Jul 4, 2017
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Clarks plans UK robo-factory, also eyeing plants in US, Europe and Asia

Jul 4, 2017

Footwear retailer and wholesaler Clarks is creating up to 80 jobs in the UK and striking a blow for British manufacturing as it plans to open a new plant at its HQ in Somerset.


But while the new facility will expand domestic manufacturing, it will also include a major robotic element as the footwear industry becomes the first major fashion category to see a big impact from robotic technology.

The company said the new unit would manufacture its globally famous Desert Boots and will, for the first time, apply "robot-assisted" technology to specific shoe constructions.

That means the 80 jobs being created will be more focused on technical staff and managerial positions than on production line employees.

The company, which manufactured its first shoes as long ago as 1825 and last year collaborated with Christopher Raeburn, said it will also continue to source Desert Boots via its current supply chain, which sees the footwear being made in Vietnam and India.

In that respect it is following a path already trodden by global sports names such as Adidas. The German giant used the opening of its first Speedfactory robotic plant to add a speed-to-market and customised element to its manufacturing while the bulk of its shoe production continued to be handled by the vast manufacturing capability that exists in Asia and other lower-cost locations.

Like Adidas, Clarks also plans to open robotic construction units in other key markets in the years ahead with the US, Europe and Asia all likely to see development on this front.

The company said it is planning an international network of regional supply chains that "complements its current sourcing network" to allow it to deliver product faster and to adapt quickly to new trends, as well as to spikes in consumer demand.

CEO Mike Shearwood said the firm is a global one and needs to “innovate and respond to the changing global economic order.” He added that: “Clarks is thinking big and innovating to ensure we are fit for the future and at the forefront of shoemaking, whilst being able to adapt to an ever-changing world."

Clarks has a turnover of £1.7bn and is available via its own retail stores, through the wholesale channel or via franchise partners in more than 100 markets globally.

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