A 150-Year-Old British Footwear Factory, Through The Lens Of Martin Parr

by MR Magazine Staff

Long the preserve of fusty country gents, the venerable British footwear brand Grenson has enjoyed a renaissance in the hands of the designer Tim Little; its sturdy handmade shoes and boots are now prized by footwear fetishists from Hackney to Tokyo. This year, the label is celebrating its 150th birthday — in understated British fashion. It has re-editioned eight styles from the last century, including an awkward-looking orthopedic Oxford from the 1930s named the “Grenson Joy Step” and a 1940s infantryman’s boot. To mark the anniversary, Little invited the British photographer Martin Parr — famed for his unflinching depiction of his compatriots at work and play — to turn his lens on the company and its work force. “We mustn’t get dragged down by sentimental ideas of heritage,” Little says. “Heritage is about people and the skills they have, not brick walls.” Accordingly, when he bought Grenson in 2010 following five years as creative director, one of his first moves was to shift the company out of its original redbrick Victorian factory. Though picturesque, after decades of neglect it was so drafty the bootmakers worked wearing overcoats and fingerless gloves. Shoes in progress had to be sheltered under tarps when the roof leaked — frequently. “When William Green built the first factory in 1866, it was state-of-the-art; he saw himself as a modern businessman,” says Little, from his perch overlooking the now warm and leak-free factory floor in Northamptonshire, the traditional heartland of British footwear. Despite its contemporary shell, the workshop depicted in Parr’s photographs is still stocked with traditional cordwainer’s machinery and ancient wooden storage units from the old site, offset by personal touches: meerkat calendars and posters of Jon Bon Jovi. Read more at The New York Times.