MATERIALS FOCUS: LEATHERS & SUEDES

Posted by Crown Northampton on

Here at Crown Northampton, we believe that our shoes are more than just the sum of their parts and ensuring each and every part is the best it can be means the finished product is always something we can be proud of. Our leather suppliers are integral to this goal and we see them as our partners. Without likeminded people who share our passion for making the very best, we wouldn’t be able to provide you with what some have dubbed as ‘the best sneakers in the world’.

Being the manufacturer, we have the ability to show you behind the scenes details on everything we make and do. Throughout this year, we’re focusing on materials with the aim to show you what we’re using and why we use it. Hopefully, we’ll be giving you a deeper understanding of our footwear to showcase what makes our products so unique.

Horween Shell Cordovan

The Materials

What really sets us apart from other sneaker companies is the quality of materials throughout the whole shoe. We invest the same time and care in selecting materials for the interior as we do with the materials you see on our leather uppers and rubber soles.

We select our leathers based on several factors; the finish, the material properties, the tannery it comes from, how distinctive it is and the level of expertise required to work with the material. 

When selecting colours and finishes for our collections we often have to take into consideration the availability and the tanning process of each leather in order to find the perfect material to include in our ranges. We also take feedback from our customers on what they would like to see, on occasion factory visitors get to handle some samples, so if you’re planning to stop by you may get a sneak preview of some of our upcoming leathers!

We love a challenge and an opportunity to show off our team’s skills so, if a material is particularly difficult to use then we won’t shy away from it! This broadens the selection of materials we can look at using and in turn, means our customers can often get something totally unmatched.

Something we hadn’t considered before this past year was the leather’s adaptability for small leather goods, like our card holders and belts. Now we have a full production line for our small leather goods, this is something we’re focusing on more and more.

When we’re looking at a new style or materials we’d like to use, we often go through an informal wear-testing period, in which members of the team take home a sample pair or two. This helps us to understand how a particular material goes through the breaking in process and allows us to assess how it might be received and worn by our customers.

 Woodford Desert Boots

 

As part of our wear-testing process, we try to work out how our selected materials patina and age over time. Within the team here at Crown we have different footwear philosophies, some keep their sneakers pristine and religiously care for them, others like to beat up their shoes and see the beauty in that - the same can be said for our customer base and we love to see how everyone wears and cares for their shoes differently.

 

Horween 'Ultraviolet' Shell Cordovan

Colour is key of course and whilst we sometimes prioritise other materials properties, we do take a step back and look at our colour offering across the collections from time to time, this year especially we have some really interesting colours being added to our range. We do love a white sneaker and so do our customers, but there’s many different colour treatments and tanning processes that produce some interesting results, as you’ll see later this year!

 

The world famous Horween tannery.

Agents & Tanneries

It has taken many years to build strong, meaningful relationships with the best tanneries and leather agents here in Britain and out in the wider world. After building connections based on a dedication to quality and showing our understanding of the end-to-end process materials need to go through, we now work closely with the tanneries and agents to secure the leathers and components we need. We’re always looking for opportunities to try new things and collaborate to find leathers that possess a certain set of characteristics that appeal to us with each specifically selected for our shoes.

Chris, the owner, came to own the factory premises from his father Andrew. Andrew also passed down business contacts, so some of the tanneries and other suppliers we work with have long-standing family connections to Crown Northampton. Other, newer relationships have been started based on the reputation of the tanneries and their high quality products. We also take advice from our trusted leather merchants and suppliers. So often, we work with people based on recommendation and word of mouth.

One of our focuses when partnering with new tanneries is an alignment of ethos, we always try to work with other sellers and manufacturers who care about creating high quality materials, looking out for their team members and companies with a respect for the heritage and traditions of their craft. We want to find people we can proudly collaborate with.

 

Horween Leathers

Horween Leather Company

The Horween Leather Company was founded in 1905, it’s one of the world’s most highly respected tanneries and is now in its fifth generation of Horween owners - much like Crown! Its Chicago factory is spread over five floors and they have their own water treatment plant onsite to avoid too much environmental impact. Horween is best known for their Chromexcel and Shell Cordovan ranges, both of which we’ve been using in our Classic and Hand Stitch collections for years.

Checking out some Horween leather

Chris Woodford visited the Horween factory in October last year and came back with lots of inspiration for this year’s Hand Stitch Shell Cordovan special drops and even some exclusive leathers just for us! There’s a lot of Horween leathers on the horizon in 2024 to be released throughout the year, so keep an eye out!

 

 Charles F. Stead Logo

Charles F Stead & Co Ltd

Charles F Stead & Co Ltd began in 1904 in Leeds, UK. They have specialised in suede for over 60 years and have blended modern innovation with heritage techniques to make some of the best suedes on the market. Their suedes shrink by 15-30% during their production process, creating a tight fibre structure, giving the material a special appearance and improved wear properties. This focus on high-quality even when it means profits take a hit is something we really admire here at Crown.

