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FOOTWEAR FOCUS ROAD TEST Have we outgrown bigotry


against brown in town? By Henry Harington


H


owever many statutes there are outlawing discrimination on the basis of colour there are still some who cannot keep their prejudices to themselves. Louise Cooper was recently quoted in the press as saying she “horrified” by the number of brown shoes she had spotted on the trading floor of the London broker BGC that she had recently joined. She went on to remind offenders of the City adage that one should “never


wear brown in town.” Adding that, “it was only our European friends who wore brown shoes, albeit often with a green suit.” She might as well have added that in the United States there is a similar disregard for such sartorial conventions and uniformity of thought. It is a reflection of the pomposity and narrow-mindedness of the British


they will judge a man by the colour his shoes – and that even is before they judge people on the colour of their hair or skin! It is said there used to be a lay-by on the A4 near Chiswick roundabout


where Englishmen, up from the country, would change their shoes from brown to black before they ventured into the City. They wouldn’t be seen dead in brown in town.


The Passover I was once passed over for a job because I wore brown shoes. I had been


speaking to a PR man about joining his firm. It was a protracted interview process and I was finally invited to lunch with another of the partners. I admit that, unlike my suit, that had been made for me, my brown shoes


were “off the shelf.” But I can assure you they were among the best “off the peg” shoes money could buy. I don’t think of myself as vain or preoccupied with my sartorial presentation, but I did feel what a trader in Leadenhall Market, through which we passed to reach lunch, might call the “dog’s b’locks.” In short, I had made an effort. We enjoyed lunch and I went on feeling I must have made a good


impression. However, the call that I took from him later in the day was a revelation: he actually sounded rather embarrassed, even apologetic. He was afraid he could not employ me because the other partner with whom we had lunched, an ex-military man, did not feel he could work with someone who wore brown shoes! My own career did not suffer lasting damage when I was rejected for


wearing brown shoes in town – in fact I subsequently worked for a firm of stockbrokers who took a very relaxed view of shoe colour and I recall compliments on my suits and brown shoes.


NPS – A very British history The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS (Shoes) Ltd) - was


founded in 1881 as a cooperative organisation – a commercial concern owned and run by the people working in it. Based in the traditional English shoemaking region of Northamptonshire,


NPS moved into its current premises around 1900. The firm has continued to meet the demands of market trends associated with high-quality fashion and industrial footwear, by combining craftsmanship with modern production equipment and technology. At the turn of this century, facing tough trading conditions, NPS was on


the verge of collapse. In 2006, Ivor Tilley, who lives in Wollaston, the village where the factory is located, decided to get involved. He became the new owner, driving it into a niche, marketing position. As Mr. Tilley explains: “We owe much of our success to our select group of


customers who still believe that British is best, relying on us for our quality, adaptability and our acceptance of even the smallest quantity orders”. Today, with a staff of just 35 people, NP produces a diverse range of


footwear, including high quality Goodyear welted shoes. The firm manufactures its own range of stitched-through footwear, as well as safety footwear - it even makes boots for punk rock bands! On a trip around the factory you will see firemen’s steel toe safety footwear, burnished tan brogues and 30 eyelet red patent high leg boots ,sitting alongside each other on production racks. The company's Solovair brand of air cushion footwear is now available


through retailers from Dusseldorf to Tokyo and the market is steadily growing. Making under agreement for several other well known brands means the factory is currently extremely busy and country footwear and creepers are now a common site to visitors.


Cheryl T aylor , Editor . Thankfully, people who consider fashion more important than prejudice


are now ruling the roost. I was given a very fashionable pair of Jack Wills Oxford brogues to road test (did I say they were brown?). And just to prove the tide is in favour of brogues in town, the firm that makes the shoes for Jack Wills, NPS in Northampton, says they are the pinnacle of fashion – they can hardly keep up with the demand.


Tractor tires The brogues I am used to, are country brogues with outer soles that


would not look out of place on tractor tyre. I’ll go stomping around a shoot or a point-to-point course in a pair of the very rugged, and frankly unfashionable, variety. The Jack Wills shoes have the brogue tooling but smooth leather soles.


They are definitely a City shoe and I am sure would not look out of place on modern stockbrokers’ feet – despite the views of Louise Cooper who still has to learn that it is not what you wear on your feet that makes you a good City trader – it’s what goes on in your head! The Jack Wills brogues I tested were made by the famous British footwear


company NPS Shoes. These lace up brogues have been Goodyear welted. That is the traditional manufacturing process of good quality shoes making them secure, flexible and extra durable. The shoes do have one quaint little quirk: in the under arch of the shoe is


gold embossed with the slogan, “Jack Wills, outfitters to the gentry.” It seems something of a contradiction to the trend towards social mobility that shoes that are attractive to and certainly worn by City traders are appealing to the basest class instincts of the British. Or, perhaps, I have overlooked that traders in the big banks, whose


bonuses have not missed a beat, despite their having laid waste most of our financial lives, are buying up the countryside and becoming the new gentry. If that is the case this new aristocracy can cock-a-snook at the old gentry and wear brown shoes in town, in the country or even in bed if they so choose.


NPS Shoes Ltd.


Tel: +44 (0) 1933 664 207 Fax: +44 (0) 1933 664 699 Web: www.nps-solovair.co.uk


16 • FOOTWEAR TODAY • SEPTEMBER 2011


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