2021 will mark the 60-year anniversary of the founding of Walsh, the last British owned, designed and manufacturer of traditional footwear, with continuous manufacture in Bolton, England since 1961. To celebrate the special anniversary, we caught up with Fern, Marketing Manager at Walsh, to talk more about the iconic footwear brand. Enjoy!
Hi, cheers for taking time to have a chat, how are you today?
Thank you for chatting with us! I am great thank you.
For those who may not know, please can you give us a brief backstory into Norman Walsh UK, from past to present day.
Norman Walsh began his career at a very young age. He followed in his father’s footsteps who too was a cobbler. He began working for a company called the Foster & Sons and soon soared to greatness there. He was selected to make a wide range of sports footwear including track spikes used by the Great British Summer Olympic teams and many other athletes.
Norman made a great deal of footwear for a great deal of names. He was involved in all sorts of sports from running, football, rugby and cricket.
Norman then set up his own company that today stands at Norman Walsh Footwear and continued to hand-make a wide specialist range of sportswear.
Today we continue Normans’ work but for a casual range of footwear. We still use a lot of traditional methods with original machinery and still heavily rely on the human hand. Our hand-crafted products show a lot of character and work that has been involved by our team.
2021 marks your 60th year, what do you think has led to you standing the test of time?
I’d have to say our British heritage. We have manufactured in the UK since 1961, I think that is not something many other brands can shout about. We haven’t gone out year on year chasing trends and either being successful or failing in that instead we stick to what we know, we continue making what our customers love and do what we do best. We really listen to our customer feedback and try each season to work on those points to give our Walsh wearers what they want.
How has the brand progressed over the years?
Even though we have remained traditional in our methods and range, we have definitely progressed. We are seeing growth year on year and it is amazing to see so many worldwide wearing Walsh shoes. We have been able to heavily develop our research and development scheme as well as our marketing team to better grow the brand.
Where do you draw inspiration for the brand?
We remain quite classic with our releases and focus a lot on our vintage styles that were originally created from Norman himself in the 60’s. At times we rework these or keep these as original as possible, bringing these old classics back to life and that is what we all love. We have a wealth of heritage and a big involvement within the sports industry and we do try to draw inspiration a lot from that within our designs and colour schemes.
Obviously COVID has affected everyone’s life this year, how has it impacted the business?
It has been very hard. With local lockdowns and staying at home rules in place within the UK, this really affected our production line. It has pushed a lot of our work back but our amazing team are storming through and making this back up as we speak. We have heavily relied on emails and phone calls to connect with different businesses which has provided some difficulties within our working chain but we know that we are not alone in these times and better days are coming hopefully soon.
Is there an item you have designed which you’re particularly proud of, or means something to you more than the others?
We have, just this season, released our Tempest. This is actually a brand-new creation from us at Walsh that has not been developed before and just pulled from the archive. We have put a lot of work and love in to this model and have really tried to show off the craftsmanship that goes into our products.
The trainer market has evolved so much over the years, with a lot more collectors – how do you try to appeal to this market?
I think with reworking and releasing a lot of original products, this appeals to those who do like the 60’s and 70’s trainer aesthetic. There is a real emphasis at the moment with either collecting items or, having items that will last. We make our trainers to last and love to see many of our customers wearing their footwear they purchased a decade ago. In a world of fast fashion, it is extremely humble to see!
We actually do have a whole archive of our original models that were released, maybe we should become a collector too?
You’ve had collaborations with many brands, which has been some of your favourite collabs?
That is a hard question. We have had many collaborations in the past and each has been unique and great in it’s own way. We have had a few collaborations with the likes of Fred Perry and Barbour that were released internationally that had stunning designs. We have worked with a range of UK brands such as Fortnum and Mason and Joseph Cheaney which was great as we had the chance to physically see our products within their stores.
It is always fun when we collaborate with someone outside of the footwear market. We have previously worked with the whisky producer Chivas Regal and the car manufacturer Lexus to produce a trainer to match the design of one of their models. With them being outside of the industry and creating something individual, it is always interesting to see their ideas.
You’ve started selling apparel and accessories – was this always the long term plan?
It has always been a dream for Walsh. Now that we have expanded our marketing team, these dreams are starting to come to life and we are working more on our development of these products.
Could you tell us about your plans for the SS21 collection?
We have a wide range of new and exciting products being released. We have a few classics recreated in the line-up as well as some new original creations. We can’t wait to release them all.
As well as fashion, this blog is all about music and football – do you have much interest in either?
Football is a key talking point for many in our office! As a brand we have a lot of history in making football boots so are always surrounded by something or other from the archive on sports.
What’s the best thing about running an independent label?
The best would probably be the freedom to create something original I think.
What advice can you give to any youngsters wanting to forge a career in menswear?
Be creative and brave enough to follow through on your ideas and look for research to ensure there is demand in the market for your ideas. Don’t be scared to divert from the typical trends if you have the passion, desire and knowledge behind you. Building relationships is a great help. Starting off connecting with the right individuals is a strong start for the future if you’re ever in need of advice, help with a project or just connecting with suppliers/retailers.
What are Walsh’ plans for the future?
We hope to continue to grow as a brand and work to increasing our exposure. We want to be able to keep creating the products that customers know and love and be able to offer more designs and products to the table year after year.
Describe Norman Walsh in only 3 words…
Timeless, quality, craftsmanship.