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.
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.
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.”