Tredair

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Tredair is a brand of British-made footwear produced by White & Co., a shoe design and procurement business in Northamptonshire. The family ran factories from 1890 to 2003 making classic men's footwear and variations, sports footwear, cricketing shoes, utility footwear to government specification during the 1940s, a military contract for the Australian Army, and safety footwear employing significant numbers of people at White's Shoe Works in New Street Daventry, and in the village of Earl's Barton in their first Victorian factory called "Progress Works" and then a 1960s former Barker's factory next to the current Barker site on Station Road.

"The firm produced that most English of things, the welted shoe: a perversely difficult beast, involving the glueing, nailing and stitching together of innumerable components to produce the sort of indestructible footwear beloved of ex-public schoolboys and members of Her Majesty's Constabulary."

Until 1983, when the Dr Martens' largest producer licenced exclusive use of the brand from its Munich-based owners, White & Co shared the work of producing Dr. Martens-branded boots with companies including George Cox, NPS, GB Britton and Sons, Hawkins of Northampton ("Hawkins ASTRONAUT with Dr Martens air cushioned soles"), Earl's Barton neighbours WJ Brookes, R Griggs Group (where the Airwear brand was registered) and Blundstone of Australia. 70% of White's 10,000 pair annual production was air-cushioned footwear in the early 90s, according to an interview with Management Today. White's best seller was a 4 eyelet gibson shoe, along with short production-runs of fashion styles and the classic 8 eyelet ankle boot, made on a rolling army last. To maintain independence White's registered the Tredair trade mark in 1976 to produce boots labelled "Dr Martens Tredair", and then just "Tredair" after 1983, using their own patented foam-injection system to make a bouncier mid-sole than the DM felt. They filed patent 2292878B with Harry Gee as inventor. In 1990 White & Company (Earls Barton) Ltd. was awarded a Queens Award for Export Achievement after exporting 70% of production including Gripfast shoes, made by the same company and mainstream goodyear-welted styles - similar to standard styles from Loake - and employing 380 people.

White's had an unusual experience of globalisation, along with other similar factories, with some unexpected success led by demand for DM and similar brands and White's ability to produce short production runs of a few pairs of boots such as 50-pair orders for an online Vegan shoe company. The boom was short-lived, as importers from countries with cheaper currencies or less tax spent their margins on advertising. A press release from a rival company that spent 5% of turnover on advertising reads "we thought DMs broke the rules of marketing, but we were wrong"; another rival, filmed as part of the Kinky Boot Factory documentary says of a competitor "they get the boots into the UK for $16 and all the rest goes on advertising". Other competitors spent their margin on stockholding at a time when few wholesalers or chainstores wanted to hold a lot of stock of more expensive UK-made footwear.

In 1999 the Daventry factory closed with the loss of 100 jobs followed by a rare wholesale stockist 2001. In 2003 the company decided not to close altogether, but to adopt a felt and foam combination for their mid-soles, and closed the Earl's Barton factory and company shell in 2006, moving production to other goodyear-welted footwear factories in the area with the possibility of transferring some staff and customers. About the same time, DM trademark-holders Griggs tried moving all production to China after a period when uppers had been sent from Thailand for the rest of production to be done in the UK, making brands like Tredair unique in sustaining UK production. Unfortunately, distribution via shops without stock or advertising was difficult, with customers tending to assume that the DM brand always been a single company, rather than showing interest in UK or Australian successor brands. High production costs ruled-out stockholding, sales staff or advertising.

Current exclusive licencors of the DM brand - R Griggs / Airwear - have re-introduced a "made in England" range made at their company base. Their company was sold to venture capitalists Permera for £300m and it may be that new owners will keep some production in the UK.

The fiddly nature of making small batches tends to slow production to a month or two after a clear order - still quicker than production in China when surface delivery is added. As the UK economy rebalances, suppliers like Tredair can now compete on minimum order quantity with footwear produced in China, while competing on price and minimum order with welted footwear produced in Europe.

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