they are doing! and you can learn more about it here.

Retail is up, manufacturing is down

Despite Northampton shoemakers, such as NPS, is widely recognised as leaders in top British footwear manufacturing, there seems to be a shortage of manufacturers on these shores in 2020.

Fashion United revealed that the retail sale of footwear and leather goods provides a healthy 11% of fashion jobs in the UK, with a further 8% working in the wholesale of clothing and footwear.

However, as the shoemaking industry continues to flourish and demands for British footwear soars, less than 1% of the total workers in the fashion sector are manufacturers of footwear.

Imports trumps exports

Leading on from the previous interesting fact about footwear, Fashion United’s latest research also indicates that the lack of British shoe manufacturers is due to the imbalance between import and export figures.

To be precise, imports of footwear and headwear is worth circa $8.16 billion, whereas exports stand at just $2.18 billion.

This worrying gap means two things:

  1. While retailers are bringing in more employees to handle high demands of fashion in shops, they’re opting for fast fashion alternatives from foreign shoemakers.

  2. The rest of the world simply doesn’t see the value in British shoes!

Looking ahead

Moving forward, COVID-19 is set to change the way the world chooses to shop. In March alone, online retail sales increased by 74% in average transaction volumes compared with the same period last year.

Although high street retailers will see a surge in normal shopping when normal business returns, e-commerce shoe companies will continue their surge in popularity.

The pandemic is making it harder for companies to rely on imports and is once again, showing why being self-sufficient is positive during these testing times.

If we revisit some of these footwear industry facts next year, don’t be surprised to see a shift in imports and more shoe manufacturers starting to emerge.

While times may be hard right now, the shoe industry continues to stride forward – which is great news for your feet!

There are some serious benefits of buying British when it comes to your footwear and we are determined to prove it try one of these and learn how your wallet along with your feet can reap the rewards:

Enjoyed reading this? Then you’ll love our previous blog: ‘7 Random Facts About Shoes That’ll Come in Handy in a Pub Quiz’.

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