It’s clear that Covid-19 has accelerated e-commerce’s growth like little else in history. According to Business Of Fashion’s 2021 State of Fashion report, over a period of eight months last year, e-commerce’s share of global fashion sales nearly doubled from 16 percent to 29 percent globally—six years’ worth of growth under normal circumstances. Even among heritage brands, which—let’s face it—can be sticks-in-the-mud when it comes to new technology, there’s been a healthy transition to e-commerce in recent months.
The latest brand to make the leap is 142-year-old Northampton-based shoemaker Crockett & Jones, which launched an all-singing, all-dancing e-commerce site this week. It’s a major development for one of Britain’s best-loved shoe brands, especially in the US, where C&J has only ever had two stores in New York City to service the whole country via mail order. Now, for the first time, whether you’re in Maine or California, you can snap up a pair of C&Js online and have them land on your doorstep a week or so later.
This is a considerable achievement, and one that customers will doubtless feel is long overdue. Just why has it taken this shoemaking institution so long, then? Unlike most brands that simply rely on third-party factories, C&J is manufactures everything in-house, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
“Historically, our capped production capacity has not allowed for the expansion of an e-commerce platform,” explains Jonathan Jones, Crockett & Jones’s managing director. “Over the past 20 years, we have consistently grown our wholesale and retail network, most of which has seen year-on-year growth and sometimes even challenged us to keep up with demand for brick-and-mortar sales.”
At capacity, the brand’s factory makes around 2,500 pairs of shoes a week. And, thanks to Jones’s steady hand on the tiller, in recent years the company has rarely dipped below 80 percent production capacity, making the addition of another global sales channel more of a headache than a no-brainer. The pandemic changed that for the first time, as the wholesale market nose-dived and the brand’s own stores closed during multiple lockdowns. Almost overnight, that new channel was badly needed and C&J’s senior management knew it was now or never.
“All businesses must move forward and develop,” Jones continues. “Embracing e-commerce is much the same as our embracing bricks and mortar retail in the 1990s. As a manufacturer, it gives us a direct line to our customers. There is no doubt that we are going to have more sales data quicker than we have in the past, but we don’t intend on changing our focus away from high-quality Goodyear-welted English footwear.”
Fittingly, with the launch of this new website the brand has also debuted the Superflex collection, a range of seven casual summer shoes that (as the name suggests) boasts a new super flexible leather sole that took some two-and-a-half years to develop. The Superflex collection is in many ways the perfect illustration for C&J’s winning formula: a step-change that nonetheless remains true to the brand’s DNA. All Superflex shoes, while light and largely unstructured for comfort, are Goodyear-welted and made to the same high standard that keeps C&J customers coming back year after year.
“We will continue to specialize and focus on what we’ve done well for more than 140 years,” Jones says. “E-commerce is simply another piece of the retail puzzle that we hope will provide our customers with a welcomed and convenient service while we continue to do what we do best.”