Thursday, 11 June 2015

Loakes in Warsaw!

Hurrah! My favourite shoe brand comes to Warsaw! For 35 years (since April 1980, to be exact) my formal shoe of choice has been Loakes. Over the decades, I've bought no fewer than 13 pairs. The reason? They're hand-made in the traditional way, they last for ages (if well looked after), the style is timelessly elegant and triumphantly British. Not Italian (made from Venezuelan albino bat leather with a silver clasp and tassel, that last one season then fall apart). Or from the Far East (simply fall apart after one season).

Loake is a family business - fourth generation, now led by Andrew Loake. Founded in 1880. History, tradition - things that few footwear brands can emulate. Many of Loake's employees are children or grandchildren of previous generations of Loake employees. This is the antithesis of global corporations exploiting whatever they can get away with exploiting to maximise next quarter's earnings. This is sustainability. I support it.

I was delighted to hear the news that a Loakes shop would be opening in Warsaw - the second in the whole of Continental Europe. So mixing a little bit of business with a whole lot of pleasure, with my son, I set off for the occasion, attended by many Polish fashion journalists.

Below: ul Chmielna 30 - in a courtyard just off the main (pedestrianised) street, not far from ul. Marszałkowska.

Below: Before the store opening, the briefing. Loake's sales director talks us through the product. This shoe, the company's best seller, is the Chester (same name and same colour as our male cat, Czester).

Below: At last, the store opening. Inside, it's beautifully laid out. Up-market, unfussy. The kind of place that makes you want to buy several pairs. Prices from 600 zł to 1,200 zł. For shoes of this quality that last many years, a snip.

Below: Proper. Men's. Shoes. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Not shoes with turned-up pointy toes that will find themselves in sales bins at the end of the season.

Below: My son, in his element.

Below: These will do! A lovely pair of co-respondent brogues.

The best part of the story for me is that Loakes will take their customers' old shoes and fix them back in their Northamptonshire factory with a new long sole and leather lining for 350 zł a pair. I will be bringing them many pairs that I can't get properly fixed in Warsaw. The concept of a szewc (cobbler) who sews soles to uppers has all but disappeared. The guy should call himself a kleik (gluer) who glues bits of rubber to worn-down soles. So if the craft is dying, at least back in Northamptonshire, there's a factory still doing it the way it should be done.

This time last year:
Gdynyer, on the beach, six am

This two years:
Polish doctors in UK offer new healthcare model

This time three years ago:
Football in Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Era becomes T-Mobile

This time five years ago:
Warsaw-Góra Kalwaria-Pilawa rail link closed

This time six years ago:
Marsh harrier, golden airliner over Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
Bus blaze on way to town

This time eight years ago:
A beautiful, stormy twilight


student SGH said...

Stylish shoes indeed. I gather gentlemen do not talk about money, therefore you do not mention how pricey the pleasure of wearing Loake shoes is :) (my own guess is between 2,000 and 3,000 PLN)

For my part, my trade-off between price and quality are decent leather shoes by Polish (not widely known) manufacturers. For a price of 200 - 300 PLN you get high durability. Shoes which I cared for endure around 4 years:
- in 2009 I bought decent summer shoes for 239 PLN - offer excellent ventilation for feet (no incidence of breaking sweat even in temperatures of +35C) and after this is the sixth summer I wear them and they do not seem to plan to fall apart
- in 2010 I bought shoes for wearing around the office only for 179 PLN. There were hardly ever worn outdoors, but worn for around nine hours a day some at least 200 days a year - this gives 800 days of wearing them indoors. Effect - sole thinner by 50% after fours years, but when changing the job last year I took those shoes home and wear them when walking around NI.
- in 2009 I bought cheap (<100 PLN) winter elegant shoes, they are still usable, yet no longer keep feet warm, so will serve well in the autumn and for sure not for official situations
- and the best purchase were my first elegant shoes, which my parent bought me in early 2003, before middle school completion. I used them occasionally until 2007 and then wore them day in day out for most of the year (except for regular summer and proper winter days). They fell apart in 2014.