 

A & A Crack

A & A Crack & Sons

A & A Crack & Sons are another family owned business with strong roots in the leather industry. The patriarch of the Crack family, Ernest Henry Crack, revived the fortunes of Charles F Stead & Co tannery in Leeds, initiating a relationship between the families that endures to this day. In the 1950s, the company began building its reputation for developing their now world renown suede.

A & A Crack & Sons, however, are a leather merchant company set up in Northampton in the 1980s to serve the high-end shoemakers in the town. They are currently Horween’s only sales agents in the UK and have an exclusivity for selling leathers from HCP, Badalassi Carlo and Saphir. They’re integral to keeping us well stocked and always have interesting new leathers to show us.

 

Leathers

We know many of our customers are already leather aficionados, yet for those who might be newer to the world of leather, here's a brief overview of what we currently have on offer.

 

Box Calf

Our Box Calf leathers have been used across Northampton’s boot and shoe industry for decades. This leather is often used in traditional welted footwear from well known men’s dress shoe factories. These leathers are chrome tanned and lightly tumbled for a slightly softer finish, they are strong and hard-wearing at 1.4-1.6mm thick. When well cared for, it stays uniform in colour across the upper.

Available In:

Colours - White, Black, Brown, Navy

Collections -  Classic Sneaker, TL Sneaker

 

Vegetable Tanned Calf

Although our Veg Tan leather is not commonly used in footwear, it is used by people in the hand-making trade, primarily handbags! Vegetable tanning has a lower impact on the environment as it's a more natural process than harsher chrome tanning techniques. It’s a difficult leather to care for and maintain as it can be very sensitive to chemicals but the colour changes and the way it gains patina over time creates a really unusual and eye-catching sneaker.

Available In:

Colours - Off White, Black, Grey

Collections - Hand Stitch

 

Shell Cordovan

As one of the most sought after leathers in the world, to say Horween’s Shell Cordovan is special would be an understatement. It’s a six month process to create this leather from start to finish and due to production limitations, it’s not widely available. Shell Cordovan rolls rather than creases due to its incredibly tight fibre structure, it’s surprisingly smooth to the touch and can be polished to an impossibly high-shine. 

Read more about Shell Cordovan, our limited releases and the products we offer in this leather here.

 

Chromexcel, Cavalier & Essex

We use Horween’s Chromexcel, Cavalier and Essex leathers in our Classic and Stitchdown collections. Cavalier and Chromexcel leathers are very similar, using both chrome and vegetable tanning processes as well as being ‘hot-stuffed’ with waxes that are solid at room temperature. The Essex leathers are slightly different, using similar chemicals to Horween’s Shell Cordovans and leaving off the waxy finish. 

Available In:

Colours - Black, Natural, No 8, Brown, Forest Green, Ink, Sunflower

Collections - Classic Sneaker, Hand StitchStitchdown

 

Horween Buffalo

Another Horween material, our Buffalo leathers are supple and pliable yet resilient. This is the only leather available in both our Classic and Hand Stitch collections and for good reason, it is incredibly versatile and looks great even when it’s not cared for particularly well!

Available In:

Colours - Tan, Brown, Black, No 8, Grey, Green

Collections - Hand StitchClassic Sneaker

 

Janus Calf Suede

A lovely leather from Charles F Stead & Co Ltd, and according to them, their favourite from their own range; Janus Calf Suedes are used across our Jazz, Classic and Stitchdown collections. Carefully selected calf skins are treated to create a firmer than standard suede side and a full grain aniline reverse.

Available In:

Colours - Black, Brown, Sand, Snuff, Grey

Collections - Sneaker TL, Stitchdown, Jazz

 

Scottish Red Deer Suede 

Our red Scottish deer suede hails from way up in Barrhead, Scotland. It’s a town just outside of Glasgow where the Barrhead Kid Co. tannery is located and has been for many years. We work with them on the navy, black and brown suedes in our Hand Stitch Collection.

Available In:

Colours - Black, Brown, Navy

Collections - Hand Stitch

 

Leather Selection in 2024

So, as you may have already guessed, 2024 is going to be a big year for us when it comes to materials.

The building and changing of our selection of leathers and suedes is a never-ending process. We love to experiment and we aren’t afraid to swap things out if we think it improves the overall product and wear experience. We regularly review our materials selection and drop and add-in different options.

We couldn’t do what we do without our relationships with our leather agents and tanneries, so you’ll see a spotlight shone on several of these connections throughout the year and we’ll take a deep dive into some of the wonderful materials on offer.

Keep in the loop for what’s coming up in 2024 by joining our mailing list and keep checking our website and socials, you’ll see some more material updates coming very soon!

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