EVERYONE knows about the tradition of shoemaking in the county, and no business embodies that heritage more than Wollaston firm NPS Shoes.
Founded as a co-operative in 1881, the Northampton Productive Society carried on making shoes until it hit difficult times in 2007. At that point, Ivor Tilley made an offer to buy the company, and the 27 employees voted to give him a chance.
Today, the firm still employs many of those 27 people, among a workforce that now number 63, fulfilling orders for the likes of Clarks and Marks and Spencer, as well as manufacturing shoes for independent shoe firms and supplying shoes to other retail outlets and its own store. The firm also manufactures shoes for the emergency services and the Forces.
NPS grew out of its association with Dr Martens when the Griggs factory began sending its shoes up the road to NPS to have the welts attached prior to heat-sealing the sole.
While Dr Martens developed its Airwair brand, NPS developed its own similar air-cushioned sole brand, Solovair, which is still produced in the factory today.
While Ivor remains involved as Chairman, his son-in-law, Managing Director Christian Castle, oversees the day-to-day running of the factory.
Ivor said: “We are proud to be able to say that every step in our manufacturing process is done here in Northamptonshire using methods that haven’t changed very much over more than 100 years.
“The association with Dr Martens had been vitally important to NPS, but the company had always taken care to ensure it its own Solovair brand was included in any branding, and that stood it in good stead when the Dr Martens licence was withdrawn.
“When I took over, we didn’t really know how things would go, but we have built on the Solovair brand and held on to big name stores that stock our shoes, and at the same time increased our order book for smaller, independent brands.”
The NPS outlet on Holyoake Road, Wollaston, is open seven days a week and sells the whole NPS range, from workwear and formal shoes, through to fashionable styles and casual wear. Most are discounted to some extent, but ends of lines and slight seconds allows shoppers to find up some real bargains on hand-made, high-quality English shoes. The shoes are also available online.
For more information, visit the website www.nps-solovair.co.uk