The Originals.

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After the explosion of interest in men’s clothing that was catalyzed by the heritage movement of the early aughts, we now find ourselves in a pretty tumultuous time for men’s style. Brands fall in and out of favor at the drop of floppy Italian hat. Trends can rise and fizzle out in the time it takes a model to walk the length of a runway. And it is now (relatively) normal for someone to dress like a drop-crotched goth ninja one day and a soft-shouldered Neapolitan aristocrat the next. If there’s one idea that has never seemed to lose steam throughout this all though, it’s that anything made in China is less preferred than things made in Japan, Europe, America or even Canada.

If you ask us, blanket statements like this are easy to say, yet hard to fully comprehend. We don’t really believe that all things made in China are always made poorly, just as we don’t believe that all things made in America are automatically made well. With that said though, it is true that the large-scale factories that make up much of China’s clothing industry do prioritize quantity over quality, and the effects of this can be manifold. Which brings us to the story of Padmore & Barnes.

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In 1967, Clarks introduced their famous Wallabee – a modified suede moccasin with a high two-eyelet tie and a chunky crepe sole. To make these boots, Clarks called upon Padmore & Barnes, a thirty-three year old factory in Kilkenny, Ireland that they had bought just three years prior. Overtime, the Wallabee became one of their most popular models, and so P&B not only churned out as many as 25,000 pair a week, but their own designers began creating models of their own, most notably the Weaver (thanks to a copyright issue it’s now known as the Willow) which is still in production today.

For two decades, things at P&B hummed along quite nicely until 1987 when Clarks decided to sell off the factory and move Wallabee production to China. Now, I want to be clear that Clarks is not the villain of the story. They had global ambitions and Padmore & Barnes’ small factory just couldn’t sustain the level of output that they were looking for. For the brand at the time, they just wanted to meet the demands of their ever-growing customer base so that their business could remain healthy. This moved might have increased Clarks’ revenue it also forever change the integrity of the Wallabee. As any Clarks’ aficionado will tell you, those Chinese made Wallabees were (and still are) stiffer, boxier, flimsier, and generally less well-made than their P&B predecessors.

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For years, Clarks’ fans (which are surprisingly numerous) lamented the loss of their high-quality Wallabee, and even though P&B continued to operate independently, their shoes were hard to actually find in stores, especially here in America. In 2000, Padmore & Barnes got a bump from an unlikely source when Supreme founder James Jebbia, a self-confessed Wallabee obsessive, tapped them to make a collection of classic Wallabees for his brand. Those shoes swiftly sold out, but one popular capsule collection was hardly enough to keep the brand going, and so P&B shut down altogether in 2003.

Like all good stories though, this one has a happy ending. Back in October 2012, thanks to the efforts of brand director Frank Bryan, Padmore & Barnes unexpectedly not only reemerged, but opened up a webshop as well. For the first time, those hand-made boots (now known simply as the “original,” thanks once again to copyright issues) could be ordered straight from an Irish cobbler’s living room to your front door. Wallabee fans rejoiced, because when it comes to the original “Made in Ireland” will always trump “Made in China.”

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Comments on “The Originals.

    BlueTrainon May 1, 2015 @ 9:21 AM:

    If it come’s from Ireland, is it not still imported? True, there was a time when “imported” implied higher quality and, usually, a higher price. In a way, the higher quality and the higher price justified each other.

    Washington (George, that is) ate from Chinese dinnerware. For a long time, though, we did not import things from China. Then, when we did, much of it was considered junk. There is a large market for junk, it seems, and we used to make our own junk instead of importing it. Of course, if it isn’t made where you live, it’s still basically imported.

    Benon May 1, 2015 @ 3:17 PM:

    The article definitely makes a great point that’s often lost: every country has its artisans, and every country has its junk.

    Most countries with substantial manufacturing capabilities can probably produce very high quality product, it’s more a question of what the business folks want and are willing to pay for.

    Bad products are bad because they’re poorly designed, built to poor spec, or the buyer is unable or unwilling to fine-tune and control quality to the point of having a better product.

    Joel Kon May 1, 2015 @ 4:55 PM:

    Living wages, pal.

    Islander's Orbon May 2, 2015 @ 3:28 AM:

    I’m huge fan of your blog since 2012 and this time (well as always) I gain some knowledges though I need some time to understand in English. Thanks

    From my point of view, there is always a demand for high-quality products but literally there is always a price to pay. so I’m sure all of us are unable to stick to artisanal products, rather affordable and not-build-to-last products such as Made in China if I insist.

    Definitely depending on changes in your pocket, Made in China is no-brainer for those who don’t care but I like to give a high-five for Made in America, Europe, Canada, and especially Japan.

    The American-Made Guide to Lifeon May 3, 2015 @ 9:23 AM:

    Good points, both to ACL and Ben. — Amy

    Leoon May 8, 2015 @ 9:35 AM:

    The P&B revival is fantastic, and own a pair of the new willows they’re making, and they truely are top notch, but it is worth noting that they are not actually made in Ireland anymore, and instead assembled in Portugal. Still top quality none the less

    Roberton May 9, 2015 @ 8:22 PM:

    Why “or even Canada”? Is Canadian manufacturing the last stage before the Chinese mode of production? This phrasing makes no sense.

    Dan Mooreson May 14, 2015 @ 8:05 AM:

    The sole on Clarks’ Wallabee is very poor now. If you were to wear them more than once per week they’d be noticeably eroded – and the shoes would just look generally worn-out – within four or five months. The price is creeping (galloping) increasingly closer to that of P&B’s Wallabee too, so the choice is becoming increasingly easier.

    Chris B.on May 14, 2015 @ 2:33 PM:

    they could be handmade by the pope…they’re still ugly.

    Peteron May 27, 2015 @ 12:28 AM:

    Good style has always been here. For those of you who take pleasure in goth ninja getups, have fun looking back at photos yourself in 20 years and trying to explain to your kids that “it was totally in back then okay”.

Comments are closed.