Behind the Scenes at Stead: Britain's Master Suede Manufacturer
The Stead headquarters look like an almost perfect rendition of a factory. A place where things get made, done and manufactured. It’s sprawling, a warren of jumbled red brick buildings, towering chimneys (although no longer in use), and rooms where men and women in white work coats hunch over rolls of hide, the smell and sound of treatment and refinement. Hands and machines working constantly.
Despite its more than 130 years of hard-earned heritage, Stead - or to use the company’s full title: Charles F Stead and Co Ltd - is also a thoroughly modern operation. Working with some of the most respected names in shoemaking, this Yorkshire tannery has become the name for quality British suede, which is why it was essential for us here at Drake’s to use Stead suede on our signature Goodyear welted, Northampton made shoes, including the Charles loafer and Murphy chukka boot.
“This area used to be full of tanneries,” says Andrew Bailey, Stead’s Sales Director and a fourth generation member of the family. “There’s a natural borehole here with nice soft water that is perfect for tanning.” We’re sat in the Stead office, upstairs from the tannery. A small room full of shoes, lasts, family photos and books on the likes of, ‘The Dyeing of Textile Fabrics’ and ‘Lessons In Applied Mechanics. A light rain falls outside, turning the red brick crimson.
“We like to think we’ve thrived because we’ve focused on a niche, which is providing quality at the top end of the market,” adds Bailey. “Our focus has always been to do what you can to make the best product, and thankfully that’s proven to be true. We’re busier than we’ve ever been! We think our customer’s want to celebrate Made in England quality and heritage.
“In a way,” Bailey adds, “things haven’t really changed for us too much. We continue to produce our materials in as ethical a way as possible and, if you’re making a Goodyear welted shoe in Northampton using natural materials, it ticks all the boxes for a great product with an honest story.”
We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’re proud that many of our shoes are made using Stead leathers, the best suede in the business. Made to be worn and enjoyed for years and years… and years to come.