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20-03-2013
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Why Jamaicans are Obsessed with Clarks
Clarks, the shoes that tap to Jamaica's reggae beat

How did the brand, scourge of schoolchildren, become the music genre's footwear of choice? A new book about this strange love affair explains why Kingston's reggae stars regularly travelled to buy up the Somerset firm's wares

DJ and producer Trinity, in Desert Treks, near the Mixing Lab studio in Kingston. Photograph: Mark Read

For generations of Britain's boys and girls the trip to the shoe shop before the start of term has heralded a familiar argument. Why can't I have these cool ones? Please, Mum? The answer is always the same: you need sensible shoes, darling, something that will last you. Cue the foot-size gauge with the width-fitting tape, and that sinking feeling: it's another pair of Clarks.
But while the name has spelled "total square" to British schoolchildren since the 1960s, for one set of customers across the Atlantic the notion of comfy, well-made English footwear has provoked a very different reaction. In Jamaica – above all among its singers, musicians, DJs and producers – Clarks are king.
A new book, Clarks in Jamaica, tells the bizarre story of how the stolid Somerset firm became shoemakers to the reggae industry. Designed, written and published by Londoner Al Newman (aka Al Fingers), the handsome edition was inspired by one of the biggest and most entertaining reggae tunes of recent years. In his 2010 hit Clarks singer and MC Vybz Kartel not only delivered a hymn to their durability and stylishness, he also included tips for keeping the suede looking tidy, including judicious use of a toothbrush for reaching tricky areas. The tune was massive in Jamaica and beyond, and it set reggae buff Newman thinking about the many artists who have been moved to namecheck the island's favourite shoes in song.
"It is kind of niche," says Newman, with some understatement. "But I thought – it's such a colourful story, it's about time someone documented this. I wanted to focus on the music and the Jamaican musicians who have sung about Clarks. Reggae and dancehall stars Dillinger, Trinity, Ranking Joe, Scorcher, Little John, Super Cat and countless others had sung about Clarks in the past. So I went there just over a year ago to interview and photograph musicians, as well as other people on the street wearing the shoes."
Accompanying Newman was photographer Mark Read, who has shot for National Geographic, and there is something of the tone of that publication in his lush, almost sensual colour images of the music biz dandies of Kingston. They offer an elegant counterpoint to the archive pictures that Newman has lovingly disinterred: dainty line drawings from Clarks advertising of the 40s and 50s; sepia photographs of earnest-looking workers at the company's factory in the town of Street, near Glastonbury – a spot that feels a million miles from Trenchtown.
"It seemed like a perfectly natural thing to the musicians that someone would come from England to write a book about Clarks," says Newman, himself an instrumentalist and remixer on the side. "They were happy to be recognised for their love of the shoes."
It certainly is a love affair that Clarks in Jamaica documents, and it was the desert boot that began it. Newman quotes a report in 1967 from the head of Clarks' West Indies distribution: "Our stockist, La Parisienne in Kingston, sold out a consignment of 400 pairs in five days. Although our boots are priced the highest, the young boys insist on Clarks." What the report doesn't mention is that these weren't just boys, they were rude boys – part of an emerging youth culture in the recently independent Jamaica.
"The original gangster rude boy dem, a Clarks dem wear," producer Jah Thomas tells Newman in the book. "And in Jamaica a rude boy him nah wear cheap ting."
"In the early 70s," writes Newman, "the rude boy/desert boot association became so strong that young males risked a beating by police simply for wearing a pair. 'You must be a thief,' the police would say. 'How else would you afford such expensive Clarks?'" He tells the story of an infamous Kingston police officer called Joe Williams, who carried out a raid on a dance being run by producer and label boss "Sir Coxsone" Dodd. The DJ Dennis Alcapone recalls the arrival of Superintendent Williams: "He tell the DJ to turn the sound down, and he say: 'All who's wearing Clarks booty, stand on that side of the dance. And who's not wearing Clarks booty stand on this side.' Because he knows that rude boys wear them, so that is a way of identifying them."
The Wallabees worn by Alcapone on the cover of his 1971 album Guns Don't Argue (left) mark one of the earliest appearances of Clarks in Jamaican music. In 1976, Alcapone associate Dillinger was the first to sing about the label, on the huge hit CB200, a version of a Gregory Isaacs song in which he rides through town on a Honda CB200 motorbike, goes to the bank, buys some new trousers and finally a pair of Clarks booties. Two years later the DJ Trinity released Clark Shoe Skank, in which his attempts to buy a proper pair are thwarted and he is fobbed off with a "pointed-toe" alternative.
When government import bans made it difficult for Jamaica's emerging music stars to get their hands on their shoe of choice, they soon turned to DIY importation. Singers and producers travelling to the UK would return with boxes of Clarks for friends and family, with the more intrepid descending on the outlet stores in rural Street to buy up whole batches of stock.
John MacGillivray of London record store Dub Vendor says in the book: "When I started the shop in Ladbroke Grove in 1980, a guy called Smithy used to bring our records over from Jamaica, and then take Clarks back. He'd go down to the factory in Somerset and buy them with the money he'd made from the records."
Along with Smithy came a succession of stars, and during the 1980s I-Roy, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and Dr Alimantado were all to be found clutching discount shoeboxes deep in the West Country. For the final leg of the journey to the Caribbean, the favoured method was to ship the booty in a barrel, to avoid import duties.
Through songs such as Wa-Do-Dem by Eek-A-Mouse, Clarks Booty Style by Ranking Joe, and Squeeze Breast by Mavado, Newman teases out Jamaican culture's fascinating relationship with Britain, the mother country whose products – from Kangol hats to string vests to Clarks shoes – it has consistently adopted and re-purposed down the years.
The Jamaicanisation of sensible Englishness reaches its peak in Newman's tale of the Clarks desert trek boot. Each of these carries an innocent-seeming embossed logo of a hiker with a backpack over his shoulder. To the denizens of west Kingston, however, this was clearly a man fleeing with a bag of swag, and so the desert trek has long been known by a more ghetto-ready name: "the bank robber".
Clarks in Jamaica is published on 19 Nov (onelovebooks.com). Portraits from the book will be exhibited at KK Outlet, London N1 6PB, from 1-5 Nov
guardian.co.uk

