The British heritage brand, originally established in 1866 in Northamptonshire, England, will celebrate by first looking to its past. In July, it will rerelease eight archival footwear styles, spanning the decades from the 1900s to the 1970s. The shoes are made as true to the originals as possible, but they feature modernized updates such as widened footbeds.
“There wasn’t a great archive of physical shoes, but I found a few really nice things,” said Tim Little, Grenson’s CEO, who joined in 2005. “For the rest, I went on eBay [for inspiration], and I bought around 100 shoes.”
Highlights from the special collection include the Edwardian cap-toe boot from around 1912, which had a unique high-shine leather called the “Glace Kid.” A basket-woven laceup, named the Corsica, was originally introduced in spring 1975 and reflected a need for lighter shoes in the market (now, it was updated with Grenson’s signature Goodyear welting).
“The lovely thing about the factory is these craftsmen can do anything, and they love the challenge of something new,” said Little. “There were a lot of details on the [archival] shoes that we don’t do anymore.”
Of course, craftsmanship is what the brand has built itself upon. Grenson founder William Green first opened its Green’s Yard factory in Rushden, Northamptonshire, in 1874, but moved operations to Queen Street in 1895. In 2013, Little relocated the factory to a more sophisticated space down the street — a move that literally, and symbolically, reflected a move into more modern times.
Retailers are attracted to Grenson’s mixture of the classic with the new. “Grenson’s shoes pair perfectly with everything from suits to denim,” said Kevin Harter, Bloomingdale’s VP of fashion direction for men’s and home. “Every Grenson shoe showcases unmatched detail, and there is a story behind every style.”
While referencing its rich history, Grenson is also thinking about its next steps — and what better way than by tapping the current collaboration craze.
For fall ’16, the label will launch a new offshoot collection called “4” — a men’s line focused on four styles and four colorways. The shoes are made by Grenson’s factory and designed in collaboration with Shinsuke Takizawa, founder of Neighborhood, and Kazuki Kuraishi, a designer for Adidas Originals.
Little said the project evolved originally after meeting with Takizawa and Kuraishi a few times in Japan. “Four is a very special number in Japan. It has certain connotations of luck,” said Little. “This isn’t necessarily a sales-based thing. It’s just a creative project.”
The initial collection includes three boot styles and a lace-up dress shoe — priced from $715 to $740 — and are infused with vibrant color pops. Although fall is its debut showing, Little said the project will potentially continue every season.
As it ramps up its new product offerings, Grenson plans to focus on growing the business side of things this year, too. The brand saw a 15 percent growth in 2015, but hopes to further expand its retail footprint.
It recently opened its first store outside of the U.K. — in New York’s Soho neighborhood. Little said another U.S. store could be in the near future.
“The most important market to me, outside of the U.K., is America. It’s the second-biggest market for us,” said Little. “There’s scope for more [stores] in New York. And we also have a nice business on the West Coast. But it’s all organic with us. We don’t have a huge investor that’s saying, ‘Let’s open 17 stores tomorrow.’ ”
Though men’s still makes up 75 percent of the business, the women’s collection, which launched four years ago, is another big focus.
While the brand has found its steady stride for now, Little acknowledges his work is nowhere near done — yet.
“It’s been hard work this year, [more difficult] than it’s been in the past six years,” said Little. “We’re growing nicely. But it’s definitely not getting easier — especially when you’re not the new kid on the block anymore.”