The first big player in the classic shoe industry that might fall due to corona seems to be British Foster & Son. They closed their factory this summer, now they are according to unconfirmed info to close their Jermyn Street store where their bespoke workshop has been based as well. Here’s a summary of what we know and the most credible rumours.
NOTE: NEW AND CORRECTED INFO ON THE TOPIC HAS BEEN ADDED FROM FOSTER & SON, SEE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE.

 

Foster & Son started its operations already back in 1840, nowadays it also incorporates the brand Henry Maxwell, and has had its store and workshop on the famous shoe street Jermyn Street in London since the 70’s. They had the iconic lastmaker Terry Moore run the bespoke department for decades, and his heir Emiko Matsuda kept things on the highest of levels. In 2006, the company was bought by businessman Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson, and together with Japanese partners they opened their own Ready to Wear factory in Northampton two years ago. The premium RTW shoes made there was well received with an excellent quality for the price, and things looked positive. Now – the story of Foster & Son is not as bright anymore.

Picture from the now closed factory in Northampton. Picture: Foster & Son

Of course, a lot of the problems is due to the situation with the coronavirus, and how it has affected the sales of their shoes. But to be fair, Fosters had problems before, and they had lost many of the staff in the bespoke department, with for example Emiko Matsuda leaving to start her own brand, and lastmaker Jon Spencer go to John Lobb. Plus, the manager of the new factory, Matthew Allen, who was an important part in setting it up, left quite early after the opening. When corona turned the world upside down, Fosters didn’t have the strong foundation needed to stay afloat.

Rumours about the problematic situation started circulating a few months ago. Then, this summer the factory was closed, not even two years after its grand opening, and the around 15 people in the staff was terminated. Two of them joined Gaziano & Girling, but the others were out of jobs. Now, according to sources in England which Shoegazing have talked to, the Jermyn Street shop is to be closed by the end of this month (this is not correct according to new info given by Foster & Son themselves, see more below). They run a sale on everything in their stock at the moment, both old bespoke samples, uncollected pairs, and RTW stock. Also retailers like Skoaktiebolaget have just launched a sale on all their Fosters stock. According to the info I have it’s still uncertain what will happen with the bespoke business, if it’s to continue in some form without the current shop and workshop on Jermyn Street or not. The bespoke business and factory have been two separate companies. Still, if the bespoke operations were to continue in some form, info states that owner Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson would need to pay the Japanese investors to use the name Foster & Son.

Bespoke samples with a natural bleached patina from decades in the shop window at Fosters Jermyn Street residence. The shoe in the middle is about 80 years old.

Time will show how the Foster & Son saga will end, or if at least the bespoke part manage to stay alive in some form, perhaps with new owners or new investors or so. Of course we hope that all will be saved and be able to continue its journey. It was once one of the greatest firms in the West End, and if it would be over for good, it would be seriously sad. What’s also frightening, is that there’s a big risk that we will see more brands in the shoe industry around the world go down the same route in the near future, if the situation with Covid-19 in the world doesn’t take a turn for the better.

Note: Shoegazing have tried to reach Foster & Son representatives with questions on the situation, without getting any replies.


UPDATE: After the article was published Shoegazing has been contacted by Foster & Son, where owner Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson shared the following to “correct the impression that [the article] has given”:

· Our Jermyn Street store has been open since early June. We are very happy indeed with our talented staff and despite these challenging times, we are continuing to serve our customers as we have for 180 years and we plan to do so for many years to come.

· The actual situation in Northampton is that our Japanese partners have decided to withdraw and the factory is closed while we make alternative arrangements.

· Your suggestion that the departure of some staff should create doubt on the health of our business is unwarranted and completely inaccurate.