Even admist the spectrum of very old shoemakers in the very old shoemaking epicenter of Northampton, England, you won’t find one a day older than Tricker’s.

Founded in 1829 before moving to its new factory on a stretch of St Michael’s Road in 1904, Tricker’s is as classic as classic footwear manufacturers get. Just picking up one of their Bourton or Stow models makes something very clear: Tricker’s still makes ’em exactly like they used to.

But while the underlying construction of a Tricker’s country brogue may (hopefully!) never change, that doesn’t mean that every so often, the factory is asked to take a left turn. Some of their best creative, boundary-pushing work has undoubtedly been done in collaboration with Virignia-based menswear retailer Division Road.

In the first of our new Division Road Discussions series, DR founder Jason Pecarich sat down with Tricker’s Sales Director David Jeffrey. Me? I just sat there, teed them up, and stayed the heck out of their way. What resulted was a deeply interesting insider conversation about product development, leather, shoe last manipulation, and maybe most importantly, what it means—and what’s required—to innovate and push things forward for a brand that’s beloved precisely because it doesn’t often change.

David Jeffery—Trickers Shoes

Tricker’s Sales Director David Jeffrey

Division Road — Jason Pecarich

Jason Pecarich, Founder of Division Road

David Jeffrey: …I made up a few samples of the Spring release, because the factory was worried about the weight of some of the leathers, as they’re quite thick. I’m confident we can work with it anyway, but to put their mind at ease, I said look just run some samples through on all of the leathers, and we’ll get some feedback from the staff. Because if they sign off, it means the bulk production goes through much easier.

Jason Pecarich: One reason I’m so excited to document this conversation is a 200-year-old producer still testing things…

David: Oh yeah you guys are testing us haha. But if you don’t push the factory we’d just be making Bourton and Stow in black, C-Shade, and Acorn, day in day out. And we have to evolve.

Jason: …wait, Ben, are we rolling yet?

Ben (Stitchdown): Oh we’re rolling, this is great so far, keep going!

Jason: Ok so talking about the US market, English footwear just has an odd time tracking in the United States. Obviously Japanese denim is now a thing, but it took probably 15 years to become seeded in the customer’s mind in a way. And there’s still of course a gravitation to the US companies who are doing that type of product.

Division Road x Tricker's Churchill Boot Horween Cavalier Leather

It really took that Churchill using Horween leather before we really got people to kind of pay attention to Tricker’s. Which to me is crazy! As a Tricker’s customer for years, wearing them since probably 2010, like Wantababe, Acorn Bourtons, stuff like that. And Horween got people to just pay attention to the amazing construction and the product of Tricker’s.

I think when we first started, we were pretty particular about weights, but we’ve used a lot of these 2.0 to 2.2 millimeter…

David: 2.2 to 2.4…

Jason: Yep, 2.4 on some of the horsehides we’ve used, for better or worse. But they’re making it work at the factory, although each run we don’t totally know what’s going to come out.

David: Well normally in a factory that’s nearly 200 years old, or any company that’s so used to doing what it does, any change is scary. We are open to doing it of course, but the factory will push back on certain things, if they don’t think it can work. But then we’ll sit around a table, have a discussion, get the supervisors involved. We have a really great technician who just joined us, who was 22 years at Church’s in Northampton and was in a family shoe business before that. He’s really really good, he does pattern cutting, he does tooling up, he does closing room.

David Jeffery—Trickers Shoes

So he can sit and look at a leather we’ve found together, normally Horween or C.F. Stead, and he’ll say let’s give it a go. And we can run it in the factory, we’ll do a sample pair, and all of the supervisors in each room will take feedback from the staff about the processes in each operation.

We make quite a lot of shoes a week but we’re still smaller than a lot of the bigger factories, so we are a little more nimble and we still want to be like that. So when someone like Jason comes to us, of course he’s done the research on the style, but also the leather, the tannage. Maybe it’s a leather that hasn’t been used in shoes at all before, which is a little scary. Maybe there’s too much oil in the tannage and when you try to fold it over and stick it down or do a beaded edge it’s just too oily, and it starts to delaminate on the stitching. We don’t want to stop the factory doing something that’s just physically impossible, but nine times out of ten we can make it work. They just need a bit of coercion, shall I say. In a positive way! We don’t stand over them with a stick and make them make shoes.

Of course we have to have delivery windows in place, but if we have to do something a different way and we miss a delivery window, normally Jason’s pretty understanding.

division road x trickers super monkey boot — snuff suede

Jason: Normally! Yeah. Haha. I think the Super Monkeys, that’s a great example where there’s a fair amount of adaptation, more unknowns, some hand-cut patterning, which presents complications.

David: Right right on the Super Monkey you wanted yours without a gimped edge, but that edge is already in the pattern, so we had to make it with the gimped edge and cut off all the little points by hand and trim it up so it looked nice and neat. A lot of the styles we have that aren’t so popular, we don’t have metal patterns for them, but we can cut them by hand and cut around a board pattern, and or do some extra handwork.

I think it was originally a nine-eyelet boot, but you wanted 10. The markers would’ve been for nine eyelets, so we had to do new markers. So there’s all sorts of little things. But it’s just what makes the Tricker’s and Division Road collaborations so different to anyone else’s really.

