Grenson is a well respected shoe company founded in England 1886 by William Green. It is often a challenge to balance the rich history and heritage of a storied brand with the need to innovate and stay competitive. I spoke with the owner and creative director, Tim Little.

For the novice buyer, what should one look for when trying to find a well made dress shoe? What are the basics in good shoe construction?

Firstly find one that you like, don’t buy something just on quality.  The easy way to tell is the upper leather.  Look closely to see if you can see the grain of the leather.  If it’s a shiny plastic-looking finish, it’s usually cheaper leather.  Ask what the construction is.  Many shoes that have stuck on soles have a fake stitch to make them look Goodyear Welted. It sounds obvious but look at the price, most brands work on the same profit margin so if its expensive its because it cost a lot to make.  Finally, use Google: someone, somewhere can tell you about that shoe you’re thinking of buying.

Can you tell me about Goodyear construction and why it is so important?

Goodyear welted construction was first invented in the UK in the 19th century and is a way of making a shoe that makes it very solid and therefore hard wearing. It is quite specific to British shoemaking and matches our culture of being a bit stiff but totally dependable.  That obviously only applies to the 19th Century!  It’s important in that all shoe types fill a need.  A moccasin is great for someone who wants softness and lightness, a sneaker is great for playing sport and smoking dope and a welted shoe is good for displaying the reliability of your character.

How many collections do you put out each year and how many styles per collection?

We have two main collections each season, Men’s and Women’s, however we also do lots of collaborations, limited editions and one-offs in the factory.  I would guess that we do approximately 100-120 new lines a season, with probably 20-30 new styles in 3-5 colours each. It’s too many really, but designing shoes is a bit like eating Pringles, once you start, you cant stop.

What are some of the biggest challenges of keeping your manufacturing in England and how have you kept it successful as others move overseas?

Simple, we do both. We have an accessible line that we make with an overseas partner and we have our own shoes made in the factory. The overseas shoes are created in our factory and then taken with the leather and materials to our partner who makes them exactly as we do.  The shoes in our factory are 100% made by us, the skins literally enter one end of the factory and the shoes exit the other.  Many factories make half the shoe in one place and then put the sole on the UK, which allows them, to say “made in England”.

What are a few brands you have tremendous respect for, and why?

The two ultimate brands from a marketing perspective are Coca Cola and Rolls Royce.  The first turned a sticky black drink into a way of life purely through marketing, and the second created a brand purely through the quality of their products, to the extent that they became the name you use when trying to describe the best of anything (ie “this is the Rolls Royce of …..”).

How do you balance the rich history of the company and staying current with new designs and collaborations?

Aha you’ve hit on the secret. Managing this balance is the key.  If we move too far from our heritage, the brand becomes worthless, whereas if we don’t move on, we become stagnant. Neither is a great Business strategy. So we move the brand every season, with new product that is modern but also relevant to Grenson.  Ultimately the market tells you if you’re going too fast, in that if we did an espadrille, it wouldn’t sell because it’s not what people want from us, they wont let us do that. What I find fascinating is that brands like Grenson used to be far more inventive 50 years ago than they were 10 years ago.  Many brands get scared of their heritage and become handcuffed by it, which is a terrible mistake.

Owner and Creative Director Tim Little. For more information on Grenson, visit their website.




Category: Fashion, Reports, Retail, Shoes.

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