Uninspired by the limited range of shoes on offer for men, former Central Saint Martin’s graduate and graphic designer Jamie Harris decided there was only one thing for it – to make his own
Thus began an odyssey that lasted nearly four years that would eventually give rise to the brand, ‘Modern English’.
A new breed of English footwear, designed in London and hand-crafted in Northampton – Modern English is defiantly disinterested in being another English ‘heritage brand’.
“It wasn’t my intention to start a company”, explains Harris, “I just wanted what I wanted.”
He approached the British Footwear Association, hoping to get an introduction to “one of those quaint English craft workshops we’re so famous for – to give them a sketch and get my shoes made.”
Harris was furious; “I was told that there were very few factories left and they wouldn’t be interested in talking to someone like me. And, anyway, they were too mired in tradition to try what I had in mind.”
Rather than putting an end to his quest, full of shoe rage, Harris set out on his own – meeting with independent makers and workshops in Northamptonshire, Kent, London and Yorkshire – trying to find a collaborator.
“I met these talented old men and women who still hand-carved lasts and hand-stitched leather but they couldn’t see any sense to what I was asking them. And, conversely, I couldn’t see how the industry would survive if they didn’t do something to modernise the output; if only to inspire young people into apprenticeships.”
Harris says “That’s when I decided to set up Modern English: to be that thing that made English shoemaking relevant again.”
Almost five years later, Modern English shoes present a distinctly contemporary front – apparently effortlessly employing those traditional craft skills to deliver unisex range of stripped-back minimalism.
“I’m not driven by trends or producing seasonal collections,” says Harris, who believes that fashion’s increasing velocity has caused a shift away from thoughtfulness. “It stands for nothing anymore. I don’t want to be part of that.”
Nor does he see his brand as having a personal benchmark or competitor.
“My focus is on Modern English;” he explains, “working out whether the brand has a place in the world; whether people actually want it. I believe we have a great product but that’s irrelevant unless there’s a pull from consumers.”
Modern English shoes retail at under £200.
Handmade in Northampton, the shoes come in 3 styles and 7 colours – and are available in UK sizes 3 to 13.