Clarks Redemption: Clarks & Jamaica
CLARKS ORIGINALS launched a new Jamaican collection and accompanying video campaign Clarks & Jamaica using the voices and talents of 7 Jamaican bred stars to explain what the Clarks Original brand means to Jamaica.
The limited-edition releases are now sold out on their website, where Clarks said they are proud to be part of island life for over 60 years. Jamaicans always had a love affair with things made in the UK. The country still holds a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty as the Queen of Jamaica. Although Jamaicans need a visa to visit, UK-made appliances, suits, ties, and Clarks shoes are some of the things that magnetize the relationship with the constitutional mother country. Clarks in particular are viewed as a symbol of quality at various levels of society.
According to Al Newman, author of the 2012 book Clarks in Jamaica, in the 1960s police would raid Dancehalls and ask all the Clarks wearers to get on one side and the non-Clarks wearers to go on the other side as a way of identifying the rude boys of Kingston. The shoes were noted to cost more than the average and at the time, police profiled people as outlaws if they could afford to wear Clarks.
Clarks is one of the few brands worldwide that transcends generations and ethnicity. The company that started in Street, Summerset UK, in 1825 by brothers Cyrus Clark and James Clark has been experiencing massive losses due to changes in the British consumer habits according to a 2018 statement. Since then they set out on a 5-year transformation to make up for the loss of sales in the UK and Ireland markets.
Their latest marketing effort in that transformation is Clarks & Jamaica. The video campaign takes consumers through the experience regular Jamaicans have with the Clarks brand as told by the artists The No-Maddz, Sevana, Koffee, Protoje, Lila Iké, M1llionz, and football star Raheem Sterling.
“Why is Clarks so engraved in Jamaican culture”? asked Sheldon Shepherd, star of the movie Yardie and half of the group The No-Maddz. This is the No-Maddz second European shoe company endorsement. The group signed an endorsement deal in 2011 for Puma’s FAAS series of running shoes with Usain Bolt. It became the highest sales for a second quarter in the company’s history according to a release from Puma. The ads which sampled songs from the group to promote “the world’s fastest band” (“Rocker, Flex And Groove”) were aired on US cable television and were played in every Footlocker and Puma store worldwide.
The original Koffee says to her, “Clarks literally means culture” as she explains how her humble beginnings gave her a sense of freedom compared to the feeling of a Clarks shoe on her feet.
In the 1970s, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Michael Manley banned all imported shoes, Clarks included. With that censorship came a greater demand for the Desert Treks quickly renamed the Bank Robbers and Wallabee boots on the island. Reggae Singer Protoje said as a youth he thought that Clarks was a Jamaican thing and it was a status symbol driven by music. Jamaica’s culture is inextricably linked to the Clarks brand because the music of Jamaica and Clarks in Jamaica shares a story of struggle and triumph.
The Original Clarks brand has been an accent on album covers and uttered in over 200 songs by Dancehall and Reggae artists dating back to the 1970s. Among them Trinity, Assassin (now Agent Sasco), Jahvillani, and No-Maddz. Songs like Trash and Ready by Super Cat, and Wah Dem A Do by Eek-A-Mouse are must-play Dancehall Clarks classics, but none more popular than the 2010 trilogy by Vybz Kartel: Clarks featuring Popcaan and Gaza Slim, Clarks Again, and Clarks 3.
The Guardian headlined in 2010 “Vybz Kartel puts Clarks footprint on Jamaica: Clarks are back in Fashion, thanks to dancehall artist Vybz Kartel”. It then stated that “Clarks Originals have long been a staple of Jamaican fashion, but Kartel lifted them to another level”.
Vogue magazine noted, “It took dancehall-reggae’s reigning king Vybz Kartel to transform that die-hard cult following into a viral feeding frenzy” A viral craze they say pushed the shoemakers bottomline beyond the 100 million pound mark.
Even after the world was singing Popcaan’s lyrics “Weh yuh get dah new Clarks deh daddy” intro to the song, the brand didn’t see it fit to engage the rugged culture in any meaningful ways.
BBC 1Xtra’s DJ Robbo Ranx said in the Guardian newspaper that, “I’ve gotten a few emails and texts where a young lady has said to me, ‘Robbo it’s because of your show with this song that we’re working overtime at Clarks”. All clear indicators that dancehall music and the Jamaican culture bring economic value to the brand.
With this latest video campaign by Clarks, it seems as though they have risen above the anticlimax of that missed opportunity to finally make investments in the culture and turn the cultural capital of Jamaica into financial capital for their brand. Through a statement on their website Clarks said “Since they first hit the streets of Kingston, our profiles have occupied a special place in Jamaican culture. To celebrate this truly original concept, we’ve crafted a limited edition new collection”.
Sheldon of No-Maddz said “as boys we all wanted Clarks and every boy in Jamaica wanted a Clarks”. This continues to be true even though Clarks Original does not have a point of sale or flagship store on the island. The new Jamaican inspired collection is not available for sale by Clarks in the Caribbean. Their “key strategic focus” they say, has been in Asia where they have hundreds of stores since 2015. Clarks operates as a retail, wholesale, franchise and online channel with physical stores in over 130 markets worldwide. They have 600 stores in China and hundreds across India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Like Jamaicans, Asians see the UK headquartered Clarks Original brand as a symbol of quality, and what Asia lacks in cultural capital they make up in the number of sales. Asia also has the advantage of being the maker of the shoes as much of the manufacturing of the Clarks Original shoes is done in China, India, Brazil and Vietnam. The company stated on their website that, “Most of the production takes place in Asia, with a small percentage of production in Europe and Central America. In most of these factories, the facilities are shared with production for other brands and customers”.
Clarks has never had a shortage of official or celebrity endorsement since launching their army-style desert boot in the 1940s. Government officials like British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness have attempted to hijack the culture of wearing Clarks shoes to court cool points from their constituents. Other celebrities from Bob Dillan to Bob Marley have donned the shoes.
Singer Sevana said she saw people from different age groups wanting a Clarks while growing up, while Lila Iké said Clarks made her feel like a goddess. She said “when a woman wears it, she is seen as hardcore”. A sentiment shared by Sex and the City star, Sarah Jessica Parker, who searched New York City to find Clarks shoes according to the Daily Mail UK. Lila also shared how her Grandfather had a brother who sent him Clarks. A popular sentimental request among Jamaican and Caribbean people because in order to guarantee you to get the original Clarks, it has to be imported by trusted family members.
It is indeed a wonderful cultural redemption for Clarks, a multibillion-dollar company to use Jamaican talent and culture to market the UK-originated shoes worldwide.