Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Return of the Desert Boots.

C. & J. Clark International Ltd, trading as Clarks, is a British, international shoe manufacturer and retailer. It was founded in 1825 by Quaker brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset, England – 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.

The company's best known product is the Desert Boot – a distinctive ankle height boot with crepe sole usually made out of calf suede leather traditionally supplied by Charles F Stead & Co tannery in Leeds. Officially launched in 1950 the Desert Boot was designed by Nathan Clark (great-grandson of James Clark).

Nathan Clark was an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps posted to Burma in 1941 with orders to help establish a supply route from Rangoon to the Chinese forces at Chongqing whilst also launching a series of offensives throughout South East Asia. Before leaving home his brother Bancroft had given him the mission to gather any information on footwear that might be of use to the company whilst he was travelling the world. The Desert Boot was the result of this mission.

His discovery of the Desert Boot was made either at Staff College in 1944 or on leave in Kashmir where three divisions of the old Eighth Army (transferred to the Far East from North Africa) were wearing ankle high suede boots manufactured in the bazaars of Cairo. Nathan sent sketches and rough patterns back to Bancroft, but no trials were made until after he returned to Street and cut the patterns himself.

The Desert Boot was cut on the men’s Guernsey Sandal last and sampled in a neutral beige-grey 2mm chrome bend split suede. The company’s Stock Committee reacted badly to the sample and dismissed the idea as it ‘would never sell’. It was only in his capacity as Overseas Development Manager that Nathan had any success with the shoe after introducing it to Oskar Schoefler (Fashion Editor, Esquire) at the Chicago Shoe Fair in 1949. He gave them substantial editorial credits with colour photographs in Esquire in early 1950. Bronson Davies subsequently saw these articles and applied to represent the company in selling them across the USA, long before they were available in the UK. The Desert Boot was initially sold in Britain through shops in Regent Street, featuring a Union Jack sewn into the label, targeted at tourists. Lance Clark is widely credited with popularising them in Europe during the 1960s.

The Desert Boot have been manufactured at Shepton Mallet, small scale production having initially occurred at Street. During the course of time, Whitecross factory in Weston-Super-Mare was subcontracted to relieve Shepton factory of the manufacture of the Desert Boot, before the Bushacre factory at Locking Road, Weston-Super-Mare was constructed in 1958. The Desert Boot was manufactured there until closure of the factory in 2001. As for the rest of the Clarks range, the Desert Boots are now produced in the Far East under careful supervision to assure the quality, look and feel are absolutely consistent with the original vision of Nathan Clark at a democratic price in line with the Quaker values of the family.

1 comment:

Oswald said...

Nathan Clark was an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps posted to Burma in ...