Paper delivered at The World at Your Feet Footwear Conference. University of Northampton, 20th-21st March 2013.
Last month I presented a paper at the ‘World at Your Feet’ international footwear conference organised by Northampton University in conjunction with the Northampton Footwear Museum. The paper was the product of a collaboration with one of my participants at Clarks headquarters in Street – Tim Crumplin the archivist at the Alfred Gillett Trust (aka Clarks archive). Taking Arjun Appadurai’s biographical model the paper traces the biography of the well known classic Originals designs such as the Desert Boot and the Wallabee. Sparked by the recently published Clarks in Jamaica and a Newsnight feature on the BBC, it analyses the phenomenon of their popularity in Jamaica and the recent publicity this popularity has incited.
Following the release of Jamaican deejay Vybz Kartel’s song ‘Clarks’ in 2010, Clarks Originals have hit the headlines with an unlikely tale of a ‘quintessentially British brand’ turned Caribbean sub-cultural style essential. The recent publication of a book about the history of Clarks Originals in Jamaica along with a Newsnight feature and countless other articles offer a fascinating account of how the ‘Clarks booty’ has been taken up as an iconic item of Jamaican sub-cultural style. Despite all this publicity the question remains: why has this happened? Looking at both the affordances the design offers this unlikely market and the social circumstances of its migration the paper will start by applying sociological and anthropological theory concerning the cross-cultural appropriation of material culture to understand what is so special about the Desert Boot. The paper will proceed by drawing on data gathered during interviews with the Clarks Originals team to investigate what this particular case study can contribute to theories of perception and structure-agency debates: what can the Jamaican interpretation of Clarks Originals tell us about the dialogue that exists between the producer and consumer and the social life of the shoe. Moreover, why has this unusual appropriation excited such public interest in the UK.
By Alex Sherlock.
You can find out more about Alex on our contributors page.