Now in an eight generation family business, Start-rite have been trusted by generations of parents to care for their children’s feet. With a heritage dating back to 1792, we now retail through a network of over 400 independent and multiple retailers across the UK and internationally, so it’s never been easier to find out fitted footwear.

The Birth of the Shoe Industry

The Birth of the Shoe Industry

Our history dates back to 1792 with the birth of the modern shoemaking industry in Norwich, where Start-rite head office is still based today. James Smith was a cordwainer (or leather worker) based in a small shop behind Norwich market. He was the first shoemaker in the country to offer an alternative to bespoke footwear that few could afford by offering ready-made, off-the-peg foot-wear to a wider audience.

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First Shoemaker to Use Sewing Machine in UK

In the 19th century, James Smith’s grandson Charles Winter had inherited his commercial flair, and became the first shoemaker in the UK to use the newly invented sewing machine in the manufacture of his footwear.

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Norwich Factory Opens

Following the Great War, shoemaking, along with many other industries, suffered from a lack of skilled workers and investment. Despite this, James Southall, Charles Winter’s grandson by marriage, forged ahead and opened a new and up-to-date factory on the outskirts of Norwich. Public awareness that children’s shoes needed to be different to those made for adults was growing, along with the general healthcare knowledge. As a result, Southalls (as it was known) began to produce footwear for children which had an entirely different shape to that made for adults, allowing room for growth.

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Start-rite is born

The name “Start-rite” was first used in the early 1920s by Quant & Son, a shoe retailer in Bury St Edmunds and purchased by Southalls for exclusive use in 1921. The decision was also taken at this time to concentrate on marketing and selling products, with investment in advertising and the recruitment of the company’s first London-based sales rep. Having picked up on public concerns about healthcare and particularly children’s fitted footwear, more emphasis was placed on the company’s newest children’s brand “Start-rite” with the appointment of a dedicated production manager.

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Investigation into children’s feet

Southalls was the first footwear manufacturer to make a practical contribution to the prevention of damage to young feet. In 1928, the company commissioned an investigation into schoolchildren’s feet to confirm their belief that children should be catered for differently to adults.

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The iconic twins advertising

The iconic twins were first famously reproduced in a series of posters and press adverts which ran through the late ’30s and ’40s, the brand is still recognised today featured at the heart of the Start-rite logo as the hallmark of well-fitted, quality shoes for children. By the late 1940s, Start-rite shoes were in such high demand that retailers were limited to strict quotas of supplies.

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The great survey

James Hanly, then chairman, commissioned a nationwide survey of children’s feet with the help of medical research experts, schools and health authorities. 450 children had their feet measured and tabulated. The results proved that, whilst Start-rite shoes were better for children’s development than other brands, there was further scope for additional improvements, notably shoes which would allow tiny feet to grow through to late teenage years without damage, and the need for the shoes to be fitted by trained people.

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Children’s footwear takes centre stage

The company took the brave decision to stop manufacturing adult footwear and concentrate purely on children’s needs and the Start-rite brand. We recognise no two children’s feet are the same, so huge investment was made into special “lasts” (the moulds used to build a shoe) specifically for children’s sizes, available in multiple width fittings, and based on the natural shape of a child’s foot. The company also introduced a “heel stiffener” to help with balance and growth.

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The first Royal Warrant

Start-rite shoes achieved another first when, as supplier of footwear to the Windsor children, it was granted the Royal Warrant by Queen Elizabeth in 1955.

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The importance of the Start-rite brand

The Start-rite brand was so important to Southalls as a business that the decision was taken to officially adopt Start-rite as the trading name. As a result, both the business and brand are known as Start-rite today, although the parent company remains James Southall Ltd and both names are proudly displayed outside the Norwich head office.

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The second Royal Warrant

The Prince of Wales granted a second Royal Warrant from 1989 until 2003 by which time Princes William and Harry had literally outgrown the brand. In all, children of the Royal family have been fitted with over 1,500 pairs of Start-rite shoes.

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Rhino brand is launched

Rhino is aimed specifically at slightly older schoolchildren, these designs recognise the increasing influence of children themselves in their parents’ purchasing. Combining the superior quality and multiple width fittings for which Start-rite is renowned, with designs for a more fashion-conscious wearer in mind, Rhino has allowed the business to expand its important “Back to School” offer and continue to provide Start-rite consumers with choice throughout their formative years.

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21st century modern footwear

Start-rite today is an eighth generation family business. In recent years, we have evolved considerably to ensure that it’s using 200 years of expertise to produce 21st century fashionable footwear that’s designed to cater for parents and their children whatever they get up to in their modern lives.

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Angry Angels brand is launched

Angry Angels brand has been created for fashion conscious girls aged 8-12 years and is inspired by the latest trends as the collections takes on a fashion edge that makes the shoes look stylish and comfortable. The range is available in whole and half sizes and medium wide fittings, complete with the comfort and quality that you won’t find with most high street brands.

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Social Media

Start-rite went interactive with its customers in early 2012 as we launched Social Networking channels on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. These sites created a new way for consumers to contact us directly and receive up to date information about Start-rite as it happens. The You Tube channel also allows consumers to navigate their way around interactive videos to learn more about using the fitting guides for children’s feet and find out more about our latest campaigns.

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Myleene Klass became brand ambassador

Myleene Klass became Start-rite’s brand ambassador in 2012, helping to promote to parents the importance of having their children’s feet properly measured and fitted with quality fitted footwear to support long-term healthy foot development. Myleene has also helped design and produce a unique range of shoes for AW12 and SS13, where her signature leopard print style takes centre stage in the girls collection. Myleene is set to launch her AW13 collection soon. Having been brought up wearing Start-rite shoes Myleene was already a fan of the brand. She said “My first pair of shoes were Start-rite shoes and my daughter’s first pair of shoes were Start-rite shoes”.

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New website

Our latest exciting development is the re-design of our transactional website and we are England’s first children’s fitted footwear brand to offer this. Because one of the key focuses of our brand is the importance of fit for young children’s feet, we’ve spent a long time researching how we can offer mums the full range of our footwear online, and have come up with innovative ways to help you become your child’s favourite expert fitter.