Written by Naomi May
The footwear brand fashion forgot about is back and luring a younger demographic in with its utilitarian take on comfort-first footwear.
If the state of politics is any indicator – see: controversial political figures, rising inflation and a startling cost of living crisis – fashion will inevitably come to reflect the sombre times we’re living through.
Despite reports of dopamine and revenge dressing dominating the fashion headlines of late, the writing is on the wall. The world is in dire straits, which often suggests that fashion and its trends are set to be channelled in a more conservative, sensible and utilitarian direction.
A case in point is the current ubiquity of Clarks Originals’ Wallabees, a so-called “shoe for people who don’t want to wear shoes”. The Cornish pasty-shaped shoe that you might recognise most from your school days can now be scouted on every cargo-pant wearing member of Gen Z worth their salt, plus FKA twigs, Raheem Sterling and Tyler, The Creator.
According to Google Trends, searches for Clarks Wallabees have spiked by 150% in the last year alone and if you have a quick scan of any British high street, you’re sure to spot them nestled onto the feet of somebody, old or young. In 2020, the Wallabee, which was first released in the 1960s, became Clarks Originals’ bestselling style.
“The shoe was first made by us half a century ago, and it’s still one of the coolest casual shoes out there,” Tara McRae, Clarks’ global chief marketing and digital officer, tells Stylist. While the company doesn’t disclose figures, McRae confirms the last year has been an “exciting” one for the brand, with a string of collaborations and activations helping to bolster its image.
Clarks was founded in Street, a sleepy village in Somerset, in 1825 by Cyrus and James Clark, who designed and crafted a slipper from sheepskin off-cuts. It promptly became a purveyor of well-made, high-quality shoes. In 1950, Nathan Clark created the brand’s now-signature desert boot, and in the 1960s, the Wallabee projected the brand to dizzying heights of success.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing in the years since, though. In recent years, the high street stalwart had struggled to differentiate itself in an increasingly saturated market. The brand’s sales slumped by 43% in 2021 and entered mediation with representatives for its workers in Somerset, who argued that the business was seeking to cut their wages by almost 15%.
To appeal to a younger demographic, the brand introduced collaborations with influencer favourite Sporty & Rich and cool-girl label Goodhood, which reimagined its Wallabees in an eco leather and a streamlined shape respectively. Both collaborations promptly sold out.
“Appealing to the years between the young and the old is what we’re aiming for,” McRae adds. “Clarks really is such a democratic brand, and we do have something for everyone.”
She nods to the recent rapid growth of Clarks’ TikTok channel – the #Clarks now has 292.4 million views – and the launch of a slew of cultural projects, which tell the story of the Wallabee’s evolution. The label has also just made its debut in the metaverse, hence the brand’s current ubiquity. There are more plans to grow the brand over the next year, too, which will no doubt lead to more collaborations, more influencers and more coverage.
At its heart, Clarks really is a story of how one of the greats became great again.
Images: courtesy of Clarks
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