Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Reggae and Clarks Connection.

We all did it; stood on a wooden block feeling all disgruntled while a “nice lady” measured our feet. She’d run off to the back to get three boxes of exactly the same patent black shoes with a little buckle to the side. They were reliable, durable and perfect for anyone under the age of five, well of course they were; they were Clarks.

 At that age you wished they didn’t fit or that your parents were cooler so you could have the awesome shoes, you know the ones… with the red lights that flashed as you walked. Those weren’t just any school shoes they were the super cool, super amazing, wow your friends and strut a little school shoes. But nope, your evil parents would insist on the sensible ones that they thought were cute, they’d aww and talk about how quickly you were growing up and if you mentioned those light up beauties you’d be told they were for boys, like that would stop me wanting them. Please! 

If only at that age I had realised that in Jamaica not only would I have been at the height of fashion with my Clarks kicks on but I might even have gotten into some bother with the Police. Yes, you read that right. Okay, maybe not at five years old but add 20 years and make me a man and there might have been a problem.....

So what is Jamaica’s love affair with traditional Clarks shoes? Well mostly a love of UK goods. In the late 50’s and early 60’s there was a massive wave of immigration from the Caribbean and Clarks became a shoe of choice for people when they arrived. Going home in them was a revelation and a pair of shoes became the perfect gift from loved ones residing in the UK.

Clarks opened up a store in Kingston when they cottoned on to this new untapped market and things got crazy. It was the boots that the Jamaican boys were after, they were expensive but if they were going to have them they would have to be Clarks. The shop sold 400 pairs in 5 days which meant they sold out!

But the people who were buying them weren’t just boys they were Rude Boys. I guess you could liken their reputation to that of a Chav. The shoes had become a status symbol amongst them, like Zoot Suits for Italians in America. As the shoes became an important part of the Rude Boy uniform they also became a method of establishing “troublemakers” by the police. In a bid to crack down on fights and bad behaviour most clubs in Jamaica wouldn’t allow anyone wearing them in!

A ban on imports made them more desirable as they were harder to get a hold of which meant trips to the UK to bring them back began again and even now they are still the footwear of choice for anyone whose anyone!

In the modern day, it’s not much of a surprise to see an elderly Jamaican man wearing a pair of Clarks shoes but if you ask him about his life and his dress sense over the years,  I’m sure he’d have a few interesting stories to tell.  

Here’s Vybz Kartell showing his appreciation of the brand we rejected aged 5: 

Inspired by a Newsnight news package.

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