Why is sustainability important to Crown Northampton?
This is one of the questions that was asked to us recently in a discussion with The Jackal Magazine. It then led us down a series of avenues which explored the inner workings of our Northampton factory and the day to day processes which by default, lean towards sustainability.
Crown Northampton didn’t set out to be a sustainable company from the beginning when the Woodford Family originally set up back in 1908. However, it's our business, core brand values, and location in the heart of boot and shoemaking town of Northampton that has guided us down the sustainable route.
As the town of Northampton is densely populated with other shoe factories, we are privileged to have some of the best local leather merchants, sole makers, lace suppliers, etc. in the country. They are all nearby and we take great pride in sourcing as much of our materials locally as we can. This ensures we are working within the boundaries of Northamptonshire where possible, with local suppliers and also always keeping a close eye on stock levels and production. This is one of our strongest brand messages that we truly believe in as a company as it all adds the local economy as well as the sustainability factor of sourcing locally. These set of processes also mean we can be more versatile when designing and sampling as sourcing and production time is freed up.
Our Made To Order business model ensures we never need to hold stock on the shelves so we only ever start the manufacturing process when an order comes in from a distributor or customer. This enables us to streamline all aspects of the business. Even our shoe boxes are made in Northamptonshire around 15 miles from our factory. We are also the only brand in the UK, and maybe further afield, that offers a re-soleable sneaker restoration service. The thinking behind offering this as a service was that soles will usually deteriorate quicker than the uppers on sneakers due to the daily wear directly against the ground. As we use high-quality premium suedes and leathers that get better and better with wear; this service ensures the wearer can continue to develop their own unique patina, also meaning the lifespan of the sneaker is significantly increased.
We find our main day to day design and factory decisions are generally based around quality, craftsmanship, design and continually improving the Crown product. We are continually trialing our footwear throughout the team and looking for areas of improvement. This could be an improvement to the laces we use, a slight pattern adjustment to a style or most recently a change to the natural leather lining we use. We’ve recently sourced a new leather that is 100% sustainable and will begin trialing with it on our next batch of samples. If the quality betters or matches what we currently use then we will switch over immediately. Most of the time the changes are technical and the customer will not even realise but with something like this, we will communicate the positive, sustainable message to our customers so the benefits are clear. Further to this, all of the craftspeople in our factory are locally based so have learned the shoemaking trade through knowledge that has been passed down through the generations. This cycle then continues by helping to train and grow future generations locally.
When it comes to wholesale distribution, which for us is predominantly in Japan at present. This is all made to order based on the order book received each season which is a generally standard process for this specific channel in the industry. However, where our made to order process becomes unique is with our direct to customer orders. The customer orders through our transactional website choosing the style, upper and sole colour of their choice and they are then able to request added extras and options such as a wider fitting if they have wide feet, a special handwritten note inside that is personal to them or sometimes to have the one shoe a half size bigger or smaller than the other as everyone’s feet are different. These notes will then be collected and passed on to the factory so they can start work on the order. The shoes will then be made from scratch, usually taking between 5-15 days to deliver for UK orders and 10-25 days for European and Worldwide orders. We do not hold any stock on the shelves so every order is made to order in a semi-bespoke way, most of the time at no extra cost to the customer. This ensures little wastage with footwear only being made when necessary and meaning sustainability goes hand in hand with our Made To Order business model. A byproduct of this is that we also never need to go into sale as there is no need to clear down stock from season to season.
The main challenges in terms of sustainability are the continuous sourcing and review of materials, the extra costs involved in doing this and how we communicate this message to the customers that we genuinely care, which we all do. The standard for high-quality footwear from Northampton has been set centuries ago and Crown will always hold ourselves to these standards. We feel we have set our pricing at a fair level for the craftsmanship involved with Made In England footwear and the high-quality materials used. We are definitely not the most expensive in our category but feel we are one of the best made with the best locally sourced materials. The challenge is always to try and convey the message to the customer that the most expensive doesn’t always mean the best quality product and fairly priced doesn’t mean lower quality.
With regards to long term planning, we are already trialing the new 100% sustainable leather lining as mentioned earlier and we are also in the final planning stages of adding the new Lactae Hevea rubber soles to the range as an option to the customer - hopefully by the end of 2019. The soles are made from sustainable Hevea milk with a manufacturing process that involves cutting the tree to extract milk when it is at the end of a cycle. This then helps regenerate the next cycle so is 100% beneficial and fully sustainable. The finished soles are soft, supple, shock absorbing and durable. We have been developing a new slimmer last for this particular collection so it will also add a point of difference as a slimmed down overall look.
In addition to sustainable sourcing and processes, Crown Northampton are fully committed to making every product in England, from start to finish. Hopefully, in the future, more brands and factories will consider working closely with local suppliers and source materials as close to home as possible. We are currently in the final stages of completing our new Factory Floor Showroom and once finished we will be looking to offer a fully bespoke service. The top tier service will allow the customer's foot to be measured, a personal last made with local last makers Spring Line and a choice of materials for the uppers ranging from premium to exotic will be offered whilst working closely with Leeds, England Tannery, C F Stead.
To conclude, in a time where we are more conscious of over-consumerism and waste, maybe we all need to look at the frequency we buy footwear vs the quality and longevity of the product itself. Overall this will ensure a better long term solution for everyone, including the earth!