While Joseph Cheaney has been making traditional English shoes in Northamptonshire, England since 1886, its most major growth has been in the past six years. Cousins Jonathan and William Church, fifth generation shoemakers (of the eponymous Church shoe family), saw the brand’s potential, and in 2009 they conducted a management buyout of Joseph Cheaney & Sons. While highly regarded among shoe aficionados, at this time Cheaney was best known in the trade as a contract manufacturer – producing shoes for other brands.
“We believed that we could build the Cheaney brand up and give it a new lease of life; it had all the right ingredients, a strong heritage, its own UK factory and a skilled local workforce. Being independent gave us the opportunity to raise the profile of Cheaney, as a brand in its own right, both in the UK and internationally” William Church, Joint Managing Director, Joseph Cheaney.
Since the buyout in 2009 their turnover has more than doubled (from £4m to £9.6m), while exports have tripled and now account for nearly a third of the company’s turnover. 80% of export sales come from Europe and The Far East, with Italy being Cheaney’s biggest market in Europe, and Japan their largest export market overall. “The Japanese have a huge respect for well made tailored goods and the Made in England brand” says Jonathan. “Whilst the market has been challenging, we have managed grow our share and we still see great potential in the Japanese market”
In addition, Cheaney has a growing presence in Germany, Belgium, France, USA Canada, Scandinavia and the Middle East. Trade missions conducted through the UKTI to South Korea, Russia, Malaysia and Taiwan have also been very worthwhile for the business, with local embassies carrying out market research and arranging relevant customer contacts and appointments.
What has remained fundamental to Joseph Cheaney throughout, is the brand’s rich manufacturing heritage; the company has been handcrafting each and every pair of their shoes; from the cutting out of the leather, through to the stitching and final polishing in the same factory (in Desborough, Northamptonshire) since 1886.Cheaney represents the height of English hand crafted, Goodyear welted shoes.
It takes eight weeks and up to 200 different hand operations to make a pair of Cheaney shoes. Central to this production is their workforce; which has grown from 90 (when they bought the company) to over 160 skilled craftsmen and women, some of of whom are fifth generation employees themselves. As well as those who have worked for Cheaney for decades, the company places importance on training and passing on these skills to the next generation by employing apprentices to continue the craft in Northamptonshire, the county synonymous with shoemaking.
Since the buyout, Cheaney has opened six stores, with the most recent launching in Cambridge and Leeds this year. The other four stores are located at sites across London and include the award winning Jermyn Street flagship store – listed by GQ magazine as one of the ‘100 Best Things in the World Right Now’. The flagship was also one of the first stores to open as part of the Crown Estate’s Jermyn Street regeneration programme.
Cheaney (21b Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6HP)