Cyrus Clark sets up a tanning and woolstapling business in the town of Street in Somerset, UK, producing leather and wool in partnership with his cousin.
Cyrus opens a store on the High Street of the town selling sheepskin rugs. This is the first step towards establishing the company which will officially be known as C. & J. Clark and trade as Clarks.
James, the younger brother of Cyrus, joins the business and has an idea to use the offcuts from the leather rugs to make slippers. The very first piece of Clarks footwear, named the Brown Petersburgh, is a sheepskin slipper. It is a huge success and is sold all over the UK.
Sales of the Brown Petersburgh reach an average of 1,000 pairs per month. As every pair is completely hand-made, the Clark brothers employ the cutting and sewing services of local people to help meet the demand for their slippers.
At the Great Exhibition held in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the Clarks are presented with two awards in recognition of their achievements in British industry.
The business needs to innovate to cope with the impact of a recession and secures a loan from the local Quaker community. James’ youngest son, William is brought in to run the company and breathes new life into the business.
The Hygienic range is launched. Up to now, shoes have been “straights”, made to wear on either foot. The Hygienic pair is designed to fit the shape of the feet, with a different left and right shoe. This earns Clarks the reputation which it still maintains today of offering a better fitting shoe.
Clarks becomes a limited company and extends its use of mechanised production, allowing it to produce more shoes, more quickly and to a consistently high standard.
Clarks releases its first press advertisement and builds the retailing side of the business with the acquisition of the Abbotts shop chain. Hugh Bryan Clark comes up with the brand name Peter Lord, which continues through to the 1990s.
The Clarks factory in Street is requisitioned for the war effort and turns its hand to making armaments instead of footwear. Supply of shoes continues from other Clarks factory sites and clever use of limited resources, including leather, leads to the invention of the hinged wooden sole.
Clarks launches its new range of children’s shoes, offering a choice of four different width sizes. Shops are equipped with a device for measuring children’s feet.
The legendary Clarks Originals Desert Boot is launched. This footwear icon is designed by Nathan Clark, great grandson of James Clark. A timeless piece of styling, Clarks Desert Boots have been one of the brand’s most popular models for almost 70 years. The Design Museum includes the Desert Boot in its “Fifty Shoes that Changed the World” collection.
Clarks Desert Boots are adopted as the footwear of choice by a range of groups including the Beatnik Culture of the US, Mods in the UK and Rude Boys in Jamaica towards the end of the decade.
The famous Clarks Wallabee is launched, inspired by the style of a moccasin shoe. Wallabees suede shoes and boots prove to be highly popular and will go on to become the footwear of choice for a range of subcultures including many music artists for years to come.
The Clarks Desert Trek, originally called the Hike, is launched in the UK following its release in the US market in the previous year. Featuring a signature crepe sole, central seam and emblem on the heel, the shoe is a hit.
The Clarks Nature I is introduced, using the brand’s groundbreaking Active Air Technology. Over the coming years, the Nature line will continue to push boundaries as one of the brand’s most forward-thinking ranges.
“Relax your soul like Clarks from England” raps the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, appearing on artist Bounty Killer’s album My Xperience. Later the Clan’s Ghostface Killah releases “The Wallabee Champ” album in reference to the Clarks Wallabee. The Wu-Tang Clan would subsequently collaborate with Clarks for a special release via their Wu-Wear brand.
The character of Walter White in hit TV show Breaking Bad wears Clarks Wallabees throughout almost the entire run of the show. The character’s choice of footwear remain a constant as he morphs from high school chemistry teacher into drug kingpin.
Jamaican music artist Vybz Kartel releases the song ‘Clarks’ which is dedicated to the the quality of the brand’s footwear. It’s a huge hit in Jamaica and beyond.
The Originals range is given a makeover with special patterns and designs. A Festival Collection is produced with Strummerville, and a £2 donation is made for every pair of shoes sold. Limited editions of the Wallabee, Natalie, and Desert Boot are crafted using Millerain brown waxed leather.
The Desert Trek is released in three special editions to celebrate 40 years since its launch, including a tan version featuring the Trojan Records logo.
Clarks Originals works with iconic streetwear brand Supreme to create special ‘Map Suede’ editions of their Desert Boots. This follows from earlier collabs between the brands, who have since teamed up on a regular basis to drop special editions of Clarks’ most iconic models.
Clarks teams up with Herschel Supply Co. to release a special edition of the Desert Boot. Created in blue leather with selvedge denim detailing, the release is limited to 600 pairs.
Clarks Originals release premium versions of their iconic Desert Boot and Wallabee models crafted from Horween leather, produced by the Horween Leather Company in the US.
Clarks releases the Nature IV, a model which introduces a new forward-looking design to the range combining vegetable tanned leather with high performance knit uppers and hyper-response compression sole unit. The Nature V is also released, offering a hybrid-style winter boot.
Clarks Originals opens its first standalone store in London’s Soho. Positioned amongst stores from other leading fashion brands, the space showcases the latest models and looks from the Originals label.
Today, true to its roots, the Clarks company still has its headquarters in Street, Somerset, and remains a privately owned manufacturing and retail business. There are over 1,000 Clarks stores in 35 countries around the world, with Clarks shoes also being sold through concessions in many other stores. Over 50 million pairs of Clarks shoes are sold each year. Many are brand new designs, while others are the very latest versions of Clarks’ most iconic shoes, as featured in the Clarks Originals range.
Special editions of Clarks Originals include the Made in Italy Wallabee range crafted in partnership with OVO, featuring premium Italian suede and the OVO emblem. Clarks Originals draw on classic designs combined with the latest materials and technology for enhanced style and comfort.
Sported by the likes of David Beckham and Pharrell Williams, Clarks Originals are right on-trend. Continual creativity and innovation have seen Clarks transform from humble beginnings as a slipper manufacturer to a global iconic fashion brand.