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Kinky Boot Thinking


The Saxon Church

The village where I live, Earls Barton in Northamptonshire is very much a traditional English village. Being in the heart of the Midlands, it was once home to a thriving boot and shoe industry. In the census of 1831, a third of the men in the county were employed in shoemaking. There were seven shoe factories alone in the village.

Jump forward close to 170 years and only a handful of these have survived in the county, with only one, Barker’s, remaining in the village. The handmade shoe industry has been slowly, and steadily dying, strangled by cheap imports.

Against this background is a true story of survival that was so far out of the box that they turned it in to a movie,backed by Hollywood, and it happened in my traditional English village.

Shoe maker W J Brooks were taken over by local resident and 4th generation shoe maker,  Steve Pateman in 1993. By 1998 the staff had been cut from 80 to 30 and closure was imminent. Nobody was buying quality hand-made brogues and motorcycle boots, when the imported equivalents could be bought for less than the manufacturing price.

Weeks away from the end, a chance enquiry for a pair of  rather large stilettos, for a rather large women, revealed that the shoe was in fact for a man. Women’s shoes were not made for men, and the heels kept snapping off, proving a real danger to the wearer.

Spotting an unlikely opportunity, and with the last throw of the dice, Pateman turned around production to meet this possible need. Traditional shoe-makers that had once made very manly brogues and motorcycle boots, re-skilled and produced ladies shoes for men, that could sustain the weight ratio needed not to break.

Lacking funds, the MD himself modelled the shoes for a brochure, and took the new line off to a fetish festival in Germany where two orders followed that literally saved the business from extinction, and created new work and opportunity for the skilled artists that manufactured these shoes. (And it is a real art form.)

The business went from strength to strength, surviving and expanding the product line. The warehouse full of expensive motorcycle boots, were soon turned around with the addition of studs to the top and a riding crop.

The story of the recovery of W J Brooks, by taking this very different course of action, generated a lot of interest. It is a heroic business rescue story that was the subject of a documentary, and later, with some dramatisation, a movie “Kinky Boots.”
The movie is a great watch, and you get plenty of shots of the village where I live, particularly the Saxon Church.

Jump forward to today, the kinky boot market inevitably went the same way as the traditional shoe market, but not before the business had been salvaged, and under the name “Divine Products” had diversified in to a business that distributes and sells women’s shoes, bags and other products, and is thriving.

The reason I like this story is that it illustrates that sometimes opportunities present themselves in the most unlikely ways. The secret is being brave enough to act on opportunity however strange it may seem.

The Real Steve Pateman

Sometimes you need to forget what you do now, and think more about what you do next.

Sometimes, the opposite of tradition is what is needed now.Tough times call for a challenging what you do, and doing something different.

Because you’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean you always have to. New technology can allow a reinvention of process and product, and new markets are fast becoming accessible.

Sometimes change takes risk, but getting out there and being different will bring the reward. Listen to your client or candidate base. Is it time for a change?

This true story inspires me in to what is possible. I call it “Kinky boot” thinking. I have a few decisions to make this week that might just need some radical solutions. Keep your eyes peeled for what comes next, as always I will share it with you.

I’m interested in decisions that you have had to make, or changes of direction you have had to make that might fall in to the “Kinky Boot” category. please share them in comments, and keep being ambassadors for the disruptive and unexpected.

Bill

Links:

The Real Story Behind Kinky Boots

Robin Wood: The Northamptonshire Shoe Story

Divine.Co.UK

Photo Credits:

Inside Northampton

Barkers Shoes

Movieberry

One comment on “Kinky Boot Thinking

  1. Great post! If what you have been doing thus far is obviously not working- then it’s time for a change. If you limit your thoughts to what has always been done and you stay within the limitations of the box- you won’t get very far.

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