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Clarks: Changing for the better

ONE of the oldest shoe manufacturers in continuous operation, Clarks, opened its new store at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall. This is part of the growth of the venerable British brand in Asia which was instigated by the new owners.

During the opening on April 14, the shoe brand showed off its Torhill collection, which combines its recognizable Wallabee shoe, made popular by b-boys in New York, with a chunky heel.

The brand started in Somerset in 1825, and, up until 2020, was under the control of the Clark family. In 2020, it was acquired by LionRock Capital, in turn acquired by Viva China Holdings in 2021.

Sandrina Martin, Vice-President for Wholesale in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, talked to BusinessWorld about how these changes affect the 198-year-old company. “What’s different is for the better,” she said.

“We know that business changes, meaning that we also want to expand more,” said Ms. Martin. “It’s really because we want to go further, and especially, we want to grow in Asia… We would like to enter Asia a bit more aggressively. It used to be centered in the UK, but we now want a (foot)print in Asia.”

She said that the change in ownership really had no impact on production. “We still use the same factories, it’s just that the quality control now is even better, in our opinion, because it’s professional,” she said, noting that LionRock Capital also owns the Li Ning sports footwear brand in China. “Their quality control team is very strong. It’s just for the better.”

The Clark family still has a stake in the brand, she said. As for the advantages of this, she said, “It proves that we’ve gone through every war.” She points out that Clarks has stood through World War I, World War II, and the various crises it has faced in between and after, such as the various pandemics, COVID-19 only being the most recent. “It’s proven that the family can survive those. With the family still in, they know the formula to be able to survive in the future. We kind of help each other.”

It was during one of Britain’s military exercises that its other famous shoe, the desert boot (a chukka boot with crepe soles) was invented. A scion of the Clark family was stationed in Burma where he noted the off-duty shoes worn by the officers. These had been commissioned in Cairo to survive the harsh weather conditions, and he then modified the shoe for mass production. These then became popular as outdoors footwear in the 1960s. “We still keep all the heritage products; it’s just that we evolve to look younger, to be a lot more into trends,” said Ms. Martin. “We still keep the DNA of the family, in terms of business, in terms of product. We are now capturing the younger market.”

Asked where the brand plans to go into the future, she said, “We’ve been here for 200 years. We will be here for another 200.” — Reuters

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