Clarks, the British shoemaker and retailer, will return to large-scale manufacturing in the UK for the first time in over a decade
The 193-year-old firm, which operates in over 90 markets, said the new plant next to its headquarters in Street, Somerset, will have the capacity to make up to 300,000 pairs of Desert Boots a year and will give it shorter lead times.
Clarks’ last plant in the UK, in northwest England, closed in 2006 after production was moved to the Far East.
The reopening of UK manufacturing is significant as it reflects renewed demand for ‘made in Britain’ footwear internationally.
“The opportunity for this is we can put a manufacturing facility close to the market where we sell,” said Clarks Chief Executive Mike Shearwood. He said production would start within weeks.
The decline of Britain’s shoe industry started in the 1960s and accelerated rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, driven by the import of cheaper products from low-wage economies and the advent of the trainer as a fashion item.
Shearwood, the former boss of fashion retailer Karen Millen who joined Clarks as CEO in 2016, said the 3 million pounds ($4 million) new Street plant will combine robot-assisted technology and skilled labor. Some 80 jobs have been created.
“We’ve looked at the automotive and aerospace industries and utilized some of that technology to significantly change the way we make shoes,” Shearwood told Reuters.
He said if the Street pilot proves successful, other new manufacturing units could be opened around the world.
Shearwood is pushing through a new strategy for the family-owned Clarks focused on improving average selling prices and building digital capability.
Clarks’ accounts for 2017-18 showed underlying operating profit fell 29 percent to 45.2 million pounds, on turnover down 7 percent to 1.54 billion pounds.
It sold 47.6 million pairs of shoes from 1,514 shops.
“The retail environment remains challenging for all organizations, with increasing cost pressures and ever-changing consumer expectations,” it said.