The county of Northamptonshire, England, has long been renowned for its boots and shoe making; the village of Wollaston just outside of Wellingborough is no exception. Until the latter part of the 19th century, shoes and boots were normally made in homes by individual shoemakers, who were paid only for the work they had ready when the collector came with his barrow to the door. Remuneration was poor and there was little security of employment.
In an attempt to impose some regularity of income, in 1881 five men living in Wollaston banded together to form a co-operative (a company owned and run by the people working in it), called the Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS). Their premises were based in a dove house located in Thrift Street, Wollaston, and NPS was locally referred to as ‘the Duffers’. Luck was with them from the outset as they managed to secure an order for army boots from the Government, an order which would sustain them for the first year.
As industrialisation spread in England during the late nineteenth Century, demand in England and abroad for high-quality boots steadily increased. Accordingly, NPS enjoyed rapid growth and by the turn of the previous century NPS had grown to 80 employees. Consequently, NPS moved to a larger purpose-built factory on South Street, which although modified and expanded, they occupy to this day.
Footwear has been made at NPS with various different construction methods, including riveted and stitched, stuck-on, vulcanised and more recently Goodyear welted which is now used in all their shoe production. In the 1950’s Austrian Dr. Maerten (subsequently anglicised to Dr. Marten) and his associate Mr Funck developed a now famous air cushion sole. R. Griggs Group Ltd., who owned the rights to manufacture footwear with this technology, sought out the best local factories to manufacture footwear using this sole. NPS was an obvious choice and in 1959 the first English pair of sample boots with air-cushioned soles was welted in the NPS factory. For 35 years NPS produced Solovair (Sole-of-Air) boots and shoes under license, which were sold under the name “Dr Martens by Solovair”.
Times change and NPS no longer produces boots and shoes under license, but they have maintained their independence and high-quality standards. NPS patented the name Solovair in 1995 and their latest range of footwear not only maintains their original manufacturing quality, but the products have been enhanced with a new ‘Soft Suspension’ sole that improves the comfort and durability.
The famous production standards of NPS has secured Solovair a reputation with retailers and discerning customers, as a premium soft suspension product. Rather than have a continuous production line, which they believe offers the operative no time to notice and correct any errors, NPS is organised in areas according to distinct stages of production. Each pair is only passed from one area to another when the respective operative is satisfied they are ready. In this respect, there is a far slimmer chance that an unsatisfactory shoe or boot will result at the end of the production process. In effect it is a continuous quality control process not employed by many other factories.
NPS continue to remain true to their ideals, combining over 130 years of tradition, the latest technology and materials, in order to produce the best quality shoes and boots. To maintain this undisputed quality, their products will always be hand-made from start (‘clicking’) to ‘finishing’ in the UK.