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Interviews

James Fox (Crockett & Jones)

June 29, 2013

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James Fox & Philippa Jones

Why were you initially attracted by the shoemaking business?

For me shoe manufacturing was an industry that I had merely heard fascinating stories about through years of knowing the Jones family and to be very honest, 10 years ago I had no idea these kinds of factories still functioned in this day and age.
When an offer to work in my wife’s family business was presented to me, I accepted with great pride. Crockett & Jones, albeit a company that has already benefited from some younger input, is a business well and truly rooted into the British manufacturing history books. To be involved in moving the company forward and cementing it further into history for the next generation was an exciting prospect but clearly one that was not going to be without its challenges and hard work.

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What is your first memory about shoes?

Not so much about the shoes. Before I met the Jones family, shoes were not really my forte, from memory my wardrobe consisted of a single pair of Adidas trainers and that was about it!

My first memory: When I looked over the balcony at our Northampton factory, I saw, for the first time, the hustle and bustle of a working Goodyear welted shoe factory. The smells, the atmosphere, it was tough to pull myself away. I then spent the next 6 months in each department of the factory getting to know the true talent in the shoe trade and learning the manufacturing process.

Today, when I take customers and Crockett & Jones retail staff on factory tours I always start from this balcony and it is usually accompanied by an aria of Ooo’s and Arrr’s!

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Initially Crockett & Jones was founded with the help of the Sir Thomas White Charity Trust. How are you encouraging the young apprentices to learn the craft today?

Although Crockett & Jones is now a worldwide brand, we are not a huge company. Unfortunately running an apprentice scheme is extremely admin heavy so we have not yet formalised our training programme to be able to call it an apprenticeship. It is probably something we will look at doing in the future as the staffing numbers grow.

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Our training is still done the old fashion way: Regularly recruiting new operatives on our factory floor we have grown by some 70 members since I joined in 2010! All new starters go through a period of training that involves working closely with either a trainer or one of the ‘utility’ operatives we have throughout the factory. By utility, I mean they are usually able to complete most of the jobs within their department to the high standards that Crockett & Jones requires. One of our biggest challenges today is finding hardworking and honest staff who are focused on learning a trade that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

British manufacturing has seen its fair share of bad luck and poor media coverage over the years but thankfully our small section of the British manufacturing industry is thriving and we are all starting to see much more success from new members of staff.

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Comparing a 19th century Crockett & Jones shoe with modern times shoe, are there differences that we can observe in the techniques or in materials that are used?

The biggest difference compared to the late 19th century would be the size of the factories and their departments, the number of women working in a factory, the introduction of bigger machinery and the quality of the calf skins. Very little has changed in the process of manufacturing a Goodyear welted shoe in the last hundred years.
Originally, outworkers would have been ‘ten a penny’ in the town with leather components being sent out to be closed and uppers being returned to the factory for the construction of the sole. We now call this our closing room and it is our largest department in the factory.
Consisting of 98% women, it was a fun few weeks when I worked in there; I got my fair share of stick!

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In terms of ‘new’ machinery, the introduction of the Goodyear welt stitching machines, invented by the American Charles Goodyear Jr.  was a pivotal stage for Goodyear shoe making across the world. Crockett & Jones introduced the machine in the early 20th Century. Causing a factory walkout, this machine enabled our factory to welt as many shoes in half a day as a hand welter could do in a week. It also strengthened this part of the process which is key to Goodyear welted shoe making.

I also mentioned the quality of calf skins and unfortunately this is not as good as it used to be. Our shoes remain the same quality but leather utilization is considerably down. Forty years ago we may have been able to get 7/8 pairs out of a skin, where today we are lucky to get 4/5. It is important to remember that we are still using the best part of a calf skin to manufacture the shoes. Being at the top end of a luxury market, there are no compromises.

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What are the core strengths of a Crockett & Jones shoe?

A pair of Crockett & Jones shoes offers exceptional strength, durability and comfort in wear. I don’t believe you will be able to buy a pair of Goodyear welted shoes with our quality of design and manufacturing strength for a better price in the world today.

Those lucky few that have been on a factory tour, met the operatives and witnessed what goes into a pair of our shoes realize how good our shoes are. Even the most experienced of customers still leave with a feeling of satisfaction that they are working with one of the best in the industry.

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Please outline the current lasts available. In the near future are there any plans for new lasts?

Last development is an ongoing process and one that our current Managing Director, Jonathan Jones does personally. He works closely with our last maker in Northampton, designing the toe shapes himself. The success of our range today starts with this last development; we have some very unique lasts that are extremely recognizable as Crockett & Jones shoes. You will see on our website, we still produce shoes on lasts that are over 50 years old, making it difficult to say what is current and what is not.

