In the factory tours of the days of old, I would do a lot of work talking about what made that particular worthy or valid the feature. Obviously, with Crockett & Jones, I don’t need to do any of that. To go to Northampton to see the factory is a bit of a personal mission based on my own curiosity and desire to see the places where some of my favorite things come from. A company just feels different when you’ve had the chance to see the place and people who make it what it is. To be in that place, the home and heart of C&J is just an incredible experience for me personally. As someone who can be pessimistic about companies and brands, it’s encouraging to know that some things are as great as you hoped you would be.
Crockett & Jones is still in the hands of the Jones family (the 5th generation is working in the business) and a lot of its longevity is owed to the stewardship of the family. In times of crisis and upheaval having the foundation of good leadership goes a long way. That’s part of what draws me to old companies like C&J — if they have made it this far it must be for a reason. (If you are interested a longer history of Crockett & Jones is here.) The footwear is wonderful but so is the story, the workshop, and the ethos. That’s a rare thing to encounter the way things are now. It not only justifies the price but makes you feel good spending it.
These past few months have been an interesting time of taking stock in my life, in my habits, and especially in my closet. While I’ve come to regret some of the things I have bought in the past few years but there are whole categories of things that I appreciate been more. These are the things I own from old companies like C&J that make things without obsolescence. The style I love the most is the Pembroke and I have two pairs in case one is off being recrafted and re-soled at the factory. The Pembroke is just such a lovely shape and it really is the reason that I started to appreciate the timeless and well-proportioned shapes of Crockett & Jones. Other brands were either too clunky or too dainty for my liking — C&J is just right. I can buy anything on the 325 last and be happy with it. Even though I’m not traveling or wearing leather shoes to the extent that I have in the past, I cherish every pair of shoes that I own from C&J.
Instead of bringing my big camera to document the factory in painstaking detail, I choose to just shoot a roll of film with my Yashica. Workers in the factory were definitely amused by my photography.
The factory is in a few old buildings that are a bit of a labyrinth. The main workrooms are on the ground level with a few offices and the main showroom on the second floor. Above the offices on the third floor is a series of rooms full of archival material. It was amazing and we went through a lot of discontinued styles and a massive amount of records, marketing materials, and ephemera from the services. There was too much to shoot with film but I am going to put some of it on my Instagram stories. If you are interested in this sort of thing, my friend David Coggins has a nice feature on the Crockett & Jones archive that can be seen here.
Most people have in the US or UK have probably never been in a shoe factory or had any desire to visit one. To step inside the loud workrooms of C&J for me is like going to the Masters for the first time or like seeing a great band at a special place like Madison Square Garden. It’s a different experience based on the people and the venue together. The factory is unique in a lot of ways compared to the way most businesses operate today. The sheer amount of skills that the craftspeople possess is stunning. The number of steps that go into making a pair of these shoes is remarkable. The speed at which the workers perform their highly nuanced tasks is always thrilling to watch. To visit that place, to smell the smells and hear the noises only helps me appreciate the brand more. The fact that it is still happening is something that should be overlooked. That’s what makes supporting heritage brands like Crockett & Jones so worthwhile.
Owning the shoes, seeing the factory, and helping a traditional thing carry on to the next generation is a special connection that almost can’t be valued. It makes me wonder: maybe it is ok to meet your heroes after all?