Lance Clark, Creator of Clarks’ Wallabee, Dies at 81

Lance Clark, part of the sixth generation of the legendary U.K.,-based Clarks shoemaking family, died on Feb. 27. He was 81.

Known for his passion for the footwear industry and business savvy, Clark created a storied career that included the design of the iconic Wallabee style in 1964, and the 2002 creation of Soul of Africa, a philanthropic organization providing employment to those in need through shoe manufacturing.

“Lance played a very significant role in Clarks throughout his career, most notably as managing director of Clarks Ltd. We have lost an immense character who will be forever prominent in our company’s history,” said Mike Shearwood, CEO.

“I was immediately taken by him — this larger-than-life character,” said Bob Infantino, CEO of The Rockport Group and former president of Clarks Cos. NA. “He spoke quietly, but you were forced to listen. What he had to say was always filled with content. Every time I was with him, it was exciting and interesting. He brought a spark of energy.”

Although Clark in 1994 retired as managing director of Clarks, of which his family maintains a stake, he remained an integral part of the shoe industry. That year, he acquired men’s brand Edward Green, which he sold to Hermès four years later. From 1997 to 2000, Clark served as managing director of British label Barkers. In 2000, he bought the former Terra Plana with son Galahad.

According to friends and associates, it was Clark’s work with Soul of Africa that defined him over the last 15 years. “His compassion struck me immediately,” said Neal Newman, president of Two Ten Footwear Foundation, whose organization presented him with the T. Kenyon Holly Award for his humanitarian achievement in 2010, for the creation of Soul of Africa. “He was a deep-thinking individual who cared about philanthropy and the arts. He grew into loving and appreciating the vibrancy of Africa.”

In a 2008 interview with FN, Clark said, “I find shoe people much more interesting than most retired 70-year-olds. Specifically, I find it worthwhile putting my experience to good use and helping African women who up until now have never had jobs.”

Jim Salzano, who worked with Clark during his 18-year tenure as president of the then-Clarks Americas, said, “He was extremely generous in sharing skills with people. Souls of Africa was something where he wanted to teach people how to make shoes so they could improve their stature in life as opposed to just writing a check and watch the money run out at some point. That was the way he was — very generous in many ways.”

While Clark continued to pour his efforts into Soul of Africa, he found time to indulge in his other passions. “He was a remarkable human being, a talented artist, sailor and adventurer of all types,” noted Infantino.

Clark’s good nature did not, however, overshadow his business acumen. “He could ruffle feathers in the boardroom,” added Infantino. “But it was never for his own gain, but for the greater good. He had an agenda, but not for him personally, but moving something forward. He was always an advocate.”

Clark is survived by his children and wife.

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