Norman Walsh shoes, of Bolton, have come a long way since the then 16-year-old Norman was selected to make running shoes for the 1948 British Olympic team. Karishma Patel hears about the new bespoke trainer design service...
From the python snakeskin and silver PVC Medusa trainer, to the not-so-humble Trooper, tough to look at with its camouflage exterior but perfectly balanced with silky suede, Norman Walsh’s trainers are not only stylish but ensure maximum comfort for any sophisticated athlete or sneakerhead out there.
Among his other custom one-of-a kind designs, influences have derived from various interesting sources, one of which being the Legion trainer, that has taken inspiration from not only the Roman Empire but also the superhero Iron Man.
With no real competition out there, Norman Walsh trainers are in a complete league of their own.
Having survived more than 50 years, and many economical obstacles, Norman Walsh trainers are renowned for their personalised footwear.
This autumn, the company will be opening up their factory doors to design concepts from none other than the general British public.
The company is launching a way for customers to help design their own bespoke products.
The iconic Lostock and Ensign will be offered for customisation using Emblzn, which is a platform that makes it easy to design, even for people who are not from a design background.
Customers can click each component and decide on a colour or material.
From collar linings and laces to toe caps and tongues, each separate component from the trainer will be under the design direction of the customer.
Jason Crompton, Head of Design/Marketing and Social Media and ‘Head Colour-inner’, said: “Where other companies shut their shops when the economy suffered, Norman Walsh carried on and succeeded.
“What did suffer was the ability for the company to produce personalised footwear with the increased demand for ready-to-wear pieces.
“As the company now has the time and niche for this service, we are proud to be able to bring it back to its heritage, and that is producing personalised footwear for each customer.
“I think it’s nice to have shoes that are personalised and different.
“Everybody wants to have their own unique style these days and our bespoke collection allows for customers to choose their colour ways and materials.”
In recent years the need to be unique has been evolving continuously to a point where wanting to be different has become a trend in itself.
With retro and vintage revival clothing on the increase, Walsh slots right into these categories with its archive of more than 1,000 original vintage Norman Walsh shoes.
The brand is able to keep all the materials and styles exactly the same as how they were in their archives keeping them 100 per cent original and true to form, making them the ultimate vintage revival pieces. Where styles from the archive are either completely lifted or used for inspiration, it is impressive that they have withstood years of throwaway trends and going to carry on for many years to come.
The business stands to deliver on three key aspects, fell, fashion and factory, Jason explains: “We have a strong heritage and connection with the sport of fell running and creating the best selling fell-shoe ever.
“We draw our fashion styles from our strong heritage of sports footwear dating back from 1948 and we ensure everything is made here in our Bolton factory by British hands.
“All our materials are sourced completely from Britain, including the soles.”
With more and more businesses wanting to communicate directly with their customers, transparency has become a big part of this process.
Norman Walsh has uploaded many videos of the design and manufacturing of their footwear, giving a background on how their trainers went from pieces of material to a fully fledged product.
Jason added: “We wanted to let people see how their shoes are made.
“Walsh isn’t a brand with mass produced footwear made in the Far East, it is made by hand by less than 10 people.
“Its quite amazing to know who makes your stuff.”
Remaining at the forefront of such a competitive industry for 50 years and ensuring their designs stand the test of time isn’t easy, but they have thrived and have been rewarded with many successes so far and continue to do so.
Jason adds: “We have had many well-known people wear our shoes in the past and Walsh has started to make a feature in the spotlight in recent times.
“Bands such as The Vamps, The Struts, British Sea Power and The Lottery Winners all have a pair of Walsh.
“Also Korean actors have been featured in TV dramas wearing Walsh, in particular Lee-Jong Suk, leading actor in hit drama Doctor Stranger.”
And it isn’t just Korean actors who have taken an interest in the Walsh name.
Platform, a shop in Korea, has bought thousands of pairs of trainers from Norman Walsh and is very interested in the Walsh brand.
This could be due to their online presence, and Jason explains why social media has been an important part of the business.
He says: ‘Social media is one of the most important marketing tools as it reaches a wide audience for free.
“It makes us accessible to absolutely anyone around the world.”
With an extensive archive of vintage shoes, Walsh has been a popular partner for high fashion labels wishing to produce limited editions to complement the showcasing of their fashion clothing collectives.
Most recently, YMC, a young British designer who shares the same values as Norman Walsh, used the brand’s footwear as part of their runway show.
YMC’s ethos ties in well with that of Norman’s as they take traditional items and give them a modern spin, consequently making them on-trend and stylish at the same time.
The collaboration worked perfectly with their grungy, young and individual clientele.
Other collaborations with high fashion brands in the past have included brands such as Margaret Howell and Seishi Tenaka to name a few.
Following their success from attending Best of British last year, the brand will be showcasing its designs at this year’s event, including making an appearance at 6Acre kicks, a ‘sneaker-head’ convention.
The chaps will also be hosting a museum exhibition in the Northampton Shoe Museum, showcasing some of their archived ‘dead stock’ designs.