Sustainable Style

Why keeping it old-school is Crown Northampton’s answer to sustainability

We spoke to the Made in England shoemakers about how sticking with traditionalist methods is the way forward for the planet

‘If I’m honest, Crown Northampton didn’t set out to be a sustainable company,’ admits Mark Higgs, Brand Manager at the shoemakers. ‘But the more we go into it, the more we find it just makes sense.’

Part of a footwear dynasty that was set up in 1908, Crown Northampton is embedded in Britain’s shoemaking heartland, side by side with names such as Edward Green, Turnbull & Asser and John Loake. Owned and run by five consecutive generations of the Woodford family, it takes pride in its handmade shoes, crafted using time-honed techniques in England from start to finish. But, as traditionalist as the company is, it’s actually found the old-fashioned shoemaking methods are key for investing in sustainability – and its future in the long term. 

These methods start and finish with its location in the heart of Northampton, surrounded by Britain’s historic shoemaking industry. ‘Northampton is so densely populated with shoe factories that we’re privileged to have the best local leather merchants, sole makers and lace suppliers in the country,’ says Higgs. Its address means it’s able to source most things, apart from the leather – which comes from prestigious Chicago leathermakers Horween – from within Britain. And, unlike many other brands in the fashion industry, sourcing supplies locally also ensures Crown Northampton’s carbon footprint stays as small as possible.

‘Once products are sitting on shelves they’re dead stock’

Another major facet of Crown Northampton’s approach to sustainability is the fact that all its shoes are made to order. ‘We only make a pair of shoes when we receive an order,’ explains Higgs. ‘We don’t even hold our best selling sneakers in stock. Once products are sitting on shelves they’re dead stock. We don’t go into sale, as we don’t have stock. So there’s no waste or surplus at all.’ You’d think the 5-15 day lead times for UK customers, and 10-25 for worldwide ones, would be a major turn off in this age of instant gratification. But ‘we’ve found the customer actually prefers it, as it shows a more personal touch,’ explains Higgs. ‘It won’t be right for some people to wait for that long, but they’re not for us. We’ve become more confident now with our decisions.’

Crown Northampton has also recently combined its made-to-order model with the UK’s first resoling service for sneakers. A lot of sneakers have their soles glued on, making them impossible to resole. But Crown Northampton’s sneakers are constructed in a way so they can be resoled. ‘We thought that, seeing as we use the highest quality Italian calf leather for our trainers, we should at least offer a resoleable option.’ The service means your sneakers can live on, year after year, without needing to be sent to landfill – and also taps into the ongoing thirst for high-end trainers in menswear.

On top of that, Crown Northampton are also trialling a new sustainable leather lining, and a new sole created using regenerative rubber sources. ‘It’s going to cost a little bit more, but if the positives outweigh the cost implications it’s something we’ll wholeheartedly jump in with, because it’s a long term solution to something we’re not looking to cut corners on.’

‘Maybe we do all need to lessen the frequency we buy footwear’

Higgs is also clear that sustainability for Crown Northampton means keeping skills alive in the local area. ‘Everyone who works in our factory is locally born, and their families work in the industry too,’ says Higgs. ‘It all supports the local economy.’ However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the workforce. ‘It’s a dying trade. But people will always need footwear. The key thing is working with schools and universities, taking on apprentices. In Northampton with the history and the family involvement, we’re probably in a better place to carry that on than others.’

For Crown Northampton, it makes sense to stick with the traditional shoemaking methods: nurturing local talent, relying on local suppliers and only making a pair of shoes when an order comes in. It may feel a tad slow and old-fashioned in today’s age of fast, disposable fashion. But, as we’re witnessing more and more, that’s not a model that’s sustainable for the planet or workforce on the longer term. So maybe it’s indeed time to go back to a slower, more thoughtful way of consuming clothes and footwear. Higgs agrees: ‘Everyone’s thinking more about waste, consumerism and what goes into landfill these days. Maybe we do all need to lessen the frequency we buy footwear, and improve the quality and longevity of it. You might have to pay a bit more, but you’ll get a good few more years out of it.’