This week sees the start of the new academic year and the return of the majority of schools in the UK. Vast numbers of the nation’s school children have not seen a classroom since March and thus the need for new school uniform became negligible. But, after almost six months away, retailers will have seen a huge spike for new school uniform and all the accoutrements that go with the ‘Back To School’ marketing push.
Left - Mendip Craft Youth Black Leather - £46
According to research by Mintel the back to school market was worth £1.16 billion in 2018. This was an increase of 36% on the previous year, when it was worth £855 million, making back to school spending the third biggest retail spending event after Christmas and Black Friday. Parents told Mintel they spent an average of £134 on school uniforms and shoes in 2018, a 6% increase compared to the average of £127 spent in 2017. Collectively, Brits spent a total of £510 million on school uniforms in 2018, up from £395 million in 2017. GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, estimated UK shoppers were set to spend £1.7bn on back to school items in 2019, with the market forecast to grow by 1.5%. This is only slightly outperforming the annual rise in the number of pupils due to population growth.
One of the biggest back to school beneficiary brands was Clarks, who for many years was the go-to source for children’s school shoes.
But, it’s been a tough few years at this still family-owned, British high-street institution, which has seen revenues and profits falling. The latest accounts show turnover to February 2019 was £790million, down 4% from 2018 at £820.4 million. The breakdown of this was UK and ROI contributing £561.1million, Asia Pacific £135.2million, Europe £96.5million and the Americas just £0.5million.
An operating loss of £48.7million was reported, up from £3.7million the previous year.
The brand reported a ‘poor’ performance and cited it was struggling in part due to the weakness in sterling which made its goods sourced from the far east more expensive when paid in US dollars. All of this was all pre-COVID.
Right - Clarks was founded in 1825 by brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset
Founded in 1825 by brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset, where it still has its headquarters, the company has over 1,000 branded stores and franchises around the world and also sells through third-party distribution in 35 countries. The Clarks family still retains 80% of the company spread amongst more than 400 family members. The world number one in ‘everyday footwear’, Clarks sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes every year.
In February 2018, Lance Clark, the head of the Clarks shoe family, largest shareholder and inventor of the firm's iconic Wallabee shoe died aged 81. He was managing director of the family shoe company until 1994. The Clarks CEO at the time, Mike Shearwood, described Mr Clark as 'an immense character' who played 'a very significant role' in the company. He said, “We have lost an immense character who will be forever prominent in our company's history.”
Lance Clark was a leader and his extensive experience gave the company direction and many credit him for the amazing growth of Clarks in the late 20th and early 21st century.
The same year, June, Shearwood was dismissed under a cloud after being accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ including sexist, racist and homophobic comments.
In October 2019, he lost his case for unfair dismissal after taking Clarks to an employment tribunal. Clarks said Mr Shearwood's conduct was the reason he was made to resign, and an employment panel agreed. Allegations were made by the 56-year-old against chairman Tom O'Neil, whom he claimed adjusted the minutes of board meetings.
After much fanfare, in January 2019, Clarks announced a it was closing its new manufacturing facility in Street after failing to meet manufacturing and cost targets. The state-of-the-art factory was originally scheduled to open in 2017 with Clarks hoping to make 300,000 pairs of made-in-England desert boots a year at the facility, and create up to 80 jobs. However, the opening was delayed and the factory only started production in summer 2018.
In recent news, Clarks made the decision not to reopen a ”meaningful" number of its 347 UK store estate once the government-mandated lockdown ended. As part of the “normal review” the retailer decided not to renew the leases on a small number of stores as they expired in May 2020. An exact number and locations weren’t announced. It had already closed 56 stores in 2018/19. In May 2020, Clarks announced 900 roles were going globally with 108 of those redundancies at its HQ in Street, Somerset.
Left - Scooter Speed Kid Black Leather - £48
Clarks is now under the leadership of Chief Executive Giorgio Presca, who joined in March 2019, six months after Mike Shearwood stepped down. Presca has more than 20 years' of experience in managing and developing global premium brands, previously leading Golden Goose Deluxe Brand, and was chief executive at Italian footwear brand Geox between 2012-2016, which is more relevant to Clarks’ market. Presca has also worked at Diesel, VF Corp, Citizens of Humanity, Levi Strauss & Co. and Lotto.
The vast majority of parents wouldn’t have bought any school shoes between March and August this year. That would mean a huge demand in one go for new school shoes. Currently, online, Clarks’ children’s shoes - boys and girls - range in price from £36-£58. This is often more than what parents would spend on shoes for themselves. They are willing to pay more for a pair they feel with last.
When you consider young children’s clothing and shoes don’t include any VAT - everything under the maximum size an average child will be on their 14th birthday - then the margins are big.
