As one of the pioneering footwear brands in Britain, Clarks is something of an institution to anyone who grew up before the millennium. Read on for the complete history of the brand.
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Starting from humble roots, Clarks has become one of the most iconic footwear brands in the British Isles over the last couple of centuries. Renowned for their superior construction, as well as their intrinsically British design - it's quite likely that most of us have owned a pair of their shoes at some point or another.
Read on for the complete history of British powerhouse, Clarks.
The History of Clarks
1821 - 1903
Clarks shoes first appear on the timeline way back when in 1821 after Cyrus Clark went into business with one of his cousins fellmongering, woolstapling and tanning in Somerset. A few years later, in 1825, they'd disbanded and Cyrus went solo taking up residence on the high street with the idea of making whole sheepskin rugs.
In 1828, Cyrus hired his younger brother, James, as an apprentice. Soon after starting, James began making slippers with surplus materials that were too small to use in rugs. Realising this could be an alternative revenue stream for the company, he began asking workers from the factory to collect materials, assemble the footwear in workshops and return the completed slippers for payment. By the time his apprenticeship had ended in 1833 it was so successful that they began trading as C. & J. Clark.
In 1863, bad decisions and poor management brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy and almost certain closure. Thankfully, the religious Quaker community stepped in and bailed out the company - a requirement of this bailout made James' son, William, the company leader. By 1873, he'd become a partner of the company with his father.
Over the following years, William created the first mechanised shoemaking process in the country - only furthering the brand's production power and innovative nature. With the unprecedented growth following the companies mechanisation, the Quaker community values saw Clarks invest massively in the local community. Some of the benefits reaped by the local town of Street included the building of a school, a theatre, a library, an open-air swimming pool, a town hall and playing fields.
1903 - 1980
In 1903 the partnership was dissolved so that Clarks could trade as a private limited company. In 1904, John Walter Bostock was brought over from the US so that he could teach the workers of the advanced manufacturing techniques. As a result of its success, Bostock was made a director by 1928.
As the company grew, so too did their reputation for high-quality, premium goods. In 1937, the officially became a retailer after acquiring all of the Abbotts chain of shops in London. The company continued to see substantial growth under Bancroft Clark, Anthony Clark and Peter Clothier and by 1970, their market share was up to 9%.
1980 - Present
In 1986, John Clothier took up the position of CEO and remained in the role to oversee the companies buy out by Berisford International Plc who wanted to take the company public. The Clarks shareholders refused the proposal in 1993, as well as deciding that they needed professional management in favour of being family run.
In 1996 Tim Parker was appointed as CEO as well as a new chairman, Roger Pedder - they then oversaw the 'Act Your Shoe Size Not Your Age' campaign in 1997 which refreshed the brand giving it a modern, contemporary feel. In 2002, Peter Bolliger was made CEO and was instrumental in transitioning Clarks from manufacturing to wholesale and branded retail as well - the last Clarks factory closed in 2005 / 2006 in favour of more efficient Asian production.
After her appointment in 2010, CEO Melissa Potter re-organised the business globally, as well as overseeing the Chinese re-launch and the creation of their online store. She then stepped down as CEO in 2015 with chairman Thomas O’Neill taking the role until the new CEO's been hired.
Your Quick Guide to The History of Clarks
- Clarks shoes first appear on the timeline way back when in 1821 after Cyrus Clark went into business with one of his cousins.
- They began trading as C. & J. Clark in in 1833.
- In 1863, bad decisions and poor management brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy and almost certain closure.
- The Clarks shareholders refused a buyout proposal in 1993, as well as deciding that they needed professional management in favour of being family run.
- The 'Act Your Shoe Size Not Your Age' campaign in 1997 refreshed the brand giving it a modern, contemporary feel.
And that's your lot! Just like most other heritage brands, Clarks past is steeped in interesting facts as well as numerous directional changes through the years. It's this clever management that it takes for a brand to step from one century to another. Looking at the direction Clarks are currently taking, it's an exciting time as the brand moves towards an increasingly contemporary aesthetic, as well as maintaining the styles that's made them who they are today. Now... to the next hundred years!