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More recent additions to our ever growing last collection would be:
Last No.363 – a round toe Hand Grade last, that has been described to me as our best fitting last yet.
Last No.359 – an asymmetric last that is very trendy, offering our younger customers something less classic.
Last No.348/358 – both hugely successful square toe lasts, one for the Main Collection, the other a Hand Grade last.
And finally our most recent addition to Paris only is Last No.369 a bespoke looking chiseled square toe last.

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For 2013 is there any new styles coming up?

All of our Spring/Summer 2013 styles arrived in our shops in April. We have also included a new filter on the website to enable customers to view only the new styles for the current year.

Barrington 2, is a tan calf semi brogue that seems to have got a few people excited. Newquay, available in two colours of suede, is an unlined Derby, making it both stylish and comfortable for summer. Suffolk, in Charcoal Suede with contrast stitching and a red rubber sole is one of the best ‘sporty full brogue’ Oxford’s on the market.
I am very excited about a few styles we will be introducing into the range for Autumn/Winter 2013, but you will have to wait and see until our press release is online…

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In SKYFALL Daniel Craig wears Crockett & Jones shoes. How was the collaboration for SKYFALL?

SKYFALL was a very proud moment for all at Crockett & Jones. We all thought SKYFALL was excellent and were pleased to be an affiliated brand. It brought us a lot of publicity, more than we imagined and we are still fulfilling orders for the ‘James Bond’ styles!

It will be something that will live on in the memory of everyone involved in making the shoes for James Bond!

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Would you please be so kind to highlight those 4 models for us? Where they custom made? Did the shoes have any special features?

The styles that featured in SKYFALL:
Alex – a wholecut Oxford in Black Calf.
Highbury – a 3 eyelet Derby in Black Calf.
Tetbury – a 2 eyelet Chukka boot in Black Calf
Islay – a full brogue Derby boot in Dark Brown Scotch Grain.

All styles were from our main stock programme and no, none of them came with sprung loaded daggers! They are all off the shelf classics, which are available from all Crockett & Jones retail shops.

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Are there any plans to continue this partnership in the future?

It would be a great honor to continue the affiliation with the James Bond franchise, but this is not our decision. Hopefully the production company was happy with how the shoes performed in the film!

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In the 90s Mr. Jones’s vision was to increase the Crockett & Jones branded distribution. You now have retail shops and concessions across London, Birmingham, New York, Paris and Brussels. Do you have any retail plans regarding East Europe or Russia? The Russian market is very attractive for many shoemakers…

No, we do not have any plans to expand into East Europe or Russia at the moment as our Factory in Northampton is extremely busy. We currently have one stockist in Moscow, Hampton Hall and another in St.Petersburg, Careerist.

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Crockett & Jones retail shops offer the following: A full Repair Service where your shoes are sent back to our Northampton factory for full repair, going through many of the operations as if they were new. We have a Mail Order service that gives customers the opportunity to discuss fitting, pricing and delivery either by email or phone. Our Semi Bespoke service gives customers the chance to re-order shoes that have been discontinued or to change original specifications of their preferred style, within reason of course. Finally, we have a Full Bespoke service offered only in Paris by Dimitri Gomez a Maître Bottier or Master Shoe Maker who creates made to measure shoes by hand. A craftsman at his best.

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How do you see the shoemaking industry today? A lot of independent shoemakers have closed their doors due to the crisis and even some of the big names are concerned about the future…

The luxury shoe trade in England is at the crest of a wave at the moment, all of the factories seem to be very busy, it is fantastic to hear all of the good stories coming from British manufacturing once again.

We have seen many of our customers re-ordering again this year which just goes to show the popularity of our brand worldwide. However, a few experienced heads have told me that the shoe industry is notorious for peaks and troughs so we are always focused on maintaining the hard work that has got us to where we are today.

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How do you think the market will change in the next ten years and what is the advantage of the British shoe?

For now, my experience is minimal, but I would like to think that the next 10 years at Crockett & Jones would see continued but steady expansion of both our retail operation and factory output at its current quality, whilst ensuring we support the wholesale network of retailers around the world.

A British shoe is a timeless classic that no man should be without. We have customers that are still wearing Crockett & Jones shoes they bought from us more than 20 years ago. There is nothing quite like a worn in pair of handmade English shoes from Crockett & Jones.

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Are there any areas that Crockett & Jones will be focusing on for 2013?

We are very much focused on keeping our quality high whilst increasing production to meet the sales demand. Couple this with continually training new members of staff; it is not an easy task.

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If you would have to choose from all Crockett & Jones style to display in a Shoe Museum what style would it be…

I get asked this question frequently and I have a few favourites in my wardrobe. I tend to have a favourite in each category, but the pair that I have given the best test wear is a treasured pair of Cranford 3 Chelsea boots.

Cranford 3 is on Last No.360 (I have it in dark brown calf) and it is by far the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. When I had it repaired for the first time I opted for the new lightweight rubber sole and I sometimes struggle to wear anything else. I have since learned that rotation is the key to making sure your shoes last so I recently purchased my second pair of Chelsea boots on the 360 last, this time in Navy Suede!

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