Clarks has had a difficult few years and has become somewhat rudderless with a lack of direction and leadership. The expensive factory debacle and the distraction of Shearwood’s tribunal would have had an effect. Clarks doesn’t include a breakdown of its children’s shoes within its figures, but it is no doubt considerable. Over 70% of Clarks’ turnover is from the UK and ROI and much of this will be the school market. With not much recent innovation in its adult ranges, the children’s shoe sector will be incredibly important to them and this will be make or break time. Without this back to school boost Clarks could be in serious trouble and they’ll be praying they all stay there wearing out those new shoes.
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"If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends" or so the song goes. The Union Jack was the symbol - obvs - of “Cool Britannia”, when Liam was in bed with Patsy and everybody wore Wannabe loafers by Patrick Cox.
Left - Gucci - Union Jack Horsebit Leather Loafer - £530
I’ve been wanting to do something on this for ages, since Gucci took over Westminster Abbey to show their UK-inspired Cruise collection, last June, but, I'm not sure where the time went. Luckily, because Gucci are holding onto products and not putting them into the sale, they're still relevant.
If we’re talking about who owns the loafer then historically it’s Gucci, but during the 90s it was Patrick Cox. Selling 100,000 pairs a year, it was part of the Britpop wardrobe and while not cheap, they were suprisingly affordable with the silver 'W' on the side.
He sold his label and name and then the brand disappeared into the ether. He returned a few year's ago, designing a range with Geox and then decided to establish his new brand Lathbridge. The Lathbridge brand name is Cox's middle name and the company logo of the bulldog is inspired by Cox's much loved 2 English bulldogs, Caesar and Brutus.
I spoke to Patrick during a trade show in Paris where he was previewing this collection, I asked him about the Gucci homage, he knew about it and I think he was flattered. His version is slightly simpler, but with all the same positive 90s nostalgia. Now, to dig out those Benetton sweaters!
Below - Lathbridge by Patrick Cox - English Flash Penny Loafers - £321 from FarFetch
With everything turning towards vintage sportswear, it was perfectly timed and serendipity to receive an invitation to the Diadora museum. Located near Treviso, around 40km from Venice, Diadora, the Italian sportswear brand and manufacturer, is having a renaissance and riding the wave of the revival of 80s sports classics and men’s terrace wear.
Left - Diadora HQ is near Treviso, a town in the Veneto region of north-east Italy
Unfortunately not open to the general public, the museum is located at the head office and factory. Since July 2009, Diadora has been controlled by L.I.R. the holding company owned by the Moretti Polegato family, who also own Geox. They have re-established the Diadora brand and the museum is there to remind and explain to visitors and employees the brand’s history and sporting heritage.
Right - The timeline of Diadora's history in the museum
Diadora is from the Greek, dia-dorea, which means, ‘to share gifts and honours’, and was established in 1948 by Marcello Danieli to make mountain boots. Treviso is situated near the mountains and the Italian mountain police required special boots for their duties and this is why many of these types of manufacturers and companies sprang up in this area after the war.
In 1960 Diadora shifted its production to sports and during its heyday in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it was worn by some of the biggest sports stars of the time including Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Coe, Bjorn Borg and the Italia ’90 Italian football team.
Left - One of many of the famous sports shoes in Diadora's hall of fame - Here is Boris Becker's
In 2009, Enrico Moretti Polegato, a member of the controlling family, became the new president of the company with the aim of enhancing the brand’s worldwide reputation and production. A background as a lawyer, and softly spoken, he kindly gave us the tour of the museum.
Right - Inside the factory where 10% of Diadora's shoes are #madeinitaly
The museum starts with an overview of nearly 70 years of history with a few of the original machines and processes it takes to make the shoes. An enviable collection of signed football shirts illustrates the depth of names who have worn Diadora.
The next part is where Geox’s expertise comes in. Masters in sole innovation and construction, they are regarded by some as the best, producing comfortable and practical footwear. A new concept, centred in the room, illustrates the breathability of their soles and how they are bringing this technology into Diadora’s new footwear.
Left - Diadora's sporting greats on the outside of the headquarters
The final part is Diadora’s greatest hits: a display of all the sports people who have worn Diadora over the years including Boris Becker, Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti pictured alongside their shoes.
Diadora’s collections are a good mix of heritage with modern finishes and techniques centred around the sports shoes and their current collection of 'Heritage' casual wear has the strong branding people are currently looking for. They do pure sports shoes, casual shoes and vintage inspired shoes, for many different sports, and they also produce utility shoes. Around 10% of their shoes are, now, made in Italy, and around 30% is made in neighbouring countries in Europe.
When I visited they were making utility shoes in the factory adjacent to the museum. The small production space is connected to the design department so they can prototype and produce in limited runs and in tighter time frames. Diadora has recently specialised in producing special collaborations for brands and retailers.
It feels that being part of a bigger group, Diadora, has more stability and the expertise and investment you need in order to be able to keep up in this very competitive market. As people grow tired of the sports mega brands and a return to those with real heritage, Diadora is in the perfect position to reap the benefits with quality products that are well made and define this new era of retro sports that has hit the current fashion scene.
Right - Diadora's current SS17 campaign which references its 80s archive
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