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20-03-2013
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This is both fascinating and hilarious. The description of Clarks being despised by British schoolchildren is the exact attitude that I still have towards Clarks, simply due to their seemingly immovably stance that quality shoes must be sensible or unfashionable shoes.
I feel that their men's designs are either old-fashioned or just plain hideous, therefore I find the idea of rudeboys in Jamaica adopting them very surprising.. and funny.
I did wonder how they appeared to sail the recession unscathed!

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13-04-2013
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I freaking love this. I wish more more people would do anthropological studies like this.
However it is also a little sad when you think about the socioeconomic implications of something so unappreciated and even mocked in one country becoming an unattainable status symbol in another.

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13-04-2013
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i have a friend from Japan that also loves clarks. for a second i thought she was confusing them with church's (the super luxury shoe brand )

she explained that they were also popular in japan in the 80's and were considered well made (clarks stopped making shoes in england in the 1980's by the way)

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13-04-2013
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14-04-2013
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ok...that video is hilarious!

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25-05-2013
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i love this story...

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25-05-2013
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When I was a teenager into my early twenties I used to be a part of a (mild) gang . We only wore Desert boot by Clarks and Nike Airmax sneakers.

A part of it also has to do with Rastafarian culture, where Clarks are made from all natural materials and this is appealing to thief spirituality and rejection of anything man made or artificial

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26-05-2013
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wow zamb!
i didn't know that about rastafarian culture...
so interesting!
thx for sharing...

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26-05-2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey View Post
wow zamb!
i didn't know that about rastafarian culture...
so interesting!
thx for sharing...

Yes, standard male Rastafarian dress, at least a westernized edition of it is pants made from wool, shirts made of silk, with either Clarks desert boot or a shoes that a company called Vikings use to produce. they also wear a lot of linen and the women (and some men) are very good knitters and makers of craft products.

Its interesting that I often wonder what is the relationship between the approach of Altieri of Carpe Diem to making clothes and his dreadlocks (rastafarianism?)

I could easily see a connection between the two as his approach is very much in line with Rastafarian spiritual approach and an unwavering commitment to natural materials, Spirituality and practicality.

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27-05-2013
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he was a boy from a (so-called) good family, his mother a doctor, father an architect, big brother a lawyer, etc. surrounded by those things he might have grown an anti-conformist somewhere in him while he precociously got to know what luxury essentially is.
he inherited part of his father's property and then became a wanderer around the world in a decade, before the launch of carpe.
travelling might have let him part from some kinds of worldly attachments. the dreadlocks might be his expression of spiritually deracine determination.
in this regard, it's also like certain indian thing (e.g. pic below), isn't it.


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Last edited by runner; 27-05-2013 at 01:32 PM.
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30-05-2013
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http://www.okayafrica.com/2013/05/17...mibia-largeup/

The African roots of the Clark shoe. Not surprising, many things that are attributed to the English are actually from the countries they colonized.

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