Jason: Throw in the flexi-welt on it…

David: Yes, that’s not a stock welt, we had to order from Barbour in the States. And they said well that’s not a color and style we’re using for many other people, which means the minimums become quite high…there are so many different things that could stop a project quite quickly. And I’ll be honest there are a lot of customers that probably would stop quite quickly.

Tricker's Shoes Factory—Northampton England

But I think with Division Road loyalty and promotion of the brand to the American customer—it’s a working collaborative partnership and we want to continue for as long as possible. So we’ll try to do anything we can, and nine times out of ten we get it to work. And on the odd time, we have to hold our hands up and admit defeat, and go on to the next project.

But you’re quite persuasive in that respect as well, and whenever we start to push back you’ll push back on us.

Jason: But we get there! People ask “how do you do so many collaborations?” and I think annoyance and persistence are the two main things. Of course if the Tricker’s factory is backed up, we’re not going to force a major new development in that time. But something I love about Tricker’s is they’re always ready to have a go at it. And for a company that’s done certain things a certain way for a very long time, they are willing to try new things out.

I think that’s also part of your influence, David, from managing the Japanese market. For years Tricker’s has had a very recognizable identity in Japan and Japanese street style. And if anything gets tested in terms of capability or stylistically, I think it’s in that market. So your approach coming from Japan to now managing the bulk of the Tricker’s operation has helped push these evolutions forward while embracing some things that are different from the standard Tricker’s formula. That’s helped a lot as well.

I imagine internally the factory gets some trust in that process when you say “let’s give it a go,” and it turns out alright.

David: The biggest one that was a real predicament and played on my conscience…

Jason: Haha

Tricker's Bourton Brogue Shoe—Snuff Kudu Reverse Leather—Division Road

David: …was when you wanted to change the last on our iconic brogue. Bourton has been made on the All The Fours last, last 4444, since 1938. And you wanted to change it to w2298, and you insisted, and bugged, and cajoled me: can we make it on a different last? And I said well, we shouldn’t do.

Jason: Haha.

David: But we’ll do it. But we can’t call it Bourton.

Jason: I still do call it Bourton…

David: Yes so apologies to anyone who’s bought a Bourton from Jason not on last 4444.

Jason: Haha they came out good!

Tricker's Shoes Factory—Northampton England

David: We weren’t sure how it was going to work, from your side it was more the fit issue. Whether it’s your customers or American customers in general, that w2298 last seems to fit quite nicely on the heel cup and across the forepart. 4444 is quite a big last and the heel cup is quite wide because of how it was developed to be worn with a heavy country sock. It probably came from a military last the factory had and was sort of a tweak on that.

Everything was hand-lasted instead of using a toe-lasting machine, so you could get much more shape into the back and across the front. The pattern is quite a wide pattern, so to put it onto the w2298 that has a little more shape, we were concerned. But it seems to have worked.

Tricker's Bourton Brogue Shoe—Snuff Kudu Reverse Leather—Division Road

Jason: And that was a last that you pulled out of the archives—part of it was also to get traction on that last, so we wanted to put it on something iconic. But probably the best traction for us is on the w2297, which is kind of the best of both worlds, it’s roomy but also a little bit of a dress toe. And we find that just through experimentation and presenting different things to market.

I’ve always been impressed with the quality that comes out amidst all that experimentation. I mean we QC every run and Tricker’s is probably one of the lowest percentage in terms of send-backs. There are sometimes faults you don’t know until there are years of wear, but it’s quite rare. Even then it’s usually explainable—oh this is the first time the factory used this leather, and they maybe cut into some loose grain or something like that. You get kudu with bullet holes in it.

We launched with Tricker’s, so we’ve been doing collaborations for eight years, and with sourced leathers for six. It’s quite remarkable that a pair of my Tricker’s from 2008 to now are pretty much the exact same build. You can look at a lot of brands, even manufacturing brands, you can see that the product has changed. It’s gotten lighter, more approachable. That’s one of the delicate balances when we’re trying to present new Tricker’s products: how do we make this a little more comfortable without making it something different. Some of that is down to using things like Chromexcel or C.F. Stead kudu or Unicorn, that have more natural elasticity to them. We want to offer a full Tricker’s country build, but those can help a lot with break-in and comfort.

What we call heritage has become so saturated with outsourcing brands using factories they have literally no control over and zero visibility into. They’re presenting a product that’s maybe half the price and they’re using all the same language. OK, it’s Goodyear welted, but Goodyeear welting is just a construction method. That’s like saying all wood-framed houses are the same. For us that integrity inside the building is everything. And their adaptability makes development feasible.

David Jeffery—Trickers Shoes

David: I suppose we’re one of those understated brands and businesses. We throw very little money into marketing. But where we do put the money in is the factory. It’s all about the factory, and the people that work in the factory. The retail environment is getting harder and harder. And yes a lot of words—Goodyear welting or quality or handmade—are bandied about more and more easily these days. We’re not the best at every style, but when it comes to country shoes and boots, I would arguably say that…well I suppose the proof is in the pudding when you wear them.

When we visited Charlottesville and The Fields, there were a lot of customers there. Sometimes I’m at a trade show and retailers from all over the world are there and I have to explain to them what this 200-year-old brand is. And then you speak to these customers from all over the States and they all know Tricker’s and the lasts and they want to do this and that makeup—their knowledge is incredible. If we had 20 retailers like you around the world my job would be redundant I’d think.

Tricker's Shoes Factory—Northampton England

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