A DJ playing hip-hop, a crowd of local sneakerheads and scenesters, and craft beer were not unusual for a party at the Harvard Square sneaker boutique Concepts . What was unusual? The brand being feted: Clarks .
The 200-year-old English shoe company, which has its US headquarters in Newton Upper Falls, just introduced a line called Sport. And while the shoes may borrow the silhouettes of some iconic looks developed by the company more than 50 years ago, it’s the first time Clarks has produced a shoe in a camouflage print or a leopard print.
“What we tried to do is take everything that the company is known for, and filter it through a younger, more contemporary point of view,” said Michael Pao, group director and senior vice president of Clarks Originals and Sport. “In my mind it’s authenticity.”
The shoe may say “authenticity” to Pao, but for a generation, Clarks simply said “dad shoe.” That began to change when the company introduced its Originals line, shoes that follow the heritage trend now popular among many companies and shoppers. These footwear companies raid their archives for classic, no-longer-produced shoes that may appeal to younger buyers and put the design back into production.
Heritage makes sense for a company like Clarks, but the Sport line is somewhat shocking upon initial viewing. Sport made its North American debut last week at Concepts’ party. Positioned along the wall was the camouflage version of Clarks Tanner and Traxter, shoes created in collaboration with the Japanese streetwear brand Atmos. The leopard print was also a design by Atmos, while the slightly more traditional Traxter Hanon was the result of a collaboration with the Scottish retro sportswear company Hanon.
The original versions were released in the 1960s and 1970s, while the desert boot dates back to 1949 and was launched at the Chicago Shoe Fair a year later. The new Sport versions will only be sold on a limited basis internationally in high-end sneaker shops.
The British-based designer behind the revamped kicks, Prad Indrakumar, said that the sneaker collecting community has embraced the shoe. What he found when he began working on these designs five years ago was a bit of resistance from within Clarks.
“No disrespect to the company that I work for, but they just didn’t know how to react to this kind of consumer,” Indrakumar said. “We had to get them on board with this.”
Sport product manager Stefano Trossero says much of the development around the shoe took place as the designers looked for new materials to make the shoes lighter than the originals. Fortunately, he says, the team behind Sport had plenty of time for its research.
“In a small business unit in such a big company, you’re under the radar,” Trossero says. “For a long time, no one knew what we were doing, no one had an opinion on it. It was the perfect environment for experimentation.”
Pao, who had previously been designing for Puma, described joining Clarks in 2010 as a “leap of faith.” He now seems convinced that the new line is a perfect fit for the traditional company.
“It’s really just taking everything the brand has done and building it a small, sharp collection,” he said.Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.