Plus all those shoes in their style have been timeless. Not the same league as Loake for sure, yet they pass muster

Michael Dembinski said...

Most expensive Loakes are the 1880 range, which are less than 1,300 złotys (though boots for winter will be pricier). Cheapest are the Made in India L1 range (cheaper labour, same construction principles).

Loakes are not just about durability; they are an expression of understated good taste, the ethos of the English gentleman.

Sigismundo said...

The only major problem with Loakes, beautiful as they are, is that they're not really suited to the typical Polish foot, which is broad at the toes rather than pointed.

I bought a pair about 10 years ago from an Asian-owned shoeshop in Greenford. I think they cost £70 or thereabouts. It took quite a while (and numerous bunions) before I wore them in, and I suspect they were of the "Made in India L1 range" as there was a split near the heal in no time at all. They're still not very comfortable, and I'll only wear them on formal occasions, not for everyday work, and certainly not if I have to walk more than a kilometre or two in them. (Jeepers we guys have it easy: imagine the problems women go through to wear their fave footwear!)

Even so, my Loakes look great. Wish I'd invested in a pair earlier about 10 years earlier, before applying for one or two jobs that I didn't get....

Sigismundo said...

While we're on the subject of shoes, let's talk about Clarks, another Great British flag-carrier. But oh, how have the mighty fallen!

I had a fantastic pair of semi-formal Clarks office shoes bought in the City of London in the 1980s that I wore to work for more than 10 years. Very presentable even though they had rubber/plastic soles. They were also exceptionally comfortable: you could walk 20 km in them, day in day out, in any weather, and not feel the least effect.

Then over the last few years the standards declined. Did they move production to China? It would certainly seem so. Pretty well every pair of Clarks I've ever bought in Poland (or my other half has bought) over the last 10 years or so has been an utter disaster. The soles literally fell off one pair of formal shoes after little more than a month's wear. Other pairs rubbed so badly on the heels that they were pretty much unwearable. Do they send their seconds to Poland? I wouldn't be surprised.

Needless to say, I will NEVER buy another pair of Clarks in Poland. Might risk it again in the UK, but will be triply careful.

AndrzejK said...

For instant comfort nothing beats Ecco's. The styles are not the understated elegance of Loakes (these I wear on formal occassions) but rather clunky which I guess is the trade off if you are looking for all day comfort. The rubber soles and heels of Ecco's appear to be indestructable - after many years of wear it is the inside of the shoe which starts disintegrating well before the grips on the sole and heel wear down to a level which in a car tyre would mean failing the UK MOT test. Horses for courses I guess.

And good on Loakes that they have identified Poland as a suitable market and join the more than 900 UK businesses which in the last year invested in Poland.

Neighbour said...

For instant comfort nothing beats Goodyear welted shoe. My feet boil in Ecco's.


You can find Loake here:

and here:,93.html

and here:

There is also an interesting post about Loake factory (in Polish)

Loake 1880 are worth the money spent, other lines - Shoemakers and L1 - are made in India and are usually overpriced.

Please try other brands at - to my opinion Berwick shoes are offering best value for the money.

Best regards,

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Signismundo

Loakes offer each shoe size in five widths (though I guess most on offer will be Size 7 to 9 in widths B to D. I have a pair of Loake Waverleys that I thought would cripple me (huge bunion on the bone just above the right toe) but in the end they broke in. Took months, indeed.

A propos Clarkes. I have but one pair, bought last November in C.H. Blue City. They are a rather crude imitation of the classic Chelsea boot, albeit with rugged rubber sole for Warsaw winters. They have proved excellent for the snow, ice, slush, mud, sand and wet grass that passes for 'pavement' round these parts. I wore them for my 27km walk the other day - no blisters. Best thing is in Warsaw I paid zloty equivalent of £65 , whereas an identical pair was on sale in Ealing Broadway shopping centre for £85. Ah - and 'Made in Vietnam'. Clarke's is also a UK family firm, but with more shareholders than Loake, detached from the business, simply baying for profits.

@ Neighbour:
Good to see such interest in quality English footwear here in Poland!