Made In Britain: A brief background to the British shoe Industry

Wooden foot, dummy

There is no doubt that the UK has seen a resurgence in manufacturing over the last decade, with fashion being a key contributing industry. The British shoe industry, in particular, is making a slow but steady comeback with an ever increasing number of British shoe designers trying to get their shoes made in Britain.

With prestigious fashion colleges such as London College of Fashion offering a degree in Cordwainers Footwear, a course which is hugely popular, supporting industry bodies such as The British Footwear Association (BFA) and other wonderful websites set up to support Made In Britain products, it is easy to see why shoe design is a popular career choice, and the desire to make the shoes in the UK in increasing demand.   

British Shoe Manufacturing 

With a revival in British shoe manufacturing there has also been a revival of famous British shoe brands, in particular Rayne who were famous throughout the Twentieth Century and made shoes for film stars and various members of the Royal family.

England is no stranger to shoe making. It used to be a burgeoning industry, with its heart in Northampton (their football team is called The Cobblers!), which provided lifelong work for generations of families. Initially a highly skilled profession, the industrial revolution enabled mass production, and the shoe making industry greatly expanded and reduced costs. This helped encourage the concept of shoes as a fashion accessory and not strictly as a practical necessity. Both the first and second world war all but halted shoe making (other than for military purposes) but post WW2 developments in the industry such as using glue instead of stitching on the sole meant that shoes became even cheaper to make. At this time, other materials also started to be used for making the sole, again reducing costs.  

England's shoe manufacturing strength was challenged in the late 50s and early 60s by overseas shoe imports from Italy, Portugal and Spain. The inability to compete on price saw British manufacturing capacity reduce to a point where, for the most part, only high end shoes could feasibly be made in England. England's shoe industry declined further with the introduction of even cheaper imports from China, Brazil and more recently India.     

There are still a handful of sizeable shoe factories in England that continue to make quality shoes, mostly focusing on men's shoes, such a Church's and Barker. Sadly only a few factories make shoes for smaller brands, hence the need for shoe companies to look to Europe for their shoe manufacturing needs. However, British shoe designers are celebrated the world over for their imagination, attention to detail and creative ideas. Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon, Nicholas Kirkwood, Charlotte Olympia, Rupert Sanderson and Sophia Webster all hail from the UK and have huge worldwide fan bases. Many of these and other less well known British shoe designers are keen to support British shoe manufacturing where possible. One way to do this is by creating a Made In England range, something that we at Sargasso & Grey are proud to offer. All of our bridal shoes are also handmade in Endland. 

Our English Collection

Our Handmade in England collection is lovingly made in East London by a family of cobblers who have been making shoes for well over 30 years. What they don't know about shoe making probably isn't worth knowing! Our decision to make the shoes to order is driven partly by our desire to offer a wider range of material and colour choices, meaning it just would not be feasible to keep that many choices of shoe in stock. Luckily the shoe factory is very willing to make the shoes to order just so long as we give them sufficient time to make the shoes and deliver them. An important part of the shoe manufacturing process is to keep the shoe on the last for as long as possible, giving the shoe a better shape. In allowing our factory ample time to make the shoe we are also affording them ample time to last the shoe. We think you'll find it worth the wait when you try our shoes!